A Grave Charge Against The London Police

By the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, the Metropolitan Police were coming under constant criticism in both the press and Parliament for the heavy handed way in which they were policing London.

One newspaper that subjected them to relentless criticism was The Pall Mall Gazette, which, on Friday the 20th of April 1888, reported on a heated exchange in Parliament about the conduct of the force:-



Mr. Firth, in the course of his speech on the second reading of the Local Government Bill last night, said: There were 14,000 men absolutely beyond the control of the ratepayers placed in the hands of a military commander who had not the advantage of knowing or understanding the people of London.

The present commander of the force appeared to be in a condition of nervous prostration. He spoke about 50,ooo men who were the danger of London, and so forth. But what was more important to consider was the serious difficulty that the people themselves had not confidence in their police force.


Supposing that the circumstances which occurred in London on the 13th of November had occurred in any English or Scotch provincial town, what would have taken place?

There would have been an inquiry, without doubt, but on this occasion there were more than 100 cases of men who had been attacked by the police, but there had been no inquiry.

Things in this respect were getting worse, because we were now receiving with respect to London what we enjoyed with respect to Ireland – police versions of what happened.

An Illustration showing the Bloody Sunday riot in Trafalgar Square.
The Bloody Sunday Clash Between Police and Socialists in Trafalgar Square, November 1887.


As his hon. friend the member for Barrow had pointed out, the police levied blackmail on the most unfortunate class in this city. Not only so, but the police levied blackmail on the great distributors of goods in London.

(An hon. member cried “No, no).

He would inform that hon. gentleman that one of the very largest distributors of goods in London told him last week the amount that was paid, and that it was just a question whether his firm was summoned or not, or whether he paid. (Oh, oh.”)


Mr. Ritchie: As the hon. gentleman is making such a very grave accusation against a body of men in London, he ought to state who his informant is.

Mr. Firth: My informant is one of half a dozen of the largest distributors of goods in London. If the right hon. gentleman wishes his name I will give it to him privately.

(“No, no.”)

Mr. W. H. Smith: I appeal to you, Sir, on the point. A most serious charge has been made against the London police. It is a matter which concerns the public themselves, and in the public interest we should have the name of the person who makes a charge of that kind.


Mr. Firth: Of course the charge against the police is not against them as a body.

(Cries of “Name.”)

I am not going to give the name of the person in this House.

(Cries of “Withdraw,” and interruption.)

I shall not. I will give the name to the right hon . gentleman (Opposition cheers), who will recognize it ; and I will ask him to state it in the House if he does not.


Mr. W. H. Smith (who rose amid loud Opposition cries of “Order”): If the name is given it must be given under conditions which will enable me to test the accuracy of the charge.

The charge is of so serious and grave a character that the hon. gentleman must enable the Government to take the best means in their power to test its accuracy.


Mr. Firth said of course that was so, but it must be understood that he was not charging the whole body.

The police of London contained a very large number of the best men to be found in any force in the Kingdom; but they were deteriorating, and he asked why the people of London should not have the same control over their police as other towns had.

The proposed London Council might be a body to whom the control of the police could fairly be entrusted.