The City Press (London)
Saturday, 7 January 1905
SOME OF HIS EXPERIENCES RETOLD.
By the retirement, after 25 years' service, of Detective-inspector Robert Sagar, the City of London Police Force loses one of its ablest detectives. His absence from the hive of activity in the Old Jewry will be marked, and is already regretted, as Mr. Sagar has for many years been one of the
most popular figures in the detective department at the City Police headquarters. The interesting history of his early association with the City of London Police has yet to be written, and it could only be written by one man, and that man Mr. Sagar himself.
A Lancashire man by birth, he was educated at Whalley Grammar School, and found himself, as quite a young man, in London, with the aims and aspirations of a medical student. He became attached to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and intended prosecuting his studies there with all the vigour which he subsequently displayed in quite another and surprising direction. He took apartments in Bartholomew Close, in the house of a celebrated City detective named Potts, who seems to have been a first edition of Sherlock Holmes. The mind and imagination of the young medical student became diverted from the study of surgery and medicine to the fascinating problem of criminology, and the varied means which a quick intelligence offered for the detection of crime. Hence it was that, while engaged as a student at St. Bartholomew's, he became imbued with the instincts of a detective, and so successful was he in that direction that he appeared in a great number of prosecutions of criminals at the City Police Courts and at the Old Bailey. Young Sagar's ability attracted the attention of the late Sir James Fraser, who was at that time the Commissioner of City Police, and he called for a special report with respect to the many cases in which the young medical student had been engaged. The report was of so complimentary a character that the Commissioner suggested that Mr. Sagar should join the police force. In the event of his declining to do so, a handsome cheque was ready as payment for his past assistance to the police. Mr. Sagar thereupon resolved to abandon the dull routine of the medical profession in favour of the more exciting, but less remunerative, life of a detective. The circumstances of his joining the police force were, therefore, peculiar, but that is not the only unusual feature associated with it, as Detective-inspector Sagar is the only officer of the City of London Police who has never donned a uniform.
He joined the service in January, 1880, as an ordinary constable, and, as usual, was required to undergo a month's probation. After having completed half that time, he was selected by the late Sir James Fraser to make an investigation into a particularly intricate case of forgery, in the task of unravelling which several others had tried and failed. Mr. Sagar at once responded to the call, and proceeded into the country for the purpose of securing his quarry. Fortune favoured him, and he was successful in bringing the forger to justice, a sentence of twenty years' penal servitude being the fate of the man who had so long escaped detection. Mr. Sagar then returned to the City and completed the remainder of the period of probation.
In December, 1888, he was promoted to the position of sergeant, there being no vacancy on the detective staff. The title was one of an honorary character, and it was conferred by the Commissioner in recognition of special services rendered. In the following June he was appointed detective-sergeant, and in November, 1890, he was promoted to the post of detective-inspector. Three years later he was made a first-class inspector. It is a matter of some interest to know that, on the occasion of his joining the police force, he was rejected on medical examination, it being supposed that he was suffering from a varicose vein in one leg. There was no doubt that he had received an injury to one of his legs, and it came about in this wise: Before he joined the service he was in the City one day with the late Detective James Egan. He noticed a robbery from a shop in Fore Street, and both men started off in pursuit of the thief, who dashed down into Chapel Street. That thoroughfare was being repaved, and, consequently, they ran along the kerb. Unfortunately, one of the workmen had left a pick projecting over the kerb, and young Sagar, not seeing the obstacle in time to avoid it, had the misfortune to strike his shin against the iron point, the result being that a portion of the cloth of his trousers was driven into the hole caused by the displaced muscle. Nothing daunted, he continued the pursuit, and the thief was ultimately run to earth. The Commissioner of Police was much struck by the exhibition of such tenacity of purpose in so young a man. Ultimately he passed the medical examination.
On another occasion Mr. Sagar stopped two well-known thieves in Chiswell Street, and their agitation in answer to his questions convinced him that something was wrong; but he said nothing more and left them. Soon afterwards a boy passed him wheeling a barrow, on which was a large case. From a point of concealment the detective noticed that there was some connection between the boy and the men, the latter lagging behind in order that the boy and the barrow might come nearer to them in the Barbican. Procuring assistance, Sagar followed on their track, and arrested the trio in the Central Meat Market. Soon after they were brought into the police station a message was received from Bishopsgate to the effect that a case of boots had been stolen in broad daylight from Camomile Street. The case, on being opened, was found to contain the stolen property. The foregoing is one of many instances in which Mr. Sagar displayed his smartness. It was, however, in the detection of forgeries and the running to earth of the forgers that he showed his talents. In the great majority of bank note and other forgeries of recent years, he has taken a leading part. In particular he was instrumental in bringing into the dock at the Old Bailey a notorious gang of forgers of the most expert and dangerous type - all of them foreigners. It may be remembered that one of them shot himself in his cell at the Old Bailey after he had been sentenced. Two other clever forgers, a portion of the same gang, received their deserts only a few days ago. Mr. McWilliam, who recently retired from the head of the detective department at Old Jewry, employed Detective-inspector Sagar in making all the confidential inquiries which needed an exhibition of great tact, caution, and that subtle handling of facts and weighing of evidence which can only be possessed by long experience and careful training. On one occasion the Bank of England wanted to transfer three millions in bullion to the Bank of France in Paris. Detective-inspector Sagar was at once instructed to take all the necessary precautions for the safe transit of so huge a sum. He accomplished his mission successfully, and "personally conducted" the last million to Paris.
His professional association with the terrible atrocities which were perpetuated some years ago in the East End by the so-styled "Jack-the Ripper" was a very close one. Indeed, Mr. Sagar knows as much about those crimes, which terrified the Metropolis, as any detective in London. He was deputed to represent the City police force in conference with the detective heads of the Metropolitan force nightly at Leman Street Police Station during the period covered by those ghastly murders. Much has been said and written - and even more conjectured - upon the subject of the "Jack-the-Ripper" murders. It has been asserted that the murderer fled to the Continent, where he perpetrated similar hideous crimes; but that is not the case. The police realised, as also did the public, that the crimes were those of a madman, and suspicion fell upon a man, who, without a doubt, was the murderer. Identification being impossible, he could not be charged. He was, however, placed in a lunatic asylum, and the series of atrocities came to an end. There was a peculiar incident in connection with those tragedies which may have been forgotten. The apron belonging to the woman who was murdered in Mitre Square was thrown under a staircase in a common lodging house in Dorset Street, and someone - presumably the murderer - had written on the wall above it, "The Jewes are not the people that will be blamed for nothing." A police officer engaged in the case, fearing that the writing might lead to an onslaught upon the Jews in the neighbourhood, rubbed the writing from the wall, and all record of the implied accusation was lost; but the fact that such an ambiguous message was left is recorded among the archives at the Guildhall. Detective-inspector Sagar, who has made several journeys abroad for the purpose of securing celebrated criminals, is none the worse for his many adventures. With all the great raids that have been made in recent years on gaming houses and so-called clubs in the City, Mr. Sagar, we may add, has been prominently identified. Into his retirement he carries with him the good wishes of all who enjoy his friendship, and have profited by his clever brain.