Police Constable Bloy

By early 1888, the Metropolitan Police were reeling from a series of blows to their public image that had, in many ways, been self inflicted. Chief amongst them had been the case of Miss Elizabeth Cass, the Bloomsbury dressmaker who had been arrested by Police Constable Endacott in June 1887.

Her case, and the subsequent criminal trial of the arresting officer for perjury (of which he was found not guilty), had severely dented the reputation of Sir Charles Warren and his force; and the radical press was, very much, baying for his blood.

As the first month of 1888 drew to a close another Police Constable blundered into a situation that would blacken the image of the force still further.

On January 26th 1888, the Pall Mall Gazette ran the following headline:-

A “CASS CASE” AT WEST HAM
WHAT WILL SIR CHARLES WARREN DO?

The subsequent article went on to report that:-

“A girl named Annie Coverdale, a domestic servant, aged twenty-one, was yesterday charged at the West Ham police-court with being drunk and disorderly.

The principal witness was Police-constable Bloy, and his story was that he found the young woman in the midst of several men who were fighting; and that she, accused one of them of having stolen a watch and chain.

These were almost immediately picked up, whereupon, he alleges, she refused to give in charge the man whom she had indicated, although, upon his being let go, she followed the police and abused them for having allowed him to escape.

As she was drunk, and persistently used bad language, he eventually took her into custody.

The girl indignantly denied those parts of the constable’s account which touched on her character.

Her version was that, being out on an errand for her mother, she saw “her young man” drunk in the streets, and was endeavouring to get him home, when they were set upon, and he was robbed of his watch and chain and money.

When the police came up, the watch and chain were found, but Bloy refused to take the thief into custody.

This refusal excited her, and she was then accused, and Bloy arrested and struck her.

With regard to the girl’s character, Bloy first asserted that he had known her for some years, and when it appeared that her family had not been in the neighbourhood so long, he reduced the term to twelve months.

He also said that he had noticed her about the streets every night for the past three or four months, as the associate of casual sailors and seafaring men but a fellow-constable, who was also called to give evidence, did not remember to have ever before seen her.

There was no evidence that she had been drinking, and she had documentary evidence to confirm her statement that she was a domestic servant with a good character from two situations.

Mr. Baggallay, the magistrate, in giving his decision, said: There seems to have been a disturbance, and a man undoubtedly was the worse for drink. There is no evidence at all that this young woman was the worse for drink, except that given by Bloy.

I should be sorry to act upon his evidence, remembering the answers he gave. I do not think there is any ground for the suggestions he has made about the young woman being seen out with seafaring men.

In fact, I do not believe it. I do not believe his evidence at all, and (to the prisoner) I discharge you.

The young woman left the court with her mother, the latter weeping bitterly.”

HE DIDN’T BELIEVE BLOY

The fact that the magistrate – unlike his counterpart, Mr Newton, in the Cass case – had  openly stated that he didn’t believe a word of Constable Bloy’s testimony led the Pall Mall Gazette to pay particular attention to Annie Coverdale and, two day later, in their issue of the 28th January 1888, the updated their readers on the Miss Coverdale’s antecedents and on the known facts of the case, with a headline that was evidently intended to link the case in the public mind with the case of Elizabeth Cass.

THE “CASS CASE” OF CANNING TOWN

“The following, as ascertained by inquiry on the spot, are the facts in the case of Anne Coverdale, who was accused at West Ham police-court the other day of being drunk and disorderly on police evidence which was wholly set aside by the magistrate.

The girl is known as the daughter of thoroughly respectable parents ; her father has been forty-four years in the Peninsular and Oriental service, eight in the navy, and is in receipt of a pension.

Going out on Tuesday evening to get some milk, she saw “her young man,” J. Savage, who had been drinking, in the company of two strangers. She attempted to get him home to his lodgings, when they set on him; one of them stole his watch and money and ran off, the girl pluckily detained the other.

Attracted by her cries, a neighbour fetched Police-constable Bloy, 79 K, from a public-house.

She had to summon him twice, and the fact proves that the time was not, as stated by Bloy in court, later than twelve.

This neighbour asserts (as do others) that he was the worse for drink.

As Miss Coverdale could not charge the man with actually stealing the watch, which was done by the runaway, Bloy let him go.

He afterwards broke into Savage’s lodgings (where the girl had led the young man), and insisted that he was the thief of his own watch!

He then waited about outside, and on her way home insulted and actually kicked the girl, subsequently taking her into custody on the charge named, and dragging her away from her hold on the railings of her own house.

Parts of the charge were backed by other constables, and the happy turn which the case took was solely due to the fact that Mr. Baggallay (ex-M.P. for Brixton), the magistrate, happened to know personally the Brixton gentleman with whom the girl had been in Service; and also to the credentials fortunately possessed by her parents.

The matter is now before the Commissioners of Police

SIR CHARLES WARREN’S DECISION

Sir Charles Warren, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, then had to decide whether further action should be taken against Police Constable Bloy, since, as the facts seemed to suggest, he had lied in curt, had assaulted Miss Coverdale and, the the above report in the Pall Mall Gazette was true, ha also been drinking on duty.

Warren’s response caused something of a furore when he opted to move Police Constable Bloy to a different division, Poplar, where he continued his duties as a member of the force.

In short, he exonerated Bloy of any wrong doing, a fact that, on the 13th February 1888, was brought up in Parliament.

Mr Sydney Buxton, The Member of Parliament for Tower Hamlets, asked the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, why it was Police-constable Bloy had been transferred to the Poplar District, and how long he would remain there?

Mr. Pickersgill, the Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green S.W. then rose to his feet to question the Home Secretary about Sir Charles Warren’s decision to exonerate the constable involved:-

“Did Sir Charles Warren, before exonerating Police-constable Bloy, examine any witnesses except policemen; and, if so, what witnesses; whether, before issuing his Memorandum, the Chief Commissioner communicated with Mr. Baggallay; whether Mr. Baggallay requested to be furnished with a copy of the Memorandum; whether that request was complied with; and lastly, whether, as the public was somewhat interested in this matter, the Home Secretary would at once lay upon the Table copies of the Memorandum, and of the correspondence with Mr. Baggallay?”

Henry Mathews, The Home Secretary, replied:-

“In answer to the Question on the Paper, I am informed by the Chief Commissioner that it has been, and is, the custom of the Service, when an officer had been found fault with by a magistrate, to remove that officer from the district of the Magistrate’s Court. It is uncertain how long Police-constable Bloy will remain at Poplar. These are matters of ordinary police discipline, which are left to the discretion of the Commissioner.

In answer to the Question of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green, my answer to the first and second paragraphs is in the negative. In answer to the third paragraph, I have to say that the magistrate did not apply directly to the Commissioner for a copy of the Memorandum. If he had done so, I feel sure that his request would have been complied with. He asked for a copy through an Inspector, whose message was not received by the Commissioner until after the magistrate had made his remarks in Court. I do not think it would be useful, or to the public advantage, to lay on the Table copies of the Paper referred to.”

THE CANONIZATION OF ST BOBBY

On the 11th February 1888, the Pall Mall Gazette featured an illustration which summed up the attitude of many with regards Sir Charles Warren’s handling of the both the Miss Cass and Miss Coverdale cases.

The illustration in the Pall Mall Gazette.
From The Pall Mall Gazette, Saturday 11th February 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.

WHAT THE EVENING STANDARD SAID

Responding to Warren’s exoneration of Bloy, The Evening Standard, in a leader dated the 15th February 188, had this to say:-

We cannot think that Sir Charles Warren is altogether blameless in the matter.

Nobody knows better than himself that the public confidence in the honesty and intelligence of the police force, in connection with duties which imperatively demand both is exactly what it was, and he ought to have been exceptionally careful in any fresh case that might arise to do nothing that was calculated to re-awken these feelings of distrust.

The case of Constable Bloy has served to intensify them; and by withholding from the public the grounds on which he came to a conclusion adverse to that of the magistrate who had heard both sides of the story, the Chief Commissioner has, we think, committed a grave error of judgment, which is much to be regretted.

It is a serious mistake to attempt to regulate the police on a military model, or to try to make a little Horse Guards out of Scotland-yard. The two institutions stand on totally distinct footings. Both the army and the police are, in one sense, servants of the public; but the police, Sir Charles must remember, are so in another, and a very different, sense from that in which the army is.”

A SMACK IN THE FACE FOR THE MAGISTRATE

On the evening of the 14th February 1888, a deputation had attended a West Ham Council meeting to complain about the treatment of their Magistrate, Mr Baggallay, by Sir Charles Warren.

Addressing the meeting, Councillor F. Smith observed that, although the “just indignation” that the reports of the facts concerning the facts of arrest of Miss Coverdale had engendered had now all but melted away.

However, the action of the Commissioners of police towards Mr. Baggallay, their stipendiary, was the one thing that occuped their minds. He had, so Mr. Smith asserted,  “received “a smack in the face,” but he [Mr Smith] felt sure that the Magistrate retained the confidence of that council – ( cries of hear, hear)—and that the Council should not allow an autocrat to interfere with him.”

According to a report on the meeting published in the Pall Mall Gazette on February 15th 1888, another member of the deputation stated that:-

” the Commissioners of Police had recently acted in such a way as to bring those responsible for decency and public order into disrepute. Their action was not only inconsiderate, but most discourteous.

They held an official secret meeting – if he were permitted he would call it “a conclave of the deities of Scotland-yard” and  the
police magistrate was not acquainted with it, the result being that that the decisions of the police magistrate were brought into contempt.

In face of the way in which Sir Charles Warren had ridden roughshod over the constituted authority he would ask how law and order were to be maintained in the borough.

The deputation desired to know whether the best way would not be to endeavour to secure the control of the police in their own hands.

Mr. C. Boardman also addressed the council, referring to the universal satisfaction with which the decisions of Mr. Baggally had been received by rich and poor alike.

He thought such action should be taken that these kind of things should not take place, and he referred to the rule of Sir Charles Warren as a military despotism.

Mr. George Hay (the Mayor) in replying to the deputation, said there was one point on which thoroughly sympathised with them, and that was the feeling that Mr. Baggally had been shamefully treated by Sir Charles Warren. He thought every reasonable, straightforward man with any brains felt convinced that it was a most unfair action on the part of the Police Commissioners, but he thought that it should be left in abeyance.

After some desultory conversation the deputation, having thanked the council for the courteous way in which they were received, withdrew.”

THE DEBATE IN PARLIAMENT

Unsatisfied with the response by the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, to his questions in Parliament on 13th February 1888, Mr Pickersgill, called for a Parliamentary debate on the issue and this took place on 20th March 1888.

You can read a transcript of the full debate here.

The next day the Pall Mall Gazette, totally unimpressed with what the Home Secretary had to say n the debate ran an article which was headlined:-

THE WHITEWASHING OF ST BLOY

The proceedings in the House of Commons last night, when Mr. Pickersgill called attention to the case of the “East-end Endacott,” were most unsatisfactory from every point of view – and chiefly for this, that they showed once more how every other consideration is sacrificed by Mr. Matthews to the neresity of whitewashing Sir Charles Warren and his “moral miracles in blue.”

Our readers will remember that the broad outlines of the case are these. A young woman, named Annie Coverdale, was charged with being drunk and disorderly by Bloy, who stated that the girl was drunk and that he came to that conclusion from her appearance. He said that he had known her for two years, and that she had been out every night for the three or four months preceding up to twelve or one o’clock in the morning.

Another constable also expressed his opinion that the girl was drunk.

On the other hand, the girl produced testimonials as to character and witnesses who swore that she was sober.

The magistrate, Mr. Ernest Baggallay, after warning the policeman, came to the conclusion that there was no evidence against the girl and dismissed the charge.

BLOY DECLARED INNOCENT

Whereupon Sir Charles Warren held a secret inquiry of his own, declared Bloy to be innocent (and the girl therefore to be guilty), and censured the magistrate.

A grosser insult to the administration of justice could not be imagined.

It was an insult at once to the magistrate and to the public.

THE CASS ENQUIRY

Sir Charles Warren’s judicial qualifications may be gauged from the Cass inquiry, which was the laughing stock of every lawyer in the country.

Yet he took upon himself to conduct a secret inquiry, and on the strength of it (1) to insult a duly-constituted magistrate, and (2) to assert, by implication, that a defendant declared by that magistrate to be innocent was in reality guilty.

Of this proceeding Mr. Matthews expressed last night only a very qualified disapproval.

Indeed, he really praised Sir Charles with faint condemnation.

Sir Charles showed “a want of good taste,” he said, in referring to the magistrate’s decision.

But his overruling of that decision was right, just, and proper.

In endeavouring to establish this position, Mr. Matthews made two statements to which particular attention should he called.

THE MAGISTRATE WAS MISTAKEN

He said first that Bloy never made any “grosser charge” against the girl, and that the magistrate in censuring Bloy for making such a charge without any foundation whatever was labouring under a mistake.

Men of the world and of common sense will he able to form their own judgement upon this matter by contrasting Mr. Matthews’s statement with Bloy’s own evidence before Mr. Baggally:-

He had known her (said Bloy) for some years, he also said that he had noticed her about the streets every night for the past three or four months as the associate of casual sailors and seafaring men.

Can any man of the world deny that that is not an insinuation of a “grosser charge? ”

SHE WAS DRUNK

With regard to the other charge – namely, that the girl was drunk – Mr. Matthews declared last night that Bloy spoke the truth; for that Sir Charles Warren’s inquiry so decided, and that a second private inquiry by the solicitor to the Treasury so decided also.

As to the nature of those inquiries Mr. Matthews declines to give any information.

He admitted, indeed, that Sir Charles’s original idea of an impartial inquiry was to take the evidence of the police only.

Subsequently, however, he made other inquiries, but of what nature we are not told.

THE NEW REGIME

This, then, is how the case stands: the deliberate decision of the duly-constituted tribunals of the land, arrived at in open court after full inquiry held, are – under the new regime – to be reversed by secret inquiries held by the representatives of one of the parties to the dispute.

If the result of such inquiry is to brand with dishonour an innocent girl, that price also must be paid, it seems, for the supreme necessity of whitewashing Sir Charles Warren and canonizing his moral miracles.”

THE EFFECT ON JACK THE RIPPER

It was against this background, with the bulk of the radical press having turned against Sir Charles Warren, that the Whitechapel Murders began a few weeks later with the murder of Emma Smith.

The newspapers were on the look out for any opportunity and any excuse to lay into Sir  Charles and the Metropolitan Police, and, as the Jack the Ripper murders gathered momentum, and the police showed themselves unable to bring the perpetrator to justice, the press exposed them to a huge amount of criticism and ridicule and, it could be argued, exacted revenge for the the travesties that had been carried out against Elizabeth Cass and Annie Coverdale.