Mr. Justice Henry Charles Lopes’ Summing-up
The Old Bailey (November 7, 1885). Quoted in Alison Plowden, The Case of Eliza Armstrong: A Child of 13 Bought for £5 (1974)
Stead was not represented by counsel, but he defended himself; and I think you will agree with me that he has not suffered on that account. A speech more impressive I think few of us have ever heard. Though I was unable to agree with many of the observations he made, I could not but admire the power and ability with which he delivered his address.
To the speeches which have been delivered to you, I am sure you will give their proper weight. So far as they are consistent with the evidence, they will afford you the greatest assistance; but so far as they are inconsistent with the evidence, you will discard them from your minds altogether. I regret to say that by Mr. Stead, and by counsel also, to a certain extent, you were asked to find a verdict contrary to the law, and contrary to the evidence. You were asked to overlook the law and to find a verdict consonant with your sympathies. I am quite certain that any appeal of that sort will have been made to you in vain. I am quite certain that you will only return that verdict in this case which is warranted by the evidence. There is another observation which I feel it my duty to make. I expect you have heard much talk outside the Court regarding the circumstances and matters of this case. I am quite certain that you will not allow anything you have heard outside to affect your judgement, and that you will be guided only by the evidence you have heard from the witnesses on oath. I would warn you, although I feel it is not necessary, perhaps, to do so, not to be prejudiced against Stead, because in our streets and throughout our provinces some months ago, there were circulated, emanating from the Pall Mall Gazette offices, disgusting and filthy articles—articles so filthy and so disgusting that one cannot help fearing that they may have suggested to innocent women and children the existence of vice and wickedness which had never occurred to their minds before.
What the prosecution say in this case is: “You, Stead, and you, Jarrett, unlawfully took Eliza Armstrong an unmarried girl, under the age of sixteen, out of the possession and against the will of her father, who then had lawful care and charge of her.”
They also say: “You, Jacques, and you, Booth, aided or abetted, counselled or procured, the commission of that which Stead and Jarrett did.” Therefore, to constitute the charge there must be an unlawful taking away of the girl—that is, a taking away without lawful excuse. There is no legal excuse suggested in this case, and there is no legal excuse proved. It is admitted that the girl was in the father’s possession. The only question left is, was the taking against the will of the father?
I have dealt with the section in this way in order to bring the matter to the point at issue, and the issue which you have to try is: was the taking of Eliza Armstrong against the will of her father? I have had very grave doubts whether I ought to ask you more than that one question, but I think it would be advisable, for reasons which I need not explain, to ask you certain subordinate questions. They are these: Did Stead and Jarrett take Eliza Armstrong out of the possession of her father? To that you can return but the one answer, that they did. Secondly, did Jarrett, by falsely representing that she wanted Eliza Armstrong as a servant, induce the mother to let her child go? That is a subordinate question, which I believe is quite immaterial, but which I think it advisable to put to you. Thirdly, did the mother consent to the child going to be used for immoral purposes? Fourthly, if for immoral purposes, was the taking against the will of the father? With regard to Stead and Jarrett I propose to ask you these four questions, but the only material question is the taking against the father’s will. By and by I shall go on to deal with that question more fully; but the question which you will have to consider very early is whether you can put your finger on a bit of evidence to show that the taking away was with the consent of the father, or that he even had reason to suspect it. Unless you are of opinion that the taking was with the father’s consent, Stead and Jarrett are not entitled to be acquitted.
With regard to the law applicable to this case, if the consent of a person who is in the lawful possession of a child is obtained by fraud or misrepresentation, then that is no consent at all, for the fraud or misrepresentation annuls the consent, and the taking is against the will and consent of the person upon whom that fraud is practised. Assuming for a moment that in this case the mother had the possession of the child, and that Jarrett came and represented that she wanted a servant, and induced the mother to part with the girl as a servant, all the time wanting her for purposes of experiment, then there would be no consent—although the mother did in fact allow the girl to go—because the consent was obtained by fraud and misrepresentation, and was thereby annulled.
In this case it has been urged with great force by Mr. Stead himself, and also by counsel, that Stead, and Jacques, and Booth, and, I think, even Jarrett, were actuated by good motives. That has been impressed upon you strongly from every quarter. Probably you will come to the conclusion that Stead, and Booth, and Jacques were actuated by good motives. It is not at all improbable that they had a very strong feeling that vice largely existed, and that an Act of Parliament ought to be passed to suppress that vice. It may be that in June of this year, when the Criminal Law Amendment Bill was talked out, they felt that things had arrived at such a stage that it was necessary to take action, and they may have taken action from good motives. Assume all that, assume their motives to be as philanthropic as you can, and yet I am bound to tell you that in law that is no answer whatever to the charge.
Neither the absence of a corrupt motive, nor the presence of a good motive is any answer to this charge. Is it to be said that the law of the land is to be violated with impunity because the person violating it thinks some good may ensue? If that kind of thing were to be permitted, instead of being governed by fixed, ascertained and well-known laws, the result of the combined wisdom of the legislature of the country, we should be governed by the caprice, sentiment, and, perhaps, the passion of individuals. Is the sanctity of an English home to be invaded because some particular individual has some particular ideas about some particular matter? Test the thing in this way. It may be that some people think the over-indulgence of a child by its parents is bad for it, and honestly believe it; but are these people to come into your home and take away that child?
Take another case. Some people have very strong religious views, and think that people who entertain different views will be lost and eternally damned; is it to be said that on such grounds a child is to be removed and taken away from the custody of its father and mother? If so, then the sanctity and security of home would be absolutely and entirely at an end. It was really to prevent the invasion of English homes and English rights that the salutary section of the salutary Act of Parliament under consideration was passed.
In dealing with the case, we must look into the character and antecedents of the witnesses, on the one side and the other, because, you know, Mrs. Armstrong and Mrs. Broughton are charged with being the most infamous of women. They are so charged, however, upon the uncorroborated testimony of Jarrett, and, therefore, let us pause for a moment and see what Jarrett is. She has been described, I think by Mr. Stead, as a woman steeped in iniquity, a woman who has led the most profligate of lives. It may be said that she is a repentant sinner, and has seen the error of her ways. But how long ago? In September of last year she had relapsed into her old habits. Far be it from me to say that women who have led an immoral and profligate life cannot repent of the error of their ways, and become useful members of society. But it is a very exceptional case.
Far be it from me to say that immoral women—women who have led a life of prostitution—are less truthful than the rest of their kind. I do not suggest it for a moment. But here is a woman who, nine months before this, had relapsed into her old ways. It is upon her testimony, and her testimony alone, that the defendants pin their case. From what we know of her during the course of this trial, she has certainly lied in the witness-box. It was during her examination-in-chief that the fact that she had kept bad houses originally came out. She admits she kept these houses. She admits the towns. She admits, I think, the streets, but not the numbers. On cross-examination by the Attorney-General she was asked the numbers, and she gave the numbers most glibly. Inquiries were subsequently made which led to her being put again into the witness-box. Then she declined to adhere to the statements she originally made, and said “You forced this lie out of me”. This is the sort of woman on whose uncorroborated testimony you are to come to the conclusion that Mrs. Armstrong and Mrs. Broughton are the most infamous and heartless of the human race.
It is material that you should bear in mind that she is sent by Stead to do a particular thing—to carry out a particular transaction for him. No doubt she is thrust into the service; but she accepts it. Her recommendation is that she is a repentant sinner, and she undertakes this operation. You must remember that Jarrett pledged herself to carry out what she detailed as her experience to Stead, and she would undoubtedly have lost caste in the eyes of Stead, her employer, if she had failed. Not only is Jarrett a most abandoned woman, not only has she lied in the witness-box, but, in addition to that, you know that she, on the Tuesday and Wednesday, June 2nd and 3rd, gave Mr. Stead an account of what she alleged she had done and what had taken place. This was made by Stead the subject matter of the article of July 6th in the Pall Mall Gazette, which he has told us he took every care to be correct about, and to represent only what actually took place. You will find that she told him something which is absolutely inconsistent with what she has sworn in the witness-box. It is most important to look at the character, motive, and the position of a witness, especially if that witness is the only one on whose testimony you are asked to rely.
Now, let us turn to the other side, and see what is the character of the witnesses who are called in support of the case for the prosecution. First, the girl, Eliza Armstrong. She is one of several children, and is admitted, even by the defendants, to be a “truthful, modest, affectionate, pure child.” Therefore, you will wholly credit anything she has stated, so far as it is material to the case. It is perfectly true that she was brought up in a low locality, and in the tainted atmosphere of Charles Street. But is it not, then, all the more wonderful that she should be “truthful, modest, affectionate and pure”?
Now let us look at the next witness, Elizabeth Armstrong, a woman who is charged by the defendants with being the most infamous and heartless woman that could possibly be imagined—a woman who was ready, and almost volunteered, to sell her own off spring for outrage. Is there a single suggestion against this woman, except that she got drunk and used obscene language? At the Mansion House she was distressed, although Stead described her as being maudlin; but recollect the feeling which she evinced at Wimbledon when she again got her child back. Is that the conduct of a woman who has been described as infamous, profligate, and abandoned?
Then I come to Mrs. Broughton, who is charged with selling Eliza Armstrong, who is not her own child; but in that is all the difference between her and Mrs. Armstrong. Mrs. Broughton is Jarrett’s own particular friend, from whom she admits she received the utmost kindness. Now, the only suggestion of impropriety against her is that she received from and sent to Jarrett letters which might be equivocal. In one, Mrs. Broughton says, “When you come, bring a bloke with you”. That is not very refined language, but we are not dealing with very refined people. But it is a very different thing from using these expressions to selling a child for outrage. It is suggested that there are discrepancies in the evidence of these women, and no doubt slight discrepancies do occur, but you must remember that the witnesses have been examined and cross-examined over and over again. The question is not whether there are small variances, but do they tell substantially the same tale?
As to Charles Armstrong, I do not know that there is any suggestion made against him, except that on two occasions he struck his wife. He is a chimney-sweep, and nothing, as I see, is suggested why you should say he was a false witness. When, in the evening, he learned that Mrs. Armstrong had let the child go to service without telling him, he struck her a violent blow which nearly knocked her down. That is the man whom you are asked to say consented to his child being sold for outrage.
The case stands thus: witnesses have been called on behalf of the prosecution whose evidence substantially agrees in statements that the child was taken for a servant. The only evidence on the other side to show that the child was sold is the evidence of Jarrett, uncorroborated by any witnesses or documents; she has told you falsehoods, she has contradicted herself and Mr. Stead in regard to what she told him. Mr. Stead was called to give you evidence on his own behalf. He tells you he has for five years given his attention to the suppression of the horrible vice which was inquired into by the House of Lords Committee, viz., the traffic in English girls here and on the Continent. There was present in his mind, therefore, this evil, and in May last, when the Criminal Law Amendment Bill seemed to come to an untimely end, he gave up hopes of its being carried unless some stimulus was given to public opinion, and that, therefore, he entered into the plan which has brought him here. I do not say that credit is not to be given to Stead for his philanthropic motives, and his noble and generous impulses, and I do not suggest that his motives may not have a good deal to do with the punishment which may be inflicted on him if you find him guilty, but I must again impress upon you that motive is no answer of any sort or kind to the charge.
In his article in the Pall Mall Gazette, Stead says, “I can personally vouch for the absolute accuracy of the facts in this case”, but when in the witness-box he said he got the information from agents, and we know that many of the statements in that article are absolutely false. That which is in the article—that is what Jarrett told Stead— or, rather, I ought to say, either Stead invented a vast amount of the most sensational part of that article, or was told it by Jarrett. If he was told it by Jarrett, then she told him deliberate lies. Are you going to find that Mrs. Armstrong, Mrs. Broughton, and Eliza Armstrong have perjured themselves merely on the testimony of a woman like that? Are you going, upon evidence like this, to inflict upon Mrs. Armstrong the unutterable and irreparable injury of asserting that she sold her child into infamy?
I am sorry that I have been obliged to detain you so long, but the case has excited a great deal of interest, and it is very desirable that it should in no way be hurried. I shall now place in your hands the questions which I desire you to answer, but will you always bear in mind the material and main question: Was the child taken away without the will of the father? The question is whether you can return any but one answer in the face of such evidence.