A Serious Charge Against A Chemist

By 1888, following a scandal in which several members of the Detective Department of Scotland Yard had been tried and found guilty of being in the pay of a gang of swindlers, the whole department had been reorganised and became the Criminal Investigation Department, which was placed under the leadership of an ambitious young barrister by the name of Howard Vincent.

A portrait of Howard Vincent.
Howard Vincent.


However, it wasn’t long before the new Department found itself embroiled in controversy, when it was revealed that they had obtained evidence against a chemist, who was suspected of supplying drugs to induce abortions, by sending in a woman and then a man who posed as the mother and the lover, respectively of a fictitious young woman, who, so they claimed, required the chemists’s expertise to end an unwanted pregnancy.

The Eastern Daily Press, published the details of the accused’s court appearance in its edition of  Monday, 6th December, 1880:-


“On Saturday at the Marlborough Street Police-court, Thomas Titlev, a young man, described as a chemist, of Charlotte Street, was charged, on remand, with selling a noxious drug, with the object of procuring abortion.

Mr. Poland appeared for the prosecution, and, having briefly addressed the magistrate, stated that he had no doubt after hearing the evidence the magistrate would be of opinion that the case came within the meaning of the Act.

Mr. Besley stated that if the magistrate had made up his mind to send the case for trial, he would not address him.

Mr. Newton said that the case would go for trial.


Mrs. Martha Diffey, Portland Road, North, stated that in consequence of instructions she received from Inspector O’Callagnan and Sergeant Shrives she went to No. 44, Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, a chemist’s shop, the name of Titley being over the door. She told the prisoner she wanted to speak to him privately concerning a little affair about her daughter, who was in the family way, and wanted it destroyed. She told the prisoner a friend had sent her, a friend of the young man.

The prisoner asked her if the young woman could not come to him, and she said she could not, but that she would take anything he gave.

The prisoner then asked if the young gentleman could not come. The prisoner remarked that if he was found out it was transportation for life, and stated that he did not do anything for persons that he did not know anything about.

Answering Mr. Besley, the witness said that her husband was a pensioner of police. She had never been engaged in such a matter before, and she was sorry she was now in it, as it was such trouble, and she was ashamed of the statements she made about her child.


Mr. Samuel Mills, divisional surgeon, Bow Street, said that he had examined the contents of a bottle handed to him Mr O’Callaghan, and found it to contain matters noxious to be given to a pregnant woman, and coming under the head of noxious drugs, the object no doubt being to produce abortion.

Some bottles having been shown to Mr. Mills, containing certain matters, and Mr. Mills having given evidence on the point, Dr. Auguste Duprez, analytical chemist at Westminster Hospital, gave similar evidence to Mr. Mills, adding that it was dangerous for such medicine to be administered to a pregnant woman.


Sergeant Stroud, T division, stated that he went to the prisoner’s shop, and in the course of some conversation with him, in which he said he had been recommended by a man named French, who was employed at his father’s office in the City, he told the prisoner that he hoped the fact of his being a stranger would not prevent him from giving his assistance, and that he would not mind a little additional expense to be out of the difficulty.  He paid for two bottles of medicine.

Replying to Mr. Besley, the witness said that he had been nine years in the police, and had been a detective four years.

He had let the prisoner see that he had five 5l. notes, but he was not instructed to pretend to be very generous, and  to pay all expenses. He was told by Inspector O’Callaghan that if he (the prisoner) wanted 5l to give it to him. he told the prisoner that he considered the four shillings he had charged him to be very moderate, but he did not press him to take more.


Detective Philip Shrive, L Division, gave evidence as to bringing away certain bottles, and a can containing certain objects.

The case for the prosecution having closed, Mr. Besley reserved the prisoner’s defence, and he was committed for trial on the same bill as before.”


The Manchester Evening News, on Tuesday, 14th December, 1880, pondered the ethics of what the police had done, and published the details of the Old Bailey Judge’s scathing attack on the conduct of the officers involved:-

“The December session of tho Central Criminal Court, London, was opened yesterday. The Recorder, in charging the grand jury, referred to a charge against a chemist named Titley of selling noxious drugs for an unlawful purpose.

The prisoner had, it appeared, been entrapped into selling the drugs by a scheme concocted by the police, and the Recorder said that some question might arise as to whether a charge got up in this way could be supported. He could not help remarking that it was certainly a novel mode of carrying out the criminal justice of the country to arrange a scheme of this character, which was entirely founded upon falsehood and deception, for the purpose of detecting a criminal offence.

Later in the day, the grand jury came into court, and returned a true bill for misdemeanour against the whole of the witnesses for the prosecution in the original charge, the offence imputed to them being that they had conspired together for the purpose of inciting the accused person to commit an indictable offence.


The Times, today, commenting on this case, says:- Whatever may be the issue of their trial, the result it cannot fail to have will be a clear laying down of the rules by which they are to be guided for the future.

Within what limits is it allowable for the police to tempt men to the commission of crime? There are certainly some cases in which the thing in question may be done. The police-constable who is served with drink at forbidden hours or in unlicensed place does not thereby expose himself to the charge of conspiracy.

To send letters by the post containing marked coin is a common practice enough where a letter carrier is suspected of dishonesty. Yet to do this is certainly to put temptation in the way of the letter-carrier, and, possibly, lead them into an offence of which he may never have been guilty before. But to convey letters with money is, it may be urged, the regular duties of a letter carrier. He is subject to no unfair trial by being set to do what he has undertaken to do, and what he may be called upon to do any day.

The case of the dealer who supplies drink at the request of police-constable, and who breaks the law in so doing, somewhat more to the point. But even this does not go far enough. The man must have had the drink on sale. Tho circumstances are such as to imply that he is engaged in an unlawful traffic, and that he is waiting for the opportunity which the coming in of a new customer supplies.


In Thomas Titley’s case, the whole crime from one end to the other is the mere concoction of the police. He is found engaged in his lawful occupation as a chemist, and he is urged to an unlawful course outside his regular business.

There is more here than the detection of crime. The initiative is with the police and not with the offender. Each subsequent step is the result of a distinct suggestion on the part of the police.

What should we think of police-constable who instigated a man to open a booth for the unlawful sale of liquor, who then bought liquor from him, and who finally dragged him into court for his breach of the Excise laws?

What if a letter-carrier were told of a valuable packet about to come into his charge and were urged to steal the contents and to divide the spoil with his informant?


If such courses as these are held to be justifiable, they will cover Thomas Titlev’s case, as it appears in the charge of the Recorder, but they will hardly more than cover it.

If the police have really done what the Recorder’s charge implies that they have done, and what the finding of the grand jury endorses against them, the proceeding is described none too strongly as very greatly to be reprobated in itself and for the abuses to which it obviously lends itself.”


The trial of Thomas Titley went ahead, and he was subsequently found guilty by the Jury, albeit they strongly recommended mercy, on the grounds of the provocation by the police in inducing him to the commit crime.

The London Daily News,  reported on the outcome of the  case on Friday, 17th December, 1880, and opined on the conduct to the Criminal Investigation Department:-

“Notwithstanding the extraordinary manner in which the case was manufactured by the police, Thomas Titley was yesterday convicted of supplying noxious drugs with felonious intent, and was sentenced to eighteen months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

Nothing, however, could well be stronger than the language in which Mr. Justice Stephen, before whom the case was tried, condemned the conduct of the Criminal Investigation Department.

He will, we think, have the general body of public opinion with him in saying that “the employment of spies to go and tell a parcel of lies was a proceeding that must be deprecated by all.”


The case, as we have already observed, is very different from the ordinary instances of sending marked letters through the post in order to detect dishonest postmen, or of buying adulterated liquors for the mere purpose of analysis.

It may be that in Titley’s case the police had good grounds for suspecting that he had been for some time engaged in an unlawful trade, but even Scotland-yard is not infallible; and it would be a shocking thing if, by the offer of extraordinarily high price, a hitherto respectable tradesman were to be tempted into the paths of vice in order that Mr. Howard Vincent or his subordinates might claim credit for activity and efficiency.


With regard to Titley’s offence there cannot be two opinions.

The strictest and most practical Malthusian must condemn as severely any clerical optimist the man who supplies the ignorant mothers of illegitimate children with deleterious chemicals at an exorbitant cost.

But though everyone must rejoice when such scoundrels are brought to justice, a verdict of acquittal in the present instance would have had the not undesirable effect of administering a good sound snubbing to the department over which Mr. Vincent presides.”


However, the case wasn’t over for the police officers who had entrapped the convicted chemist, and they subsequently found themselves appearing at the Old Bailey charged with having incited Thomas Titley to commit the offence:-

The Christchurch Times reported on the case and the outcome in its edition of Saturday, 25th December, 1880:-

At the Central Criminal Court, John O’Callaghan, police inspector, Philip Shrives, and William Stroud, police sergeants, and Martha Diffey, a female searcher in the force, answered to their recognisances on charges of having incited the chemist, Thomas Titley, who had been sentenced to eighteen months’ imprisonment, to supply a noxious drug for an unlawful purpose, in order that he might be convicted and punished.

The indictment was quashed upon some objections of a technical nature, and the defendants wore discharged.”