The Criminals and the Police of London – II

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The Criminals and the Police of London – II

W. T. Stead (The Pall Mall Gazette, October 9, 1888)

The condition of the police force is unsatisfactory, but this is especially the case with the Detective Department. Of this the outward and visible sign was the resignation of Mr. Monro. It is that which warns the outside public how utterly the whole Criminal Investigation Department has gone to pieces under the new regime.


No one who knows anything of Mr. Monro needs to be told that he would not have deserted his post in the midst of a campaign against murder if the friction had not been intolerable. He stood it as long as he could and then he gave up, and left his department to drift as it has drifted, and as it is drifting to this day.

What makes this all the more serious is that some time before Mr. Matthews had seen fit to get rid of Mr. Jenkinson, who was at the head of the secret political police attached to the Home Office. Mr. Matthews, therefore, when he entered office, had the advantage of having two highly trained and experienced officers, whose whole duty was the detection and prevention of crime. Last year he sacrificed Mr. Jenkinson. This year he has lost Mr. Monro. In both cases he may have been quite right. But it is well to remember that he is responsible for the policy which has brought him to the pass of having to confront a most serious condition of disorder and of murder panic without the two chiefs whom his predecessors deemed it essential to retain by their side. Mr. Jenkinson’s departure, however, had nothing to do with the latest development of the Home Office policy.

In order to understand how it is that we have a detective department which cannot detect and a Criminal Investigation Department at which criminals snap their fingers, it is necessary to go back a little. The author and framer of the Criminal Investigation Department as it now exists was Mr. Howard Vincent, now M.P. for one of the divisions of Sheffield. It dates from the great outburst of public indignation at the discovery of the Druscovitch frauds, frauds which were carried on in the very heart of the department supposed to be charged with the detection of crime. Lord Cross, who was then Home Secretary, gave Mr. Vincent, who was a young and active member of a capable family, carte blanche to reorganize the Detective Department. Sir Edmund Henderson was then Chief Commissioner, and Mr. Howard Vincent was specially commissioned to carry out whatever reforms he thought necessary without much reference to the ideas of those who were nominally his official superiors. Mr. Vincent did his work with a will, and after a time he succeeded in establishing cosmos out of chaos. When Mr. Howard Vincent was director, and as long as he was director, the Detective Department was an imperium in imperio. When he left the force, in 1884, he handed over to his successor, Mr. Monro, an authority which, although exercised under another name, was hardly less absolute than that which he held. Colonel Henderson had acquiesced in the ascendancy of Mr. Vincent. He made no effort to assert his control over Mr. Monro. So it was that Mr. Monro began his career at Scotland-yard under auspices favourable to the development of self-reliance and independence. Mr. Monro, an old Anglo-Indian, was originally a man of strong will and of considerable resolution. Although only Assistant-Commissioner he was much the most capable man at the Yard, and when the Dodo was slain he was exempted from the general slaughter.

No sooner had Sir Charles Warren begun to feel at home in Scotland-yard than he decided that all authority must be centralized in himself. The capable, strong-willed man of energy always thinks everything will go better if he has got everything in his own hands. With Sir Charles action follows promptly upon resolution, and he speedily began to establish the supreme authority of the Chief Commissioner. Mr. Monro was only an Assistant-Commissioner. It was necessary, therefore, that he should be made to feel his place. This was done with a fine brutal frankness which certainly left its object in no doubt as to the intention of his chief. From of old the Detective Department was domiciled in the heart of Scotland-yard. Mr. Vincent’s room, as Director of the Criminal Investigation Department, was one of the best in the collection of dogholes in which the metropolitan police have their headquarters. The department had outgrown its premises. The Hackney Carriage Department was crowding it: there was no place in which to put the official dossiers, and so it was decided to transfer the Detective Department to Whitehall-place. The staff of the Criminal Investigation Department were well-pleased, but Mr. Monro clung to his office in Scotland-yard. One fine day, however, he was bundled out without ceremony and packed off bag and baggage to Whitehall-place. This eviction, even if inevitable, might have been accomplished with more consideration, but as it was effected it did not conduce to the harmony of the office. The detectives began to feel that they were regarded as no longer part and parcel of the force. The department itself, established in another street, was looked upon somewhat in the light of “the concern over the way”-a rival rather than a branch of the same business. To such a length was this carried that detectives of long standing were made to feel that their presence in the Back Hall of Scotland-yard was regarded as an intrusion. The Chief Commissioner was believed to favour uniformed men, and to disparage the services of the plain-clothes branch. He could not be got to see that the detectives were in any way more efficient than his ordinary constables. If he wanted any work done that could not be done by Z 324, with his helmet on his head and his blue coat on his back, he would simply put Z 324 in ordinary clothes and expect him to do the work of a detective. The detectives were discouraged, discredited, and sat upon, and the dormant feeling of jealousy and animosity between the two branches began to grow apace, to the no small detriment of the efficiency of the service.

Naturally Mr. Monro, an officer devoted to his work, and accustomed for years to be supreme in his own department, could not easily brook the arbitrary procedure of the Chief Commissioner. But Sir Charles is not the man to tolerate insubordination or resistance to his will. Mr. Monro was given to understand that if he did not know the place of an Assistant-Commissioner Sir Charles did, and would give him lessons in the art of keeping it. There were some stiff passages between the chief and his assistant. Mr. Monro had often the best of the argument, but the authority lay with Sir Charles. The old habit of familiar conference with his inspectors was placed under restrictions which robbed it of much of its value, and which injured the morale of the inspectors. The centre of everything of the detective police, as well as of everything else, was to be Sir Charles. It even became a high crime and misdemeanour to put any one’s name upon the outside of an official envelope except that of the First Commissioner. There was bitter heartburning in the Criminal Investigation Department, and Mr. Monro at last began to feel that unless his authority could be re-established he had better give up the hopeless attempt to maintain the efficiency of his office. The strength of the detective force is small. There are not quite 300 men, all told; 80 of whom are inspectors and 120 sergeants, with less than a hundred other distributed about the twenty-two metropolitan divisions. Mr. Monro wanted the strength of the force increased. The superintendents informed him that such an increase was necessary, and he applied for the addition of so many men to the strength of the C.I.D. This was like a red rag to the bull. Sir Charles would not hear of the proposed increase, and by the exercise of his immense authority over the superintendents he induced them to go back on their statement to Mr. Monro, and acquiesce in the Chief’s favourite doctrine that constables in plain clothes were quite as good as detectives. So Mr. Monro did not get the desired addition to the detective force. He made another attempt however to restore efficiency to his department. He asked for a deputy to assist in carrying on the work of the central office, and named one Mr. Macnaghten, an old Anglo-Indian, for the post. Sir Charles Warren assented, and signed the papers. But hearing afterwards something which set him against Mr. Macnaghten he cancelled his signature to the papers, and asked Mr. Monro to nominate some one else. This Mr. Monro refused to do, making some excuse more or less hollow, which Sir Charles mercilessly exposed, and then, driven to bay, Mr. Monro resigned, on the ground that the constant interference of Sir Charles Warren had destroyed his authority and rendered it impossible for him to remain responsible for his department. The final cause of the rupture was comparatively trivial. Its very triviality shows how strained the relations must have been between the Chief and his assistant. The present impotence of the detective force when it is directed by Sir Charles in person is a grim justification of the accuracy of Mr. Monro’s foreboding.


The personnel of the staff at Scotland-yard is as follows:-

Major-General Sir Charles Warren, K.C.M.G., Chief Commissioner, Salary … £1,500

Colonel Pearson (Discipline), Assistant-Commissioner …. £1,250

A. C. Bruce (Civil business), ditto …. £1,250

When Sir Charles Warren was appointed he had the advantage of a legal adviser at £1,000 per annum. That office has been suppressed. Mr. Monro, who was Assistant-Commissioner, has disappeared. His successor has not yet arrived. Under the Chief Commissioner in 1886 were two District Superintendents, Mr. Walker and Mr. Howard. Mr. Walker resigned with Colonel Henderson. His place was filled up by the appointment of a soldier – Lieut. Col. B. Monsell, Chief Constable of No. 1 District, at £625. The fourth Chief Constable is Major W. E. Gilbert: he has No. 4, Mr. Howard retaining No. 2. Two other soldiers were appointed as Assistant Chief Constables, namely:-

Captain Knollys, Assistant Chief Constable (Education Dept.)

Captain Dean, Do. Do. (Police Cavalry)

From this it appears that Sir Charles Warren has practically added five new soldiers to the executive staff at Scotland-yard. It consisted when he joined it of one soldier, two lawyers, one detective, and two policemen. It is now constituted as follows:- Six soldiers, one lawyer, and one policeman. The military element in 1886 was as one in six; it is now six out of eight. Sir Charles himself is soldier enough to supply militarism for the whole force, but instead of strengthening himself where he was weak he has done just the opposite. He has surrounded himself with soldiers and driven away the detective. The effect of this is felt throughout the entire force. Felt, but not admired. Perhaps the maddest manifestation of this militarism rampant was the appointment of an ex-captain of the Guards to impart systematic instruction to the young constables. As the guardsman has no practical acquaintance with “how constabulary duty should be done,” his systematic instruction naturally resolves itself into a poor kind of drill.

The essential difference between a soldier and a constable is that the former is seldom or never used out of formation, while the latter is seldom or never in formation. That is to say, the soldier is an integral part of a machine, the efficiency of which presupposes the absolute and mechanical obedience of all its parts. The constable, on the contrary, is called upon at all hours to exercise his own judgment, to solve knotty practical questions of law and of fact, to compose disputes, to dispense rough-and-ready justice, and, in short, to act as an independent unit. For every policeman is the bishop of his beat, with jurisdiction almost like that of a magistrate. If he winks he can suspend the operation of the law. If he pleases he can convert the law into a weapon of oppression. The soldier is never left alone. He never acts on his own initiative. He is always under the eye of his officer, and his supreme quality is unhesitating and unqualified obedience. The constable is always left alone. he is constantly acting on his own initiative, and his supreme duty is the habitual exercise of self-reliance and common sense. Hence militarism is fatal to the force. But with Sir Charles Warren militarism is supreme.


The Chief Commissioner, vehement and resolute, has a hand of iron. He has not a velvet glove. On the contrary, while he is fortiter in re he is fortissime in modo. Sir Charles Warren being a religious man does not swear. No round comfortable oath is ever discharged by him at recalcitrant officers. But the superintendent at whose head awe-struck rumour relates that a ruler was hurled in wrath would probably have preferred the bad word to the heavy stick. The unfortunate superintendents! Most of them have risen from the ranks; some of them are still in mind and character essentially of the type of the ordinary ranker. It is impossible not to pity them when confronted with a raging, roaring Major-General in his lair at Scotland-yard. On one occasion a luckless superintendent of Sir Charles Warren’s own appointing-a very bad appointment too-happened to be circumvented by the Socialists, who held their meeting and broke a window pane in defiance of the Chief’s orders. With quaking heart and trembling knees, he was ushered into the Chief Commissioner’s presence. He had not long to wait for him mittimus. “You a superintendent!” roared Sir Charles, in a towering rage, “you a superintendent! You are not fit to be a third-class constable. Out of my presence this moment!” and the poor wretch slunk away, to find himself compelled to resign on the pension of an inspector. The result is that there is a veritable reign of terror among the superintendents. They hardly dare call their souls their own. From being more or less the independent chiefs of districts as large as a provincial town, they have been reduced to the position of so many toads under the harrow of an absolute autocrat.

The local inspectors do not, fortunately for themselves, come into contact with the Chief Commissioner. But their life is made a burden to them by the endless stream of confusing and often conflicting orders, all drawn up in the same peremptory fashion. No doubt much of this irritation is unavoidable. Sir Charles is honestly endeavouring to introduce some kind of order into the chaos which exists in the Force, but legislation by mandates in their daily orders is somewhat bewildering. If this is the condition to which he has reduced the superintendents and inspectors, the relations which have been established between the heads, of departments in Scotland-yard are simply indescribable. Mr. Pennefather is the Receiver. The salary of his office is equal to that of an Assistant Commissioner. He represents the Home Office and the Treasury, and in that capacity is the most important officer at Scotland-yard after Sir Charles. With the Receiver the Chief Commissioner is at open war. Six weeks ago it was currently reported that he had refused to allow his Assistant Commissioners to countersign the Receiver’s cheques, so that 150 salaries had remained unpaid for a couple of months after they fell due. That difficulty, it is said, was patched up by the personal intervention of Mr. Goschen, but the feud remains. The two high officials are not on speaking terms, and the story goes that the latest order is that no member of the Force shall speak to the Receiver without a written permission from the Chief Commissioner! It is not true, of course, but it is ben trovato. In the Medical Department also, the Chief Surgeon is said to be at logger-heads with the Chief Commissioner.

Still, this may be necessary friction. It may be that King Stork is quite right, and that all those who cry out against him deserve to be cleared out. But what is quite clear is that until they are cleared out nothing need be expected from Scotland-yard. Either Sir Charles Warren should be allowed to have his way, and be supported by officials who will do his bidding, or else he should be appointed to some other sphere where his qualities would be better appreciated by his subordinates and his superiors. It cannot be for the public interest that the bear-garden at Scotland-yard should continue much longer.


With such a spectacle at headquarters, it cannot be wondered at that the rank and file are discontented and out of hand. The ordinary constable has been severely tried of late. He hates the military drill and the martinet ways of his new chief. He dislikes the severity with which Sir Charles is endeavouring to restore a higher standard of morality. The laxity of the previous regime makes him resent all the more bitterly the regime of his new masters. And then, as if to make these hardships quite intolerable, there has come a very unpleasant antagonism between the constables on duty and a very considerable number of their fellow citizens.

Sir Charles has tried to do two things at once. He is using the Metropolitan Force as janissaries to suppress by force all attempts of the people to exercise their ancient and accustomed liberties, while he is at the same time screwing up the standard of personal conduct by punishments which even the strictest Puritan must regard as excessive. The offence of drinking when on duty is, no doubt, serious. But when it comes to what is equivalent to a fine of £50 for taking a glass of beer when on duty, it is not surprising that the constables feel that it is more than human nature can stand. It takes a policeman eight years to rise from the third class, with 24s., to a first class, with 30s. He loses all his eight years’ service if he is caught taking a glass of beer without the permission of his commanding officer. The number thus reduced is stated at about a score a week; but this seems exaggerated. Even at half that figure, this would account for 500 constables per annum reduced in rank, and all smarting with a sense of being unjustly treated. Hard as this is to bear, it is perhaps less grievous than the altered relations in which the police stand to the people among whom they exercise their functions. No doubt the bludgeoning of the mob out of Trafalgar-square was very popular in the clubs and in society. But the bludgeoned mob naturally took another view of it. The applause of society is but faintly audible in the slums of Whitechapel or in the squalid streets of Southwark. It may be only a minority that distrusts the police and remembers Trafalgar-square, but it is a very blatant minority, which makes its existence felt on every beat throughout London. Thus, at the same time that Sir Charles was making the discipline of the service harder, the service itself was rendered more unpopular.