In late June, 1887, the Miss Cass case hit the headlines, and led to a barrage of press criticism towards the Metropolitan Police.
Police Constable Endacott had arrested Miss Maria Cass, claiming that she had been soliciting for purposes of prostitution on Regent Street, late at night.
At her subsequent court appearance, the magistrate, Mr Newton, dismissed the charges against her, but warned her that, if she wanted to appear “respectable”, she should refrain from going out on a busy street late at night.
A PRESS OUTCRY
This led to a huge outcry in the newspapers, and an official enquiry was launched, which, ultimately, would see Constable Endacott charged with perjury.
One newspaper that was vociferously critical of the police was The Pall Mall Gazette, and, on Thursday, 28th July, 1887, the newspaper published the following interview with a supposed sergeant of the Metropolitan Police’s “C” Division, concerning the Cass case, and the problems posed by prostitution in the West End of London:-
A POLICEMAN’S OPINION
“Before he saw the interview with Mr. Howard Vincent, published in the Pall Mall Gazette the other day, a correspondent had a chat the other day with a sergeant of the “C” division about the question of the hour. ”
“My opinion of the Cass case is,” said the sergeant, ” that Endacott is all to blame. I don’t believe he made a mistake. I have known him for some years, and I was not a bit surprised when this thing came out, because of other things I know about the man. I hope the matter will be sifted to the bottom, and Endacott gets what he deserves.”
“But that is not what the officers say about the man?”
“Of course not, because they feel there is weakness all round. Endacott is to blame in the first instance, but he is not the only one.
When Miss Cass was taken in, the inspector who took the charge ought not to have hesitated about dismissing the woman. They anyhow ought not to have sent Endacott to make the inquiry. He was an interested party.”
THE POLICE SYSTEM NEEDS REFORMING
“Leaving the Cass case for a moment you said, ‘There is weakness all round.” How do you mean? ”
“I mean that the whole police system in London requires reforming from top to bottom.
The men who ought to be in authority are not the theorists but the practical men, who have been brought up step by step in the service of the force.
But what happens?
For instance, I have been in the force for fifteen years. During the whole of that time I have been in the C division, and my record is absolutely clear.
Just now I shall be made a third-class inspector, but not of the C division, which I know every inch of to my finger’s ends, but of perhaps the Staines police-office or the one at Purfleet, in Essex; somewhere where there will be about half a dozen charges a year, and I shall rust.
TOO MANY MASTERS
The fact is we have too many masters, and those not of the best description.
The country police have to look only to their chief constables for orders, but with us we have to please about a dozen different people and bodies.”
“But I thought that after the so-called Socialist riot chief constables with large salaries were appointed?”
“I believe they were, but all the good they are is to make more work.
For the most part they are half-pay officers, who know no more of police duties and do no more police work than the lamp-post.
The heavy work is given to men who are sadly underpaid.
POLICING THE WEST END
Take Vine-street, for instance.
There we have to do with every class, from the duke to the dosser, and from the princess to the prostitute.
All the clubs, speaking roughly, are in the district, so are many of the theatres and the music-halls, and yet the liberty, and possibly the good names for ever of such a varied class, is absolutely at the mercy in the first instance, which is the crucial point of a policeman who gets 23 shillings a week, and an inspector who gets 36 shillings a week.
How can you expect trained men or men of ability and of discretion at such a price? Is it any wonder that some policemen accept bribes?
Among 14,000 Policemen it is not wonderful there may be black sheep who will make false charges or will blackmail.
A WOMAN FALSELY CHARGED
I remember a case in point.
I was in charge at Vine-street some time ago, when a constable brought in a woman for soliciting and annoying passers-by in Piccadilly.
He said she was standing in Piccadilly in a doorway about half-past one in the morning and repeatedly solicited passers-by.
I questioned the woman, when she acknowledged being a prostitute, but said she was not soliciting or accosting, but that the reason the police constable brought her in was because she was standing in a doorway out of the rain when she saw him pick up a silk handkerchief a gentleman had dropped and shove it up his sleeve. She remonstrated with him, and then, for fear of her informing, he ran her in and charged her.
This allegation he stoutly denied, but as I thought the woman’s word as good as the constable’s, I took him into a private room and questioned him as to his having the handkerchief in his possession, but he still denied having it. I then asked him to remove his tunic, when I found the handkerchief up his sleeve as the woman had asserted.
I, of course, discharged the woman, and reported the constable.
And now see where our system comes in.
His case was heard privately, without any newspaper report or aught else. He was fined ten shillings and removed from the C division.
MOVED TO ANOTHER DIVISION
Not from the force though, only to another part of London.
Why the man who was not honest enough for Piccadilly should be fit for some northern suburb, say, I can’t tell.
Nor can I think that one inspector in ten would have troubled themselves to test a constable’s word against the tale of a self-acknowledged prostitute.”
WHAT THE POLICEMAN WOULD DO
“What then would you do?”
“For the present, and until the police are placed under municipal government in London, two things.
I would appoint as charge inspectors men at large salaries who should be policemen trained as criminal lawyers or criminal lawyers trained as policemen, and they should be compelled to examine each charge as it is brought in, to see if there is a prima facie case to go before the magistrates, just as grand juries seek for a true bill against a prisoner before he is arraigned before a judge.
This would prevent an immense amount of injustice and hardship, but I should, of course, except certain cases of elony, brought in by warrant, from this prima facie trial.
I am only speaking of arrests by policemen.
In the next place, I could leave every situation in the force to competitive examination.
This reform would ensure your getting the best men to direct, and the other would prevent any damage that can be called irretrievable being done by an overzealous, or malicious, or wicked policeman.”
“But that would not clear the streets, as the saying goes.”
“It would go a long way towards it.
For I would make it possible for any woman to be given into custody for soliciting, or any man for the same offence, upon the complaint of the person annoyed only.
But then I would make it possible for the person so annoyed to substantiate his or her charge by evidence before the charge inspector, which he or she should sign and swear to. This evidence should be laid before the magistrate next day without any name or address.”
WHAT ABOUT FALSE CHARGES?
“But how about cross-examination? The prosecutor, either male or female, might make the charge from all sorts of bad motives.”
“True; but the charge inspector, being trained as a criminal lawyer as well as a policeman, would be able to cross-examine, and he himself would become counsel for the prisoner for the time being.
In a large majority of cases, however, the women charged would acknowledge what they had done, and as to men charged for accosting women, I think the knowledge that a prosecution for perjury would be the result of falsely charging would, added to the cross-examination I have hinted at, be sufficient protection.
MEN ARE EQUALLY TO BLAME
One thing: it must be no defence for a man to say that the woman he accosted he imagined was, or was really, a prostitute. If prostitutes must not accost men, then men must not accost prostitutes.
Besides the main complaint about our streets is that so many prostitutes are about them at night that no decent girl can go out alone without being spoken to by men who may really and truly imagine they are prostitutes because they are there at night time.”
THE RESORTS OF FALLEN WOMEN
“How about closing the resorts of fallen women, such as the Argyle Rooms, &c.?”
“Personally, I believe it were better these women should congregate indoors rather than on the streets. The damage such a place as the Argyle Rooms did is nothing compared with the awful harm these hundreds of women parading the streets do.
But when legislation does take place, and new orders are made, it is to be hoped that Regent-street and Piccadilly-circus will not be the only places thought about. Oxford-street and Tottenham- Court-road, and Portland-street and Hyde Park-corner, Edgware-road, the Camden-road, the ‘Angel,’ Dalston – almost every district of London has its centre where women ply for hire.
THERE IS A DEMAND
The demand is there, else the supply would not be as great, and I know very well there are few women on the town who, in comparison with their positions, do not earn good money.
I do not believe you can cure prostitution by persecuting prostitutes.
While the public wants them the public will have them, or we shall have worse evils in their stead.
The most we can do is to see that these unfortunates behave themselves, and at least are no annoyance, directly or indirectly, to either respectable men or women among whom they live.”