In today’s post the normal tables are turned and as a policeman finds himself standing in a Police Court dock. PC Labram (186T) was up before Mr Newton at Marlborough Street on a charge accused of causing malicious damage. The case was brought by Peter Chambers of Harriet Street, Lower Marsh on south side of the river Thames, an artificial flower maker who had been trying to sell his wares outside the Reform Club in Pall Mall.
It was Jubilee night in July 1887 and London had been celebrating Queen Victoria’s fifty years on the throne. Presumably Chambers was intent on selling a range of novelty items to the patriotic crowds of passers not far from Buckingham Palace. As far as PC Labram was concerned however, Chambers was a street nuisance and when he found him on the street he asked him ‘pack up’ and ‘slope’ away. The peddler obeyed but not quickly enough for the officer, who aimed at kick as his departing rear which propelled him several yards up the street.
When Chambers objected – saying ‘you have no cause to do that, policeman’ – the bobby pushed him ‘so violently that he had to drop his basket’ to stop himself from falling over. This scattered some of the flower sellers ‘noses, scratchers and squirts’ over the paving slabs, and again Chambers complained loudly that he was trying to comply with the officer’s request and he needn’t shove him.
PC Labram’s response was to place his size nines on the man’s goods and stamp them into pieces. When Chambers protested the policeman threatened to do to him what he’d done to his false noses, back scratchers and water squiters, and so he hurried away. Several onlookers saw what had happened and berated the constable with cries of ‘shame!’
Five or so minutes later Chambers was in nearby James Square and he saw PC Labram had followed on, presumably tracing his beat. He confronted him and said he intended to report him at King Street police station. This simply provoked the officer to push his basket off his shoulders, throwing the contents on to the ground, where he stamped on them for good measure. A group of ‘roughs’ saw what was happening and ran to join in the fun, jumping up and down on the poor man’s goods.
In court Mr Poland defended the constable and asked him if he had also been selling the ‘squirts’ he had with him. This was apparently prohibited and Chambers said that while he had them he was not selling them.
What did he have asked Mr. Newton, and what was their value.
‘Twelve shillings’ worth of scent-fountains, ten dozens of holiday noses, and about the same number of back scratchers’, he replied. The noses had moustaches on them but many of these had now been torn off. He estimated the damage at 32s.
Mrs Eliza Jackson of Great Smith Street corroborated Chambers’ evidence and said that the ‘constable treated the man like a dog’. Her husband also testified against the officer.
The defense argued that men like Chambers went about the crowded streets ‘selling squirts, and so procuring and aiding persons to commit assaults upon others by throwing dirty water over their dress. The police did all they could to prevent the nuisance, and bills cautioning the public were issued before Jubilee Day’.
The magistrate was not unsympathetic to this view and declared that:
‘it was a mischievous and cruel thing to sell such things and, and if people chose to pay out their money in such articles they must take the consequences’.
Nevertheless the constable had acted disproportionately and it would have been better if he’d arrested Chambers rather than kicking him and breaking his stock. He asked Chambers and Labram to withdraw while he assessed the real value of the damage done. Instead of the 32s the man claimed Mr Newton awarded him just 7s 6d. He also vindicated the constable by saying he was (however aggressively) just following out his orders for the day.
I get the feeling that PC Labram was simply grumpy at having to police the crowds that day; while everyone else was having fun he was patrolling the streets and perhaps he resented it. Seeing an opportunity he did what all bullies do and acted like a little tyrant. A fine was the least he deserved and if he’d directed his frustration at one of the ‘toffs’ at the Reform Club he might have been drummed out of the force. Chambers was a nobody though, so he got away with it.
Shame on him, and shame of the magistrate for not standing up for the ‘little man’.
[from The Standard , Wednesday, July 06, 1887]