With the beginning of August 1888 the Metropolitan Police, to whom fell the responsibility of policing the streets of the Victorian, were about to be confronted by a series of crimes that would stretch their resources to the limit and which would see them ridiculed and criticised on an almost daily basis.
Those crimes were, of course, the Jack the Ripper crimes and, over the next few months we’re going to be taking an in depth look at the crimes and the investigative methods used by the 19th Century detectives who laboured to bring the killer to justice.
Interestingly, however, the police were already coming on for press criticism before the ripper crimes highlighted, in many peoples eyes, their inadequacies in fighting crime in the East End of London.
On the July 28, 1888 the East London Observer had carried a letter from a W. H. Burchell which was headlined with the simple question “Where Are The Police?”
He explained how a few nights ago he had witnessed a gentlemen who had entered a public toilet suddenly being attacked by a “gang of roughs” who had not only proceeded to steal his watch but who had also subjected him to a viscous assault.
He went on to mention how similar gangs of roughs often loitered around the coffee stalls and shops around the Whitechapel Road and pouncing on innocent shoppers or passers by who they robbed and beat.
Mr Burchell then went on to observe that even though these “goings on are noticed by private individuals, ” the police would surely be aware of the crimes and would be expected to do something to curtail them.
But the police, he observed, seemed oblivious to this public nuisance and the criminals of the East End were, apparently, able to carry on robbing and beating people with impunity.
Evidently the policing of the East End left a lot to be desired despite the fact, as Mr Burchell pointed out in his letter, “…we are taxed heavily for the police..”
He was no doubt reflecting the feelings of many of his fellow inhabitants when he complained that “…surely, we have a right for protection. Perhaps with your valuable assistance, and the authorities may get to hear of this sort of thing, and be moved to take some steps to suppress these goings on..”
What he could not have known at the time was that, in a few short weeks, a lone assassin would have exposed the inadequacies of the East End Police to the World at large.
Jack the Ripper was lurking in the shadows and his murderous reign of terror was about to begin.