Scoundrels and Scallywags A Policeman’s Happy Lot

The following article, consisting of excerpts from the memoirs of Ex-Chief Inspector, Tom Divall – who had, early on in his police career, been assigned to a beat as a constable in Whitechapel – appeared in The Gloucester Journal on Saturday, 29th June, 1929:-


“True police stories as told in Scoundrels and Scallywags by Ex-Chief Inspector Tom Divall, who was twenty-six years in the Police Force and began his Career as a P.C.

When I was a constable, I used to picture to myself that my day’s duty would probably commence with an accident of some kind or finding a lost infant; then, later on, I should have to stop a runaway horse, rescue someone from a burning house, and wind up by having to arrest a dangerous armed burglar or a murderer at night. If only one the occurrences came off, I considered I had an easy time and was thoroughly contented.


I wanted a man who lived in a large house near Victoria for a heavy case of embezzling.

Having decorated myself with a high hat, eye-glass, etc., I called on him. He came to me in his shirt sleeves. I got hold of his arm and pulled him outside, and then told him who I was. He begged me to let him go back for his coat; but I asked the servant to get it.

On the way to the police station, he told me that if I had allowed him to go back for his coat I should have never seen him alive again.

On searching his bedroom after he was in custody, I came across a bottle of prussic acid on the dressing table all ready for any emergency.


Dolly Woodburn, a most refined and pretty woman, a clever utterer and confederate of coiners, was arrested on four occasions and committed for passing bad money, but each time she was acquitted.

When I arrested her the last time, she coolly said to me:- “I shall beat you again Mr. Divall!”

She did, and when she was acquitted she turned round in the dock and wished me, “goodbye.”

While she was on remand, she used to change her clothes and appear in the dock as a simple-looking domestic. Her simplicity and neatness in dress, the clever way in which she cross-examined the witnesses, and the sweet manner she put on when addressing the jury, completely won them over, and by these means she gained her freedom every time.


I once had a case of receiving against man who had already served a long term of penal servitude.

When he came out of prison on licence a large sum of money was left him and he was getting £25 a week.

He was sentenced my charge and sent back gaol.

This man had a most excellent wife, a nice and comfortable home, and was able to obtain every luxury, but he was never happy unless associated with pals of the worst class and was dealing in stolen property.


Another notorious receiver, who had served two long spells of imprisonment, came to my house one night and said:- “You know I’ve been out of ‘quod’ about two years, and my wife is always nagging me for staying out late at night; I’m sick of it, and I was always happy in my little cell at night time.

If I do a job now, do you think you could get me off with three years; that would be just a nice little time for me to get fit in?’

Some time after he was again convicted and sentenced to a very long term in prison.

He, too, was a man with a large, family and plenty of money, and could go in for every sort of pleasure, but he could not resist the fascination of committing crime.


The “Invisible Ink Trick” was another brain-wave on the part of its originators.

One of the rogues would write on a slip of paper in invisible ink, “£5 each way Blue Post,” which had won the 2 o’clock race; and on the same piece of paper would put in ordinary writing “£5 each way Plazel,” the latter horse running in the 2.30 race, and then he would hand the slip to a bookmaker.

About two hours or so after the paper had been received the words in invisible ink would appear, but at the time the bookie took it he saw onlv the ordinary writing.

Scores of honest bookmakers were taken in by it.


The first case of murder I had in my new division (Whitechapel) was that of a man tried for stabbing P.C. Thompson in the vein, and causing instant death.

One incident in connection with the death of poor P.C. Thompson is rather remarkable: he is believed to be the only constable who ever saw Jack the Ripper.

One dark night, he saw a man, with a bag in his hand, a little distance ahead under a lamp. He ran after him, but fell over something on the ground; turning his bull’s eye lamp on to see what it was, he was shocked to find the mutilated body of a female.

The sight so upset him that he wandered about in a dazed state, and was found like this and taken to the station.

When he came to himself again, he told those around him that he was sure he would never die a natural death.

Little did we then think that he had surely predicted his own doom.

Illustrations showing the murder of Ernest Thompson.
From The Illustrated Police News. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Two Polish pickpockets, father and son, got on to a bus at Aldgate go to their home at Stratford.

It was a bitterly cold winter’s morning and it was raining very heavily.

As they tried to enter, the bus the conductor said: “Full up, full up inside.” The son tried to push the conductor, who pushed him back saying: “I have already told you ‘Full inside,’ go on the top.”

Up they went, holding on to the seats and shaking with the biting wind and rain.

They got off at Stratford Broadway and the son said to his father: “Fader, what a cruel conductor, what a cruel conductor he vas, some High Power ought to punish him, Fader, for being so bad.”

His father said: “Abe, boy, some High Power has punished the cruel man, I’ve got his watch.”