East End News
Friday, 5 October, 1888.
This Board met at the offices, Great Alie-street, on Monday; Robert Gladding, Esq., in the chair, and the following members present:- - Messrs. Ilsley (Metropolitan Board), Triggs, Outhwaite, Young, Sparks, Barham, Tarling, Catmur, Greatorex, Rycroft, Hamsley, Wainwright, Struthers, Chillingworth, Chappell, Davis, Trollope, Nicholson, Telfer, Brown, Crook, Clark, Withers, Collier, James, Loveday, J. E. Brown, Rice, Karamelli.
At the instance of Mr. Catmur a discussion arose, on the opening of the sitting, regarding the recent murders in and around the Whitechapel district. The remarks of some of the speakers, however, were imperfectly heard, owing to the unusually animated conversation maintained by members around the council table. Mr. Catmur said at this, their first meeting after the summer recess, the Board might think it right to express their horror and abhorrence at the frightful crimes which had been committed in and around their district since they had last assembled. (Hear, hear). He would not bring any charge against the police; all he would say is that there seemed great weakness somewhere, and, as these atrocities went on increasing, and without detection, he could not help sharing to some extent in the popular alarm. The marvellous inefficiency of the police in the detection of crime was forcibly shown in the fact that in the very same block as that containing Mitre-square, in the great leading thoroughfare, and at a moment when the whole area was full of police just after the murder, the Aldgate post office was entered and ransacked, and property to the value of hundreds of pounds taken clear away under the very noses of the "guardians of peace and order." Whitechapel, as they all knew to their cost, was suffering greatly by this recurrence of fearful crime in and around it; and trade, already bad enough, was being greatly injured by the panic. This was illustrated in various ways. For instance, a coffee-house keeper in a large way of business had told him that emigrants were refusing to be located in Whitechapel en route for the West, owing to their fears. A panic like this, however unreasonable it might seem to residents, must naturally be expected to exist if the place became notorious for undiscovered crimes, and people would not willingly dwell, or even pass through Whitechapel, if it could be avoided.
Mr. Nicholson said it would not do to dump the blame for the condition of affairs wholly on the shoulders of the police. Was not the Board itself to blame for not providing sufficient light in courts and alleys? In Hobson's-court, in Mile End New Town, for instance, there had been no light at all for a month.
Mr. Barham said the lamp was removed during the Board's vacation, and the moment it was known the matter was attended to. He was loath to join in any outcry against the police, for, doubtless, they had many duties, but in these cases they seemed unaccountable remiss. If deeds so horrible were possible in a well-lighted, well-guarded and respectable place like Mitre-square, what hope could they have of security in the haunts of vice and misery to the eastward. The whole story of these revolting crimes was a fearful blot on our boasted civilisation and philanthropy; and, while the Board were not responsible for the management of the police, he could not forget that the lighting of many of the streets and alleys in their charge was notoriously defective.
Mr. Abrahams said he could not agree with the wholesale condemnation of the police, and if any memorial was to go forward to the Home Secretary or the Chief of Police, an attempt should be made to offer practical suggestions rather than indefinite complaints. These deeds were proving a fearful calamity for the district, and no man felt this more acutely than himself. In his humble way he had been working in the district for over twenty years, and he could vouch that what was happening was setting Whitechapel back a quarter of a century.
The Rev. Dan Greatorex said the local authorities had no power whatever over the police, and it was the duty of those who were responsible - the Home Secretary and Sir Charles Warren - to say whether they had sufficient force to ensure peace and order, and if not to ask for more. Whitechapel was becoming notorious all over the world as a place to be shunned and feared, and if the suspicion once gains a hold that it is unsafe for a woman to be in Whitechapel streets after nightfall, the result must be utter ruin of all trade. The public should insist that the responsible officials should take every human means to prevent these awful tragedies and remove the suspicion which existed that there was inefficient management. For one thing he regretted the frequent changes of police divisions which was now the custom. If a neighbourhood was to be properly guarded the constables should be kept permanently in charge of it, so that they might become acquainted with every hole and corner of it, and know by sight almost every person in it. The new system made this impossible, and it was now breaking down.
The Chairman said that where there was no responsibility there could be no shame for failure, and that was the position of the local authorities in regard to the existing police system. As to the constables' lack of local knowledge, that was amply accounted for by the fact that the police were so often removed that they have no time to make themselves fully acquainted with the locality and the residents in it. This new system was, of course, an entire inversion of the old principle, which endured for a thousand years in this country, and which was carried out at one-twentieth part of the expense. Of old everything turned upon local knowledge and local responsibility, and, although he knew it was not now possible to revert to the head-borough system, he must insist that a form of police by which everybody was known - established as it was by King Alfred and enduring for a thousand years - must have had great practical merit to it.
Mr. Telfer said it was all very well to "call upon" Mr. Matthews and Sir Charles Warren to, "increase the strength of the police" but it would be more practicable to show these officials how that could be done. With every respect for the principle of the police laid down by Saxon rulers, and employed for many generations in this country, it was obvious that a system which might have worked in a country of villages and hamlets, and hence might have sufficed even up to a century ago, was of no use in the present day of great cities and enormous populations. The police of modern times must be in the hands of men who make the work the study of their lives, and hence the rise of the existing system. It might be, nevertheless, that new ideas had been followed to excess, and that a police trained and maintained on a military system was not the proper force for the detection of crime. But to excitedly call for such an infinite strengthening of the police force as would enable constables to shadow every suspect, and haunt every quiet corner, was to call for the imposition of a police-rate which would be an intolerable burden. Because four or five murders have taken place, silly people were saying that all society was on an uneven basis. This, however, was mere hysteria. A moment's reflection would show that in these murders there was nothing to alarm society generally. The victims of these atrocities have themselves chosen the place of their murder. The deplorable outcast knew all the nooks and corners suitable for the purposes of their dreadful trade, and no Government or force of police could protect those who themselves sought solitude in the dead of night, and placed themselves in the power of night prowlers. As for the new system of shifting police divisions, he must recall that constables, prior to their change, were known to get on too intimate acquaintance with some of the residents on their beats. As to the ill effects of those deeds upon Whitechapel there could be no doubt; it was a great and grievous misfortune.
Mr. G. T. Brown said the weak point of the police system was the want of a proper detective element in dealing with the criminal portion of the community. And while the detective system was crude there was also a large amount of discontent, weakness, and disaffection running throughout the whole force in London. The Government itself should be appealed to, rather than the Home Secretary and the Chief of Police - who were themselves upon their trial.
Mr. Karamelli said that the distribution of the police was not sufficiently remembered, seeing how greatly Whitechapel had been changed in the last few years. Whitechapel was now the resort of the residuum of the whole country and the refuse of the Continent.
After further discussion, the following motion, made by Mr. Catmur, seconded by Mr. Barham was adopted unanimously:- "That this Board regards with horror and alarm the several atrocious murders recently perpetrated within the district of Whitechapel and its vicinity, and calls upon Sir Charles Warren so to regulate and strengthen the police force in the neighbourhood as to guard against the repetition of such atrocities; and that the Home Secretary be addressed in the same terms."
The report of the Works Committee furnished details of a variety of minor business not of general interest.
At the Worship-street police-court on Tuesday, Mary M'Carthy, a powerful young woman, well-known at this court, was charged, at the close of the day's business, with stabbing Ann Neason in the face.
The prosecutrix said she was deputy of a lodging-house in Spitalfields, and the prisoner was a lodger.
The Magistrate (Mr. Montagu Williams, Q.C.): Is it one of the common lodging-houses one hears of?
Witness: Yes, sir.
Mr. Williams: Then tell me this - How many beds do you make up there?
Witness: Twenty-eight singles, and twenty-four doubles.
Mr. Williams: By ''doubles'' you mean for a man and a woman?
Witness: Yes, sir.
Mr. Williams: And the woman can take any man she likes? You don't know if the couples are married or not?
Witness: No, sir. We don't ask them.
Mr. Williams: Precisely what I thought. And the sooner these lodging-houses are put down the better. They are the haunt of the burglar, the home of the pickpocket, and the hotbed of prostitution. I don't think I can put it stronger than that. It is time the owners of these places, who reap large profits from them, were looked after.
Witness then continued her evidence and said that because the prisoner had become quarrelsome the ''missus'' told her (the witness) to refuse the prisoner's money for the future, and the prisoner, out of spite, stabbed witness in the face and neck with a piece of a skewer.
Mr. Williams: Who's the ''missus'' you mention?
Witness: Mrs. Wilmot.
Mr. Williams: Oh, a woman. She is the owner, then. But she doesn't live there?
Witness: No, sir, in Brick-lane.
Mr. Williams: What is she?
Witness: A baker.
Mr. Williams: Has she any more of these common lodging-houses?
Witness: Yes, sir, two in Wentworth-street, close by where I am in George-yard.
Mr. Williams: And how many beds does she provide there?
The prisoner: Sixty or seventy, sir.
Mr. Williams: What is the price of a bed?
Witness: Fourpence and eightpence.
Mr. Williams: Eightpence for a double. Was she a double or single?
Mr. Williams: Is she married?
Witness: No, I don't think so.
Mr. Williams: Then the place is a brothel.
The inspector on duty in the court said that the beds were let for the night.
Mr. Williams: That makes no difference. The witness says that any woman can take any man in there, and so long as eightpence is paid no question is asked. What is that but a house carried on for immoral accommodation?
Mr. Enoch Walker, vestry clerk of Shoreditch, said that he had had a good deal of experience with such places, but they could only be touched by one section of the Criminal Law Amendment Act.
Mr. Williams: Then I hope they will not be exempt from future legislation. They are places where, according to the witness, the thief or the criminal can hide all day for the payment of fourpence or eightpence for a bed each night. As a magistrate I have made it my business to go over some of these places, and I say that the sooner they are put down the better. In my humble judgement they are about as unwholesome and unhealthy, as well as dangerous to the community, as can well be. There are places among them where the police dare not enter, and where the criminal hides all day long. I have seen so much that I hope what I have said will do something to call attention to them.
The prisoner, after the evidence of a police-constable had corroborated that of the lodging-house deputy, was sentenced to a month's hard labour. She left the dock threatening the prosecutrix.