13 November 1888
Mr. C. GRAHAM asked the Home Secretary if he contemplated offering any additional reward for the capture of the Whitechapel murderer. He wished to explain that he did not ask this question with any view to embarrass Her Majesty's Government, but because considerable excitement prevailed in the East End of London, and the offer of a reward might tend to reduce it.
Mr. HUNTER, who rose with Mr. Brunner, asked whether the Home Secretary had taken into consideration the propriety of extending the offer of reward, which applied only to the last murder, to the preceding murder,--(Mr. Brunner: The six preceding murder),--especially having regard to the fact that in the case of the first murder, committed last Christmas, according to the dying testimony of the woman, several persons were concerned.--(Hear,hear.)
Mr. BRUNNER, on being called upon by the Speaker, said the hon. member had just asked the question he had intended to put to the right hon. gentleman.
Mr. MATTHEWS: Owing to the public interest taken in this question, I hope the House will allow me, at greater length than is usual--(cheers),--to state why I have hitherto refrained from offering a reward in this case. Before 1884 it was the frequent practice of the Home Office to offer rewards, sometimes of large amount in serious cases. In 1883 in particular, several rewards, ranging from £200 to £2,000 were offered, in such cases as the murder of Police Constable Bonns and the dynamite explosions in Charles-street and at various railway stations. These rewards, like the reward of £10,000 in regard to the Phoenix Park murders, proved ineffectual and produced no evidence of any value. In 1884 there was a change of policy. Early in that year a remarkable case occurred. A conspiracy was formed to effect an explosion at the German Embassy, and to plant papers on an innocent person, to accuse him of crime in order to obtain the reward which was expected. The revelation of this conspiracy led the then Secretary of State, the right hon. member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), to consider the whole question. He consulted the police authorities both in England and in Ireland, and the conclusions he arrived at were that the practice of offering large and sensational rewards in cases of serious crime was not only ineffectual but mischievous, that rewards produced, generally speaking, no practical result beyond satisfying the public demand for conspicuous action, and that they operated prejudically (sic) by relaxing the exertions of the police and tended to produce false rather than reliable testimony.--(Hear,hear.) He decided in all cases to abandon the practice of offering rewards, as they had been found by experience to be a hindrance rather than an aid in the detection of crime. These conclusions were publicly announced and acted upon in very important cases in 1884, when a shocking murder of a girl occurred at Middlesbrough and there was a dynamite outrage at London Bridge, in which case the City offered a reward of £5,000. The principle has since been followed, without exception, by the Home Office. The whole subject was reconsidered in 1885 by Sir Richard Cross in a remarkable case of infanticide at Plymouth, and again in 1886 by the right hon. member for Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) in the notorious case of Louisa Hart. In both cases, after careful consideration and with the concurrence of the best authorities, the principle was maintained, and rewards were refused. Since I have been at the Home Office I have followed the rule thus deliberately laid down and steadily adhered to by my predecessors. I do not mean to say that the rule may not be subject to exceptions, as for instance where it is known who the criminal is, but information is wanted only as to his hiding place, or an account of other circumstances of the crime itself. In the Whitechapel murders not only are there conditions waiting at present, but the danger of a false charge is intensified by the excited state of public feeling--(cheers),--I know how desirable it is to allay that public feeling, and I should be glad if circumstances justified me in giving visible proof that the authorities are not heedless or indifferent. I beg to assure the hon. member and the House that neither the Home Office nor Scotland Yard will leave a stone unturned in order to bring justice the perpetrators of the abominable crimes which have outraged the feelings for the entire community with regard to the other questions put by hon. members it would not be proper for me to give an answer suddenly, but I will carefully consider the suggestions which have fallen from them.
Mr. C. GRAHAM begged to thank the right hon. gentleman for his courteous information and to assure him that he concurred in his view.
Mr. MONTAGU wished to explain why he had offered a reward in reference to one of the Whitechapel murders but the speaker decided that such an explanation would not be in order.