The Detection Of Crime In London

One of the problems with the structure of the Metropolitan Police that was highlighted by the newspapers in September, 1888, as the Whitechapel murders began causing consternation throughout society, was the fact that the higher echelons of the police had no practical experience in detective work.

The Leeds Mercury highlighted the problem in the following article, which appeared on Tuesday, 11 September 1888:-


The appalling series of undetected crimes which have recently been committed in the East End renders it necessary, in the public interest, to direct attention anew to the two alternative plans for the protection of life and the detection of crime between which the authorities of the Home Office, who are responsible to the public, seem to be wavering at the present time.

A couple of months ago the organisation which was thought necessary for the purpose would have been briefly summed up as follows:-

(1) An Assistant-Commissioner of Police, specially qualified by half a lifetimes’ experience in the directing of criminal investigations;
(2) A superintendent who had served for nearly 40 years in the detective department;
and (3) under them inspectors and men in each metropolitan district charged to report to head-quarters every day, and at all hours of the day or night on the occurrence of any serious crime, or with regard to any, even the faintest, clue that might appear to throw light upon any matter under investigation by the Department.


Today what is thought necessary is to have a large body of detectives scouring the district in which the crime has been committed, to have no head or special organisation of the Department, but to leave the charge of the inquiry, in such cases as the latest East End murder for example, to the inspectors on duty at Commercial-street Police-station, who are unfamiliar with detective work, and already sufficiently occupied with their ordinary routine duties.

An image of Commercial Street Police Station.
Commercial Street Police Station Today


It seems hardly credible, and yet it is perfectly true, that when the first of the three recent diabolical murders in Whitechapel occurred about a month ago, Mr. Superintended Williamson, though attending daily at Scotland- yard, in charge of the Detective Department, received no notice whatever for a whole week that any such crime had been committed, and that this happened not accidentally or through carelessness, but in accordance with a deliberate plan on the part of the Commissioner of Police.


We have not the Slightest desire to exaggerate or misrepresent the present condition of things at Scotland-yard, but we think it but right that the public should understand that the changes which have taken place there are not merely personal ones, but that the whole system of the detective department is being changed, and changed, as we a believe, for the worse, and that if Sir Charles Warren’s plan is fully carried out it involves a return to the old system, which less than a dozen years ago gave rise to so much scandal, and was fully exposed and condemned in the course of the trial for fraud of Detective-Inspectors Druscovitch and Meiklejohn in 1877.


It is needless to say that neither the present Chief Commissioner, nor any of his three Assistant Commissioners, has any practical experience of the working of this special department of police work, and a heavy responsibility will rest upon those in authority if they permit such a scandalous state of things to continue a day longer than necessary, while such murders are being committed in the East End at the present time, and dynamite plots in the future are not wholly unexpected.


The West End may have tomorrow as much urgent cause as the East End has today for desiring that there should be a real direction of the work of the detective department, and that it should be placed in experienced hands.”