Police ‘errors’ or corrupt practice? The fine blue line in the East End

saturdaynight

When a relatively straightforward and seemingly uninteresting assault case involving two working-class females makes the news you can be sure something extra is afoot. In September 1881 in East London this was exactly what was happening.

Charlotte Frost and another woman, named simply as Seihler (and so most probably from the immigrant Jewish population) had a fight and ended up at Worship Street Police court. Mrs Seihler was accused of assaulting the other woman but when it came up in court the defendant protested.

She told the magistrate (Mr Bushby) that when she had first been taken to the police station she stated, in her defence, that she was merely reacting to having been first attacked by Frost. However, in court this had not been represented this way by the arresting police officer, PC Saw (232K). Mr Bushby asked PC Saw if the woman had made a statement to this effect and the policeman said she had not, contradicting Mrs Seihler’s statement.

Since there was a conflict of evidence the magistrate sent for the station inspector, Hudson, who had taken down the charge against the woman. He supported the defendant’s evidence by confirming that yes, Mrs Seihler had accused Frost of assaulting her, not the other way around.

Mr Bushby was clearly perturbed by this and effectively accused the policeman of perverting the course of justice. ‘There was no doubt’ he said, ‘that the Constable had committed perjury, and his conduct should be reported’. After all, this was serious as it could make all the difference ‘between her [Mrs Seihler] going to prison and being discharged’.

The magistrate then discharged the prisoner but dictated a statement to the clear which was intended to be passed on for the attention of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. This read:

‘The constable swore falsely, after the Prisoner declared at the station that she was struck first, that she did not say so. This most dangerous kind of perjury has occurred here three or four times lately’.

Was it a mistake (as Inspector Hudson presented it – adding that PC Saw was new to the force) or an example of anti-semitism, favouritism, or another form of corruption? We can hardly say from this distance but in close knit communities where distrust of the police was commonplace this hardly helped to foster good relations.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, September 20, 1881]

‘for the protection of life and property’? A magistrate opts to believe the police despite the evidence in front of him.

ask-policeman

The Metropolitan Police Court Magistrate presided over the summary court of that name but he was not actually attached to the Metropolitan Police, so in some respects it is a bit of a misnomer. In reality as the nineteenth century unfolded, the police, (in the person of inspectors, sergeants and ordinary constables) played a much increased role in bringing prosecutions to court. In the first third of the century most cases were brought by the victims of crime, as had been the case throughout the previous century, and this situation persisted for much of the 1800s. Gradually, however, the police began to dominate proceedings, especially at this lower level of the justice system.

This was not without its problems. In particular there was considerable concern about how much authority a policeman’s voice carried in the courtroom. The Police were still a fairly new body in the mid 1800s, and although respect for the ‘boys in blue’ grew over time they certainly weren’t held in high esteem by everyone in Victorian society.

The working classes resented them for the most part, or barely tolerated them as a necessary evil. Henry Mayhew interviewed a costermonger (a person that sold food or other goods from a mobile street barrow) who declared that it was a source of pride for any of his class to punch one of the ‘Peelers’  that blighted their daily lives by moving them on when they were trying to earn a living.

The middle classes and the elites were just as ambiguous in their acceptance of the ‘new police’. They saw them (at first anyway) as an unwelcome extra burden on their pockets, or as a bunch of lower class busybodies who often got quite above themselves in telling them to do (or not to do) this or that.

It is probably fair to say that the ‘good old British bobby’ was not really accepted by society until well over a hundred years had passed since his creation. Dixon of Dock Green epitomises the trusted and honest copper of the 1950s, not the corpulent figure of the p’liceman from the late Victorian and Edwardian music hall.

So the police magistrate must often have been faced with a potential conflict between the police (as keepers of the peace) on one hand, and the public on the other. As a law man he had to try and square this tricky circle, and in this case from 1850 I think we can see how he falls back on the law to do so, whilst exercising some discretion at the same time.

In April 1850 Edward Williams found himself in the Worship Street Police Court accused of assaulting a policeman in the execution of his duty. It was a serious offence and the justices at Worship Street and the nearby Thames court (both of which served the supposedly ‘lawless’ and ‘criminal’ East End) normally came down hard on drunken brawlers that picked fights with the police or refused to ‘go quietly’ when asked.

Edward, then, was in trouble.

However, his version of events was quite different to that presented by the police who brought the charge, and in looking at both I think we can see some of the tensions that I’ve mentioned above.

PC Ward of N Division stated that he had been on duty with a  fellow officer outside a beer shop in Clapton when Williams had approached him. It was late, just before midnight, and Williams spoke to him asking him, ‘what I considered I was placed there for’.

Ward’s reply was: “For the protection of life and property”, which was the strap line of the Met in the 1800s. This didn’t satisfy Williams, who turned on him and told him: ‘that was a lie, that I was placed there , it seemed, for the purpose of insulting women, and he called me all the rascals and vagabonds he could lay his tongue to’.

At this the copper asked him to move along and go home. Williams, he claimed, refused and, after having been warned again, the young man struck him several times in the face, drawing blood. Eventually he was overpowered by the officers and taken to the station. PC Devitt (310 N) backed up his colleague’s testimony.

This assault on the person of a police constable was what had landed Williams, a supposedly ‘respectable’ young man, in court. He however, told a slightly different story and sought to justify but not deny, his attack on PC Ward.

Williams told the magistrate, Mr Arnold, that he had been walking out with a young woman, Frances Coleman, to whom he ‘had been paying his attentions’ (courting or dating as we would say now). He was walking her home to her parents but had to stop for moment and asked her to continue, saying he would catch her up.

As she passed the beer shop he heard one of the officers call out to her, ‘my dear’, then ‘whistle to her in a manner which could not be otherwise than insulting to a modest woman, and finally making a most disgusting noise with his mouth’. I leave that to your imagination.

He approached the policemen and remonstrated with them. So here, perhaps was the bones of PC Ward’s report. When the policeman denied acting in the manner Williams believed he had done, and then arrested him, he felt justified in resisting. The ‘assault’, he argued, was  the ‘perfecting justifiable result’ of the constable’s poor behaviour towards the woman he admired.

Frances supported her young man in court, confirming his evidence but at the same time allowing Mr Arnold some wriggle room. She said there was some noise emanating from the beer shop, something with which the police quickly agreed. Could the whistles and other offensive remarks have come from someone in there, asked the justice? She doubted it, repeating that she thought the calls towards her had come from one of the officers. However, despite two witnesses (Frances and Edward) telling a different tale to that of the constables the magistrate decided to believe one over the other but sought to use the beer house as a possible means of sowing some doubt.

Mr Arnold told the court that he could not imagine for one moment that the police would lie or to ‘knowingly and willingly commit perjury’ , but that at the same time neither would a decent young lady such as Frances. So it must have been the unruly occupants of the drinking den that acted so offensively.

The police then were in the clear despite the evidence to the contrary. As for young Edward however, his action had been ‘completely unjustifiable’. He had accused a policeman of doing something quite impossible for a public servant, and had then employed violence when asked to go home. Arnold opted to use the law in all its force to send a message that the police must be respected at all times, and especially when they were carrying out their duties.

He fined Williams £5 or one month in the house of correction if he could not pay. He found a way to implement the law and demonstrate that he was, in his mind, being even handed. I doubt Edward saw it that way.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, April 21, 1850]

A murder in Barbados or a false accusation?

lascar-illustration2

 

The most recent series of Ripper Street opened with the death of an Indian lawyer found in the East India dock. At first it was thought that this might be the result of rivalry between dockworkers or perhaps tensions between foreign sailors (often this meant Lasacars) and locals. I don’t know how the writers get their stories but they might profitably search the pages of the Victorian press.

In September 1875 a Malay boatswain named Seeden was brought before Mr. Lushington at Thames Police Court. He was charged with ‘causing the death of a Lascar seaman named Sali’. Both men had served on the Neva, said John James a fellow crew member who gave evidence at Thames.

Whilst the ship lay at anchor at Barbados Sali and Sedeen quarreled and the latter knocked Sali to the deck, pushed him to the rail and threw him overboard. After an interval of 20 minutes he informed the captain that his crewmate had ‘jumped overboard’.

Mr. Lushington examined two other Malay sailors but they failed to corroborate James’ testimony. The magistrate turned to James and suggested it was odd that he waited so long to bring his evidence before a policeman or a court. He dismissed it as an ‘entirely groundless charge’ and ordered Sedeen to be released. He added that if the police ‘thought it proper’ they should arrest and charge James with perjury.

[from The Morning Post , Wednesday, September 29, 1875]

Underneath the Adelphi Arches a fight ensues

adelphi

The Adelphi Arches, c.1780

The new Adephi buildings, designed by the Adam brothers (Robert, William and James) and constructed between 1768 and 1774 were one of the architectural delights of late eighteenth-century London. The area became fashionable and was home to several notable Victorians, including Dickens, in the 19th century. The area was continually developed in the 1800s however, and lost some of its Georgian elegance in the process and was further diminished by the pulling down of the Terrace’s houses in the late 1930s, to be replaced by a looming art deco building which remains today.

In 1869 the Adelphi was home to Charles Hyatt. Hyatt lived in York Buildings and on the 14th July he was passing the Adelphi arches when he came across a man standing under one of them. Some sort of altercation occured between the two that led them both to appear in the Bow Street Police Court.

The case was brought by Mr. Abrams, a solicitor who appeared on behalf of a salesman named Henry Dudley. Dudley claimed that when Hyatt had encountered him under the arches he had insulted him and then attempted to ‘bully’ him. A fight ensured and Dudley was pressing charges for assault.

Dudley had been injured in the attack; Hyatt had leveled a blow at his head and he had fallen, striking his leg on the pavement. ‘On rising, he found his leg was broken and he was unable to stand’.  Regardless, Hyatt allegedly threatened to give ‘him some more’. The wounded man was taken to the Charing Cross Hospital to be treated.

Hyatt told a contrary tale. He denied bullying Dudley, or instigating the assault. Instead he claimed there ‘was a general fight, which was commenced by the complainant’. Both men brought witnesses to corroborate their stories.

Mr. Flowers, the sitting magistrate, was concerned that someone was lying and feared that the witnesses were perjuring themselves. He adjourned the case for a week to gather more information so he could make a judgement.

[from The Standard, Monday, September 06, 1869]