Who is Responsible?

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Who is Responsible?

W. T. Stead (The Pall Mall Gazette, October 8, 1888)

We begin to-day the publication of a series of articles upon “The Police and the Criminals of London,” which, when they are concluded, will, we trust, enable the public to understand better than they do at present the serious condition of the metropolis. We have heard a great deal about law and order in Ireland and law and order in Trafalgar-square.

It is now high time to ask whether we cannot have a little law and order in the streets, and whether, as the condition of this, we cannot have a little more law and order in Scotland-yard? That is the centre and source of all our trouble.

In considering this subject, the gravity of which it is difficult to exaggerate, let us at the outset distinctly disclaim any prejudice against the Chief Commissioner on account of the part which he has taken in stamping out the right of bona fide political meetings in Trafalgar-square. For that we do not hold Sir Charles Warren responsible. That responsibility lies with his official superior, the responsible Secretary of State. The Chief Commissioner obeyed orders, and did the bad work given him to do with characteristic courage and resolution. When he was appointed we welcomed his advent at Scotland-yard in an article entitled “King Stork,” which certainly lacked nothing in heartiness or generosity. We said: “We do not pretend to believe that Sir Charles Warren will be a popular Chief Commissioner, but we are sure that he will bring to his new post the sound principle, absolute integrity, unswerving resolution, great ability, and devotion to a high ideal of duty, by which in far other spheres he has won the respect and admiration of all who have seen him at work.” All that is true still, and the consciousness that it is true occasions us poignant regret when we have to point reluctantly but unhesitatingly to the Chief Commissioner as the chief cause for what the Daily Chronicle describes as the “crapulous decrepitude” of the Detective Department at Scotland-yard. The collapse of the mainspring of the Metropolitan Police Force as a thief-catching organization is due to Sir Charles Warren, and it is the direct consequence of the defects of his qualities. He is capable and energetic. He always thinks things will be best done if he does them himself. Hence the centralization of a camp has been forced upon the police, and the result has been to destroy the force as thief-catchers without converting them into a very effective military organization. The evil effect of the new system, by which the constable has been reduced to a more or less discontented machine, is naturally felt most in the Detective Department, which ought to be the brain of the force. Except for the purpose of dispersing meetings, the police force is breaking down. Those who know the force will declare that there has never been a time since the great strike when the police were so thoroughly out of hand and out of heart. There is no confidence anywhere, but discontent everywhere, and this discontent is felt most keenly at the headquarters of the force – in Scotland-yard itself.

In the Report the publication of which we have begun to-day we shall describe a state of things prevailing in Scotland-yard almost without parallel in the history of police administration, producing as its natural result a paralysis of authority and a carnival of crime in great districts of which none but those who suffer from it have any adequate conception. The chaos and bitterness at Scotland-yard surpass belief. The cause is very simple. When Sir Charles Warren was made Chief Commissioner we in vain demanded the retirement of Colonel Pearson and the appointment as his assistant of a competent and experienced man familiar with police duty. Mr. Childers most unfortunately did not see fit to insist upon the sine qua non for the success of his new Chief Commissioner. The result is before us. The Major-General in command, with the Colonel as Chief of Staff, dealt with the metropolitan police like military martinets, and its value as a civil force for the detection of crime has almost disappeared. Mr. Monro’s resignation was the outward and visible sign of an intolerable state of things which in the opinion of that competent Assistant Commissioner rendered it impossible for the detectives to do their work. No one therefore need be surprised that their work is not done.

Sir Charles Warren, with Colonel Pearson and his imposing staff of military commanders, is now acting as Chief of the Detective Department. Mr. Monro’s place is nominally filled by a Dr. Anderson, who is said to be in Switzerland. In his absence the Criminal Investigation Department is delivered over to anarchy plus the incessant interference of Sir Charles Warren. Now Sir Charles Warren is a very able General and a very excellent man, but Sir Charles Warren presiding over the Criminal Investigation Department is like a hen attempting to suckle kittens. He does not know the A B C of the business. He does not know his own powers. He does not know his men. He is only bewilderingly conscious that he is making a mess of it, and that somehow or other all his efforts fail to secure the apprehension of the murderer. A cat can usually catch a mouse, but not if she wears gloves. Much less can Grimalkin hope to succeed when he dons the heavy jackboots of a major-general. Battalion drill avails nothing when the work to be done is the tracking down of a midnight assassin, and the qualities which are admirable enough in holding a position or dispersing a riot are worse than useless when the work to be done demands secrecy, cunning, and endless resource.