John Burns (1858 – 1943) was a prominent trade unionist and politician who was very active during the dock strike of 1889, during which time he found himself, on one notable occasion, arrested on suspicion of having been the notorious Whitechapel murderer.
The 1889 dock strike was one of the first major battles in which the dockers fought to improve their working a living conditions, and John Burns – who had already made his name as a firebrand during the events of Bloody Sunday, in November, 1887 – was a major figure in the strike.
He, therefore, ran, several risks, but being mistaken for the perpetrator of the Whitechapel atrocities was, it has to be said, and unforeseen one!
The Sheffield Independent published the story of the circumstances behind his brush with the law in its edition of Monday the 16th of September 1889:-
JOHN BURNS MOBBED
ARRESTED FOR “JACK THE RIPPER”
The Star man reports one of the most amusing incidents which has occurred during the strike.
Much to the chagrin of the dock directors, John Burns has not only evaded the clutches of the police for the past five weeks, but he has also established with them the most friendly relations.
On Friday night, however, be was arrested.
SURROUNDED BY WOMEN
It came about in this way.
On leaving the Wade’s Arms, a little after twelve, John was surrounded by 50 or 60 women.
Whether it was his winning ways, his manly form, or the hope of getting relief tickets that attracted them, is doubtful, but they became so persistent in their attentions and importunities that Burns was forced to run off down West India Dock road. But they were not easily got rid of.
They ran, too, and for 400 or 500 yards an exciting chase was kept up.
THE GREAT LOTTERY PRIZE
At this point, however, one of the foremost of his pursuers, dead beat, leaned against the palings and shouted out in panting accents, “Stop, stop that man.”
A police officer, who evidently had his eye on the chance in the great “Jack the Ripper” lottery, at once made a dash for Burns, seized him by the scruff of the neck, and held him fast.
A little delay enabled the rest of the women to come up. And then, of course, they were just as clamorous for his instant release as they had previously been for his capture.
ALLOWED TO DEPART
Visions of wealth and fame faded from the mental gaze of the policeman. He reluctantly recognised that it was another Jack he had caught – not less renowned, but distinctly less bloodthirsty – than he of Whitechapel infamy.
He let his man go and John’s pursuers, warned by the dangers to which they had exposed him, let him depart in one piece.”
ONCE ARRESTED AS “JACK THE RIPPER”
On Monday the 27th of January, 1936, following the death of Alfred Hinde in a traffic accident, The Yorkshire Evening Post, publishing details of the deceased’s mistaken arrest in London during the Whitechapel murders scare:-
“Alfred Hinde (67), bootmaker and repairer, who was knocked down and killed by an omnibus at Wellingborough, was once detained by a detective in London, who thought that he had caught the notorious “Jack the Ripper.’
A FIGHT AND AN ARREST
Mr. Hinde went to assist a woman who was being attacked and who was calling out for help.
He fought with the woman’s assailant, who made off.
A detective assumed that Hinde was the aggressor, and he, therefore, took him to the police station.
The woman, however, came forward to clear Hinde, who had been injured in the struggle with the man.
The police paid for his hospital treatment.”