Preying on the vulnerable in Westminster Abbey

One of the messages most often convened to those that visit London in the summer is to look after your belongings. When the 2012 Olympics were about to start there were scare stories about hordes of Romanian pickpockets descending on the capital to prey on the thousands of extra tourists attending the games. Of course criminals come from all over the world and all over the UK to exploit the opportunities for illegal gain and a crowded city like London is ideal for their purpose. London also has plenty of its own thieves.

But we shouldn’t imagine there is anything new in this, not traveling to the capital to see the sites, and certainly not exploiting the opportunities offered by unsuspecting tourists more interested in gawping at the sites than in keeping an eye on their wallets and purses.

In August 1880 Jane Thomas (a  woman well known to the police) was brought before the magistrate at Westminster Police Court charged with picking pockets at one of the capital’s most famous landmarks.

Detective constable Thompson (of A Division) was on duty in Westminster Abbey and keeping an eye on a group of ‘ladies’ when he noticed Jane Thomas moving close to a woman who was examining the monument to the politician Charles James Fox. He saw her dip her hand into the lady’s pocket and take out something.

He approached Jane and laid a hand on her shoulder but she wriggled free and left the building with another group of women. He caught up with her outside and arrested her, taking her back to the police station. In the meantime one of almsmen at the Abbey found a discarded purse in the grounds and handed it in. The purse contained some money, and a return ticket to Crewe.

The justice had to decide what to do with Jane and as the victim was at that stage unknown (and perhaps even unaware she had been ‘dipped’) and Jane had given the police a false address he remanded her for a week to see if anyone came forward. At present he had little to throw at her save the suspicions of detective Thompson and her ‘bad character’.


[from Daily News, Tuesday, August 17, 1880]

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