In May, 1888, Police Constable George Russell found himself in the unenviable position of appearing at Bow Street Police Court to face charges of perjury and of having assaulted a lady by the name of Hannah Williams.
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper carried a report on the alleged crimes in its edition of Sunday May 13th, 1888:-
CHARGE AGAINST A POLICEMAN
“Police-constable George Russell, 200 W, appeared to a summons, at Bow-street police-court, on Thursday, charging him with perjury and assaulting Hannah Williams.
Mr. Mead said that the alleged perjury took place at the Wandsworth police-court on Easter Monday last, in a charge preferred against a man named George Baker and his wife, who were alleged to have been drunk and disorderly.
Mrs. Baker was also charged with having attempted to rescue her husband.
The case was adjourned by Mr. M. Williams for a week, and the defendants were then discharged, and it was now alleged that the defendant had committed perjury, and that the complainant and her uncle, Mr. Baker, a confectioner, had been assaulted by the defendant and Police-constable Hester, under circumstances detailed.
HANNAH WILLIAMS’S TESTIMONY
Hannah Williams, an ironer, of 23, Stewart’s-lane, W., deposed that she lived with her grandmother.
Her uncle and aunt lived at No. 25.
On Saturday, the 31st of March, witness was at a public-house called the Rock House, and left between 11 and 12, accompanied by Henry Eyre and Harry Cowdrey.
Mr. Baker’s shop was opposite the public-house.
Witness thought she saw a friend of hers, and ran across the road.
In doing so she accidentally ran against the defendant.
There was some disturbance with some boys, and the defendant slapped her face.
MR. GEORGE BAKER INTERVENES
Mr. George Baker (witness’s uncle) came up at the moment from his shop, and asked why the defendant had struck witness.
Mr. Baker said to the defendant, “Do you want a charge?”
Defendant said, “Yes; and I will have one,” at the same time seizing Mr. Baker by the collar.
BAKER TAKEN TO THE POLICE STATION
He was taken into custody, and was followed by his wife and witness to the police-station.
Witness went away, and subsequently returned to the police-station, where she found her uncle’s face streaming with blood.
In cross-examination by Mr. Wontner, witness said she was perfectly sober and her uncle did not call the constables “monkeys.”
Evidence was called in corroboration of this statement, and the allegations of perjury were stated to be a denial of the assaults complained of when the case was before the magistrate at Wandsworth.
The further hearing of the case was adjourned.”
RUSSELL AT THE OLD BAILEY
Ultimately, Constable Russell would find himself on trial at the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey).
The Warminster and Westbury Journal reported on his initial appearance in the dock in its issue of Saturday 9th June, 1888:-
“At the Central Criminal Court the Recorder has had before him the case of George Russel, a police constable, who surrendered to his bail to answer the charge of committing wilful and corrupt perjury at the Wandsworth police-court, before Mr. Montagu Williams, and assaulting Hannah Williams.
Mr. Poland said that some boys were making: a noise late at night in Battersea Park-road, where the defendant was on duty.
SHE CLAIMED HE SLAPPED HER FACE
The defendant was dispersing them, when a young woman named Hannah Williams. who was passing along the street at the time, accidentally ran against the constable. who is said to have immediately slapped her face with his open hand.
The girl’s uncle and aunt, George and Elizabeth Baker, came up and remonstrated with the officer, thereupon the defendant took the two Bakers into custody and charged them with being drunk and disorderly, and the latter with endeavouring to rescue her husband.
It was utterly untrue the Bakers were either drunk or disorderly, or that Mrs. Baker had endeavoured to effect any rescue.
Baker was a man who had been for some time in the service of the Metropolitan Gas Company, and had borne an irreproachable character.
CHARGED AT THE POLICE STATION
The Bakers were charged at the police-station at five minutes to 12 o’clock.
They were bailed out at 12.55, and a doctor would tell them that they were then quite sober, while other witnesses who had seen them immediately before their arrest would speak to their being sober.
Baker, when bailed, was bleeding from a wound in his head.
He alleged that another constable, named Heston, had assaulted him when he was taken to the station: but the police allege that he had received the injury by falling against his cell door as he was so drunk.
RUSSELL DENIED THE ALLEGATIONS
The defendant swore that no woman had run against him, and that he had not slapped any women in the face.
The inspector at the station and Police-constable Heston had also supported the testimony of the defendant, but the magistrate dismissed the case, and expressed the opinion that all three policemen had committed perjury, and that it was a trumped-up charge.
The Public Prosecutor had, therefore, felt it his duty to have the facts investigated before a jury.
HANNAH WILLIAMS TESTIFIES
Hannah Williams, the niece of the Bakers, gave evidence in support of Mr. Poland’s. statement.
In cross-examination, the witness said she was drinking in the Masons’ Arms , Battersea, about midnight on another occasion with a man who had absconded from his bail, and with three other girls.
They walked out before they were ejected.
The girls were not ejected at all, but the man was.
Three years ago her grandfather took her to the police-station and complained that she was unmanageable.
She was not fighting in the street as one in the morning last February, but there was a row, and the police interfered.
She had not threatened a witness that morning who was to give evidence for the defence, but she had told her that she would give her as good a character as she gave her.
In reply to the jury, she said she was in the public-house an hour and a half before the occurrence, and a young man paid for the drink.
HARE AND COWDERY’S TESTIMONIES
Two young men, named Hare and Cowdery, who were in the public house, gave corroborative testimony, the latter stating in answer to the jury that they had nothing to drink but lemonade and beer.
GEORGE BAKER GIVES EVIDENCE
George Baker, uncle of the young woman, Hannah Williams, deposed to the circumstances of the arrest and to his being struck by a policeman on the head as he was being taken into the police-station.
There was a police-constable named Gallagher there.
His wife complained that Gallagher was making indecent motions, but the inspector took no notice, and only went on writing.
While in the cell he beard Gallagher go into the adjoining cell, which was occupied by his wife. and say to her “Well, Totty, how are you getting on?” and then went on to make indecent allusions to her.
In the course of cross-examination the witness slightly varied from the evidence he gave at Wandsworth and Bow-street, and also from the evidence of the preceding witnesses.
His niece, Hannah Williams, was in the habit of working late at night, and her grand-father, with whom she stayed, sometimes locked her out, and then she went to sleep at a house which he had since heard was not respectable.
THE JURY COULD NOT REACH A VERDICT
On Saturday the trial was concluded.
Counsel were heard for the prosecution and defence, and the Recorder summed up.
After an absence of about an hour the jury returned into Court, and said there was no chance of their agreeing upon a verdict, and they were discharged.”
RUSSELL’S ORDEAL CONTINUES
With the jury unable to agree on a verdict, and subsequently being discharged, a new jury was appointed and Police Constable Russell found himself back in the dock at the Old Bailey a month later.
The Globe reported on the case in its edition of Wednesday 12th July 1888:-
“The trial of George Russell, a police-constable, of the W. Division of Metropolitan Police, for wilful and corrupt perjury was continued yesterday.
Mr. Poland, Mr. Mead, and Mr. Goderich prosecuted for the Public Prosecutor, and Mr. Geoghegan and Mr. Lawless appeared for the defendant.
The evidence for the defence was continued.
CONSTABLE HESTER’S EVIDENCE
William Hester, the police-constable who was alleged to have assaulted the man Baker as he was being taken into the police-station, was examined, and swore in the most positive manner that no such assault was committed by him; he could not have had any motive for assaulting Baker, as he had never seen him before.
He also stated that for five years he had worn a silver ring on his left hand, and this ring had no stone in it.
The witness also stated that, in his opinion, Baker and his wife were both drunk when they were brought to the police-station.
OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE WAS USED
Another police-constable corroborated Hester as to no assault having been committed by him.
He also stated that he heard Mrs. Baker call the constable, Gallagher, a very offensive name, and say that she would swing for him.
The witness likewise stated that Baker and his wife were drunk when they were brought to the station.
INSPECTOR SPENCER CONTRADICTS THEM
Inspector Spencer, who took the charge at the station, positively contradicted Baker and his wife as to what occurred when the charge was taken.
Mrs. Baker was charged with being drunk and making use of bad language, and called the police “monkey-faced bastards” and other opprobrious names.
She was advised to go away, when her husband interfered and was very violent, and they were obliged to take him into custody, when his wife attempted to rescue him.
This witness, it appeared, had been 23 years in the police force, and had risen from the position of a constable to his present rank.
THE JURY FIND HIM “NOT GUILTY”
After some other witnesses had been examined, Mr. Lucas, the superintendent of the division, was called and stated that the defendant bore a good character, and no complaint had ever been made against him, or any of the other constables who had been examined.
This concluded the case for the defendant, and Mr. Geoghegan replied.
The jury, after a short deliberation, found the defendant not guilty.”
FALSEHOODS TOLD BY WITNESSES
The judge, in dismissing the case against Police Constable Russell informed him that he could leave the court without a stain upon his character.
Furthermore, he expressed how unimpressed he had been by the calibre of the witnesses presented by the prosecution.
The Cheltenham Mercury reported his closing comments on 14th July 1888:-
“…the recorder, in discharging him, said he quite agreed with the verdict, adding that he never remembered a case in which so many falsehoods had been told by witnesses for the prosecution.”
HIS CASE RAISED IN PARLIAMENT
On the 19th July 1888, Mr Howard Vincent, Member of Parliament For Sheffield – and the man who had been in charge of the Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard, following its reform in 1878, questioned the Home Secretary as to whether Police Constable Russell would be compensated for what had, evidently, been a malicious case against him.
According to Hansard, he quizzed the Home Secretary, Henry Mathews as to whether:-
“… his attention has been called to the case of Police Constable George Russell, of the W Division, Metropolitan Police, who has twice stood his trial for alleged perjury, the jury in the first case failing to agree, and in the second acquitting the defendant; and if, under such circumstances, the full costs incurred by the constable in defending himself against a charge declared by the learned Recorder to leave no stain on the defendant’s character, and to have been supported by more falsehoods than he had ever heard told about the same thing in all his experience of 31 years, will be repaid, and the Director of Public Prosecutions instructed to consider the institution of proceedings against the false witnesses; and, if the decision in the case of P.C. Russell will govern that in the case of P.C. Hester, who was indicted in connection with the same circumstances, but against whom no evidence was tendered?”
The Home Secretary replied:-
“Yes, Sir; Police Constable Russell is, in my opinion, fully entitled to the benefit of the Rule that a public officer should be relieved of costs, when the result of his trial is to clear him of charges pressed against him in consequence of his action in the performance of his duties. The case of Police Constable Hester, who was indicted in connection with the same circumstances, but against whom no evidence was tendered, will be governed by the same Rule. I am advised that the success of proceedings for perjury against any of the witnesses would be doubtful. I do not, therefore, intend to instruct the Director of Public Prosecutions to institute any such proceedings.”
You can read the full transcript of the trial of Police Constable Russell on this page of The Old Bailey Online website.