The Notting Hill Police Scandal

In February, 1889, Thomas Murphy was sentenced to ten years penal servitude for feloniously wounding Police Constable Walter Whittimore (many newspaper reports spelt his name as Whittemore) in the course of a burglary in December, 1888.

Constable Whittimore was commended by the Jury at the trial, and the judge awarded him £10 for the bravery he had demonstrated in the course of his duty.

Whittimore was, very much, the hero of the hour.

But, by August, 1889, his star had, very much, nosedived, and his reputation was in tatters.


The Morning Post carried the following report on the fate that had befallen the constable in its edition of Thursday, 8th August, 1889:-

“In December last a costermonger named Thomas Murphy was charged at the Hammersmith Police-court for attempting to commit a burglary in St. Charles’s-square and with shooting Police constable Whittemore, of the X Division who attempted to arrest him.

It was stated by the constable that, on the night of the 14th of December, 1888, he watched two men, Murphy being one of them, to the front garden of a house in St. Charles’s-square, where he had a desperate struggle in his attempt to arrest them, and there Murphy shot him in the leg with a revolver, and escaped with the other man.

Murphy was afterwards arrested and committed for trial, found guilty, and sentenced to 10 years’ penal servitude.

The officer was commended for his courage, and leave of absence was allowed to enable him to enter a convalescent hospital.


Before the leave expired, however, an inquiry was promoted by the Commissioner, resulting in the suspension of the constable pending the decision of the Home Secretary.

A portrait of James Monro.
James Monro, The Police Commissioner, From The Illustrated London News, 8th December 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Yesterday, it transpired that Police-Constable Whittemore had been dismissed the service, the police orders issued on Tuesday night stating, among other reasons, that he was “grievously suspected of giving false evidence.”


The prisoner, Murphy, who strongly protested his innocence before the magistrate, and called a witness to prove that he was at home in bed at the time of the alleged occurrence, is still undergoing the sentence, but, after the dismissal of the constable, the Home Secretary will have to consider the position in which he was placed.”


On Friday, 16th August, 1889, the matter of what appeared to be a grave miscarriage of justice was brought up in the House of Commons during questions to the Home Secretary.

The West London Observer reported on the proceeding in its next day’s edition:-

“In the House of Commons, on Friday, Mr, Pickersgill asked the Home Secretary whether a constable of the X Division of the Metropolitan Police had just been dismissed the Service on the grounds that he was “grievously suspected of giving false evidence,” and whether it was, upon the evidence of this constable that a costermonger named Thomas Murphy (who upon his trial set up an alibi) was, in December last, convicted and sent to penal servitude, and, if so, what action he proposed to take in the matter.


Mr. Matthews said that a constable of the X Division of the Metropolitan Police had been dismissed from the service because he had made a false statement with reference to the discharge of his duty as a police officer, and with reference to immoral conduct, disgraceful to the force, and also on the grounds of grave suspicion attaching to the truth of the charge made against Thomas Murphy.

A portrait of Henry Matthews.
The Home Secretary, Henry Matthews. From The Illustrated London News, 14th August, 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The case against the man rested principally on the evidence of the constable and, after consultation with the learned Judge, he (the Home Secretary) had thought it right to release Murphy on license. (Cheers.)”


“There is a matter now engaging the attention of the authorities which, if the accusations against a certain police constable be true, throws all cases which have become public property into the shade.

In December last, it will be remembered, a man named Thomas Murphy was convicted of firing at and wounding Police Constable Whittimore, and was sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude.

A revolver was found under the trees of a certain garden near Notting Hill Gate, where Whittimore was also picked up in an insensible condition.

Whittimore was badly wounded.


Murphy is a poor man. He had no legal advice, no witnesses, and the only defence he could make was that he was not guilty.

For eight months and two days, Murphy dragged out the miserable life of a convict.


A couple of months ago, a detective-sergeant visited him in his dungeon. Certain questions were put and answered, apparently to the sergeant’s satisfaction. The sergeant then assured him that he would be released.

A day came, and Murphy was released by the order of the Home Secretary.

He was handed by the governor an official document stating that he was to be freed, but, according to his own account, no explanation whatever was given of this sudden action.

Whittimore has since left the police or has been removed.

At the time of his arrest, Murphy was living with a woman. He had been separated from his wife for two and a half years. He had four children, and he has worked for years as a bricklayer and mason for different tradesmen in the locality.


It is stated that the woman with whom he was living has been the means of securing his release.

She has written several letters to Mr Matthews, which first induced him to inquire into the circumstances, and, at last, led him to conclude that Murphy was suffering for a crime of which he was innocent.


Meantime, a servant with whom Whittimore was on intimate terms gave some information to the authorities at Scotland Yard, which led them to suspect the truth of his accusations.

Undoubtedly he had been shot, but by whom none of his superiors could ascertain.

They resolved, however, that it was something more than a case of mistaken identity.

A sketch showing the police constable struggling with two men.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 29th December, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The girl is said to have made a statement to the purchase of a revolver by Whittimore himself, and it was a matter of common notoriety that he was an ambitious officer and that he had a grudge against the man whom he was instrumental in sending to penal servitude.

Whittimore got a sum of £10 at the time of the conviction as a reward for his bravery.

A solicitor has Murphy’s case in hand, and more will be heard of it before long.”


On Sunday, 20th October, 1889, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper published the following update on the case:-

“Thomas Murphy again waited on the magistrate at the West London court, on Monday, to know if he could do anything for him.

“But have you any more evidence?”, asked Mr. Plowden, recalling the fact that Mr. De Rutzen had previously told Murphy that there was not sufficient evidence to convict.

“No,” said Murphy.

“Then”, said the magistrate, “I cannot listen to you.”


People continue to be greatly puzzled over the case, and cannot understand how it is that, as Whittimore has been dismissed from the police force as an untrustworthy constable, his victim, Murphy, only gets a ticket-of-leave.

If the charge of attempted murder was false, then it is very strongly urged that Whittimore ought to be prosecuted for perjury, and Murphy ought to receive a pardon.

In August last, Mr. Pickersgill, M.P., in the House of Commons, asked the Home Secretary whether it was true that a constable of the X division of the Metropolitan Police had just been dismissed the service on the grounds that he was previously suspected of giving false evidence, and whether it was upon the evidence of that constable that a costermonger named Thomas Murphy, who upon his trial set up an alibi, was in February last convicted and sent into penal servitude.

The Home Secretary replied that a constable of the X division had been dismissed the service on the grounds that he had made false statements with reference to the discharge of his duties as a police officer, and with reference to immoral conduct discreditable to the force; and also on the grounds of grave suspicion attaching to the truth of the charge made by him.


The Society for the Aid of Discharged Prisoners have interested themselves in Murphy’s case, and Mr. Wheatley, the secretary, informed our reporter that he considered the case was left in a very unsatisfactory condition.

He thought the Home Secretary had acted with great wisdom and justice in the matter, for after what had transpired in reference to the conduct of Whittimore he virtually said, “I am not going to take the responsibility of keeping Murphy 10 years in penal servitude on the evidence of such a man.”

Murphy at the trial set up an alibi, for he said that on the night of the shooting he was at home by eight, and that he did not go out again till nine o’clock the following morning, and that he could prove by the woman he lived with at the time.

He took it that one of the real objects the Home Secretary had in letting Murphy out on licence was to give him an opportunity of getting about and proving the alibi he had set up.

But Murphy does not produce this woman; he says he cannot now find her.


If, however, Murphy did find her, and prove his alibi, then the society would help him a great deal more. The society would then do what they think ought to be done, by instituting a prosecution against Whittimore for perjury, and claiming compensation for Murphy for wrongful imprisonment.

For, whatever Murphy’s antecedents may have been, their society always held that after a man has undergone his punishment the old crime should not be remembered or brought to bear against him.


The ex-constable Whittimore holds very much the same opinion, for in a letter to the newspapers, after referring to a witness who supported his evidence, he said, “If, as they allege, we have committed perjury, then place us in the dock; but I dare them – I defy them,” adding subsequently, “Why not set Murphy a free man, not on license to report himself, if true?”


More questions may be pressed home to Mr. Matthews and the Chief Commissioner of Police.

It is a shameful scandal to allow matters to rest where they are. Murphy must be either innocent or guilty, and, if the former, he ought not to have the shadow of the conviction hanging over him by having to report himself to the police every month.

Justice is professedly denied him because he cannot produce a certain witness: but the woman in question was found readily enough by the police when the Home Secretary commanded an inquiry

She might surely be traced again if there was any real desire for further investigation.

A correspondent informs us where Whittimore is at work, but we have not heard of Elizabeth Blaskett, alias Mrs George, the much-desired witness.”


By the end of November, 1889, Thomas Murphy was still trying desperately to clear his name, and, according to the following report, which appeared in The London Daily News on Friday, 29th November, 1889, he had attempted that day to take out a summons for perjury against the constable:-


“Mr. Wheatley, of the Prisoners’ Aid Society, attended before Mr. Curtis-Bennett with Thomas Murphy, who was convicted on the evidence of Constable Whittemore, X Division (since dismissed the force), and sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude on a charge of attempted burglary at St. Charles’s-square, Notting-hill, and shooting him with a revolver while attempting to effect his capture.

It will be recollected that Murphy received a pardon from the Home Secretary after enduring some months’ incarceration in Wormwood Scrubs Prison.


The application was now made by Murphy for warrants to arrest Whittemore and William Beamore (who gave evidence in support of the charge, stating that he saw the accused with a revolver) on a charge of perjury.

Mr Curtis-Bennett called for the informations which had been lodged in the court, and after reading them inquired whether there was any corroboration of the statement with reference to the evidence of Beamore.

The applicant said that he had a witness to prove that Whittemore gave Beamore £2 after he was sentenced.

Mr. Curtis-Bennett observed that Beamore stated that he saw Murphy in St. Clement’s-road at seven o’clock in the evening. Murphy stated that he did not see him.


He (Mr. Curtis-Bennett) should not grant a warrant unless there was more evidence.

With regard to Whittemore, the magistrate said the woman to whom Murphy referred must attend. If she attended and swore to the information, he would grant a warrant.

Mr Wheatley withdrew, stating that he would secure her attendance.”


By early December, 1889, according to the following report, which appeared in The Staffordshire Sentinel on Tuesday 3rd December, 1889, Thomas Murphy’s persistence had paid off:-

“At the West London Police Court, on Monday, Walter Whittemore, formerly a police-constable, was charged with perjury in a charge of felony against Thomas Murphy, who was sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude, but afterwards pardoned.

The accused was arrested at Kimbolton, Hunts, where was living.

He was remanded.”


At his next court appearance, Whittimore was confronted by the man whose life he had tried to ruin.

The Cambridgeshire Times reported on the proceedings in its edition of Friday, 13th December, 1889:-

“Walter Whittemore, an ex-police-constable, surrendered to his bail at theWest London Police-court on Monday to further answer the charge of committing wilful and corrupt perjury in that court, in which he alleged that he was shot in the leg with a revolver while attempting to arrest Thomas Murphy and another man in the front garden of a house in St. Charles’s-square. Notting-hill.

Mr. Purcell prosecuted, and, in giving an outline of the case, he said that it was an important one, which should be taken up by the Treasury, as there was a question that the shot was not fired by a burglar.

Mr. Plowden (the magistrate): “You don’t suggest that the constable shot himself?”

Mr. Purcell:- “No, sir, that would be incredible.”


Thomas Murphy was called, and he said that he was a general dealer.

On the night of December 15th, 1888, he was arrested in the Harrow-road, and taken to the station. He made a statement to Inspector Morgan, who took him to 40, St. Clement’s-road, where he pointed out the front parlour.

A woman named Eliza George was there, and she made a statement to Inspector Morgan.

The next morning he was taken to the Marylebone Infirmary, where he saw Whittemore in bed.

As soon as he entered the room the present defendant said, “That’s the man.”

Whittemore charged him with shooting him.

He was tried at the Central Criminal Court, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years’ penal servitude.

He was released on August 8th.


It was not true that he was in St. Charles Square on the night of December 14. He went home at half-past 7 on the night of December 14, and he did not go out again until the following morning at 9 o’clock.

Eliza George was living with him, but when he was released she had gone away.


About a month before December 14th, he was charged with another man, and saw Whittemore in the waiting room of the court. The constable spoke to him, and said, “What are you here for this time, Murphy?”

He replied, “It will pay you better to look after something else than charge an old woman for selling flowers.”

At that time he had an old woman in custody.

He said, “All right, Murphy, the first chance I have I will get it up for you.”


In 1887 he was convicted for housebreaking in the Harrow-road, and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment. He had also been in prison for terms of seven years’ and eight years’ penal servitude.

He was out on licence.

He had passed 20 years of his life in gaol.


By the magistrate: He had known Whittemore between four and five years by sight. Whittemore never knew him.

The first time the constable saw him was in the waiting room of the court a month before December 14th He had been convicted for violence.

Mr. Plowden:- “You never attempted to shoot anybody?”

Witness:- “No, sir.”


Eliza George, widow, a domestic servant, living at Plumstead, gave confirmatory evidence of Murphy’s statement as to his being at home on the night of December 14th.

She saw the case reported in the papers, and knew he was accused wrongfully.

She knew that he had 10 years’ imprisonment.

Mr. Plowden:- “And yet you never moved a finger to help him?”

The Witness:- “No, sir.”

Mr. Plowden granted a further remand and renewed the bail for the prisoner’s appearance.”


Sadly, Thomas Murphy was destined to not get the justice he appears to have deserved.

At a later hearing, the charge against Whittimore was dismissed.

On Saturday, 15th February, 1890, The Illustrated Police News carried a report on his final attempt to bring his adversary to justice:-


“Thomas Murphy, who was alleged to have shot Police-constable Whittemore, in St. Charles’s-square, Notting-hill, attended court with a view of obtaining another summons against him for perjury.

He stated that he was told at the Old Bailey that he could not proceed further until Whittemore had been sent from that court [West London Police Court] for trial.

Mr. Curtis-Bennett said he knew nothing about the case, and referred him to Mr. Plowden, who investigated the charge of perjury.

The applicant said Mr. Plowden did not call half his witnesses.


Mr. Curtis-Bennett declined to interfere in the matter, and said he had read in the newspapers that the case against Whittemore was dismissed.

The applicant replied that he had not received justice.

On leaving the court he said it was hard to have his life sworn away.”