It might seem that fake news is a modern phenomenon, but, in fact, it’s been around for a long, long time.
One thing is certain about the Jack the Ripper murders – they most certainly sold newspapers.
Indeed, several newspapers enjoyed major increases in circulation whenever they carried reports on the latest horrible murder in Whitechapel, or, for that matter, on any other aspect of a case that had gripped the public imagination.
Large numbers of newspapers were sold by newsvendors who had their pitches on the streets of London and would shout out the latest lurid headlines in an effort to attract attention and sell papers to a public that was eager to devour as many stories about the East End murders as they could.
VICTORIAN NEWS VENDORS
However, newsvendors were more than happy to try and charge a premium for copies of papers that offered the latest updates on the Whitechapel murders, and they were not in the least bit averse to shouting false headlines in order to encourage their customers to pay extra for the latest edition of a journal.
But, when newsvendor John Hayward tried it on with Mr. Sidney Wilmost, in July, 1889, he found himself hauled into court on a charge of “crying false news.”
The Globe carried the following report on the case in its edition of Tuesday, 23rd July, 1889,
THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS
CRYING FALSE NEWS
“Yesterday afternoon, at the Bow-street Police-court, a newsvendor, named John Hayward, was charged with obtaining twopence by means of false pretences from Mr. Sidney Wilmot, hop factor, residing in Guilford-street.
The prosecutor stated that he had appeared on public grounds to proceed against the prisoner, owing to the very serious annoyance caused to the inhabitants of Russell Square and the neighbourhood generally, by newsvendors calling out false news.
This happened as late as 10 o’clock at night and sometimes later.
The most sensational announcements were made, and he had decided to take the present action in order to abate the nuisance if possible.
ANOTHER TERRIBLE MURDER
He heard the prisoner shouting at the top of his voice, “Another terrible murder in Whitechapel. The apprehension of the man in the act.”
The witness was induced to purchase a paper.
The prisoner asked him for 3d. for a copy, but the witness declined to give that amount.
He, however, procured a copy for 2d, on the representation that the paper contained the news in question.
EXTORTIONATE PRICES CHARGED
The witness here incidentally mentioned that it is no uncommon thing for extortionate prices to be asked for papers on similar false representations.
THERE WAS NO NEWS
Finding that he had been deceived, he gave the prisoner into custody, but was anxious that he should not be punished, his (the prosecutor’s) object being simply to have a caution conveyed to other vendors of newspapers.
Mr. Vaughan said that he considered the matter as one of great importance, and that the prosecutor had rendered public service coming forward.
He (Mr. Vaughan) would have to consider whether the case ought not to be sent for trial, and remanded the accused in order that inquiries might be made as to his antecedents.”