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The Lighter Side of My Official Life
by Sir Robert Anderson, 1910.
Full text below.


First days at Scotland Yard - The " Whitechapel murders " - The criminal a Polish Jew - Demoralisation of the C.I.D. in 1888 - Statistics of crime in London - " Undiscovered murders " - The working of the Police machine - Area and population of the Metropolitan Police District - Sir Robert Peel's scheme - Powers of constables - Status of the Commissioners.

MY last chapter brought down my story to my appointment, in September, 1888, as Assistant Commissioner of Police and head of the Criminal Investigation Department. Mr. Monro was not "an easy man to follow," and my difficulties in succeeding to the post were increased by the foolish ways of the Home Office, as well as by the circumstances of the times. As I have already said, Sir Charles Warren had then secured the loyal support of the Force generally. But the officers of the Criminal Investigation Department were demoralized by the treatment accorded to their late chief; and during the interval since his practical retirement sinister rumours were in circulation as to the appointment of his successor. If the announcement had been made that, on his official retirement on the 31st of August, I should succeed to the office, things might have settled down. For all the principal officers knew and trusted me. But for some occult reason the matter was kept secret, and I was enjoined not to make my appointment known. I had been in the habit of frequenting Mr. Monro's room, as we were working together in political crime matters ; but when I did so now, and Sir Charles Warren took advantage of my visit to come over to see me, it was at once inferred that he was spying on me because I was Mr. Monro's friend. The indignation felt by the officers was great, and I had some difficulty in preventing Chief-Superintendent Williamson from sending in his resignation.

Then, again, I was at that time physically unfit to enter on the duties of my new post. For some time past I had not had an adequate holiday, and the strain of long and anxious work was telling on me. " A man is as old as he feels," and by this test I was older at that time than when I left office a dozen years later. Dr. Gilbart Smith, of Harley Street, insisted that I must have two months' complete rest, and he added that he would probably give me a certificate for a further two months' " sick leave." This, of course, was out of the question. But I told Mr. Matthews, greatly to his distress, that I could not take up my new duties until I had had a month's holiday in Switzerland. And so, after one week at Scotland Yard, I crossed the Channel.

But this was not all. The second of the crimes known as the Whitechapel murders was committed the night before I took office, and the third occurred the night of the day on which I left London. The newspapers soon began to comment on my absence. And letters from Whitehall decided me to spend the last week of my holiday in Paris, that I might be in touch with my office. On the night of my arrival in the French capital two more victims fell to the knife of the murder-fiend ; and next day's post brought me an urgent appeal from Mr. Matthews to return to London ; and of course I complied.

On my return I found the Jack-the-Ripper scare in full swing. When the stolid English go in for a scare they take leave of all moderation and common sense. If nonsense were solid, the nonsense that was talked and written about those murders would sink a Dreadnought. The subject is an unsavoury one, and I must write about it with reserve. But it is enough to say that the wretched victims belonged to a very small class of degraded women who frequent the East End streets after midnight, in hope of inveigling belated drunkards, or men as degraded as themselves. I spent the day of my return to town, and half the following night, in reinvestigating the whole case, and next day I had a long conference on the subject with the Secretary of State and the Chief Commissioner of Police. " We hold you responsible to find the murderer," was Mr. Matthews' greeting to me. My answer was to decline the responsibility. " I hold myself responsible," I said, " to take all legitimate means to find him." But I went on to say that the measures I found in operation were, in my opinion, wholly indefensible and scandalous ; for these wretched women were plying their trade under definite Police protection. Let the Police of that district, I urged, receive orders to arrest every known " street woman " found on the prowl after midnight, or else let us warn them that the Police will not protect them. Though the former course would have been merciful to the very small class of women affected by it, it was deemed too drastic, and I fell back on the second.

However the fact may be explained, it is a fact that no other street murder occurred in the "Jack-the-Ripper " series.* The last and most horrible of that maniacs crimes was committed in a house in Miller's Court on the 9th of November. And the circumstances of that crime disposed of all the theories of the amateur Sherlock Holmeses of that date.

One did not need to be a Sherlock Holmes to discover that the criminal was a sexual maniac of a virulent type ; that he was living in the immediate vicinity of the scenes of the murders ; and that, if he was not living absolutely alone, his people knew of his guilt, and refused to give him up to justice. During my absence abroad the Police had made a house-to-house search for him, investigating the case of every man in the district whose circumstances were such that he could go and come and get rid of his blood-stains in secret. And the conclusion we came to was that he and his people were certain low-class Polish Jews; for it is a remarkable fact that people of that class in the East End will not give up one of their number to Gentile justice.

And the result proved that our diagnosis was right on every point. For I may say at once that " undiscovered murders " are rare in London, and the "Jack-the-Ripper " crimes are not within that category. And if the Police here had powers such as the French Police possess, the murderer would have been brought to justice. Scotland Yard can boast that not even the subordinate officers of the department will tell tales out of school, and it would ill become me to violate the unwritten rule of the service. So I will only add here that the "Jack-the-Ripper " letter which is preserved in the Police Museum at New Scotland Yard is the creation of an enterprising London journalist.

Having regard to the interest attaching to this case, I am almost tempted to disclose the identity of the murderer and of the pressman who wrote the letter above referred to. But no public benefit would result from such a course, and the traditions of my old department would suffer. I will merely add that the only person who had ever had a good view of the murderer unhesitatingly identified the suspect the instant he was confronted with him ; but he refused to give evidence against him.

In saying that he was a Polish Jew I am merely stating a definitely ascertained fact. And my words are meant to specify race, not religion. For it would outrage all religious sentiment to talk of the religion of a loathsome creature whose utterly unmentionable vices reduced him to a lower level than that of the brute.

In the introduction to the "Scarlet Letter," Hawthorne apologises for his work on the ground that his position in the Custom House was not a haven of rest. And no one would thus describe the post of head of the Criminal Investigation Department, even in the most peaceful of times. But when I took charge at the close of 1888 the state of things was disquieting and depressing in the extreme. There is a strong esprit de corps in the department, and the officers, one and all, felt that their late chief had been unfairly treated. The "Detective Department," moreover, has always been an object of jealousy in the Force, and this disturbing element was specially felt during 1887 and 1888. This appeared very plainly in the Commissioner's Report for 1887: it ignored the Criminal Investigation Department altogether. "Boots are a matter of great concern," the report declared, and it recorded that truncheon pockets had been substituted for truncheon cases ; but not one word did it contain about the crime of the Metropolis. Now, unfortunately, neither Mr. Monro nor his successor could ever realise that such matters as boots and truncheon cases, important though they may be, are not as important as the prevention and detection of crime, and the subordinate officers were equally dull-witted. And the efficiency of the Criminal Investigation Department work, unlike ordinary Police duties, cannot but . be impaired by influences which discourage or demoralise the staff. The crime returns for 1887 gave proof of this ; and it was still more apparent in the following year. The Commissioner's report for 1888 accordingly recorded that " crime during the year has shown a decided tendency to increase."

Such, then, was the state of affairs when I entered on my new duties. And I did not then know, what I afterwards learned, that the Home Office very soon threatened to call me to account because there was not an immediate change. But Sir Charles Warren " put down his foot with a firm hand " (as the Irishman phrased it), and would not allow any interference with me till I had had time to bring matters round. And the Commissioner's report for 1889 announced that "'the criminal returns for the year showed a marked improvement upon the statistics for 1888." Still more satisfactory was the report for the following year, which announced " that there was greater security for person and property in the Metropolis during 1890 than in any previous year included in the statistical returns."

Qui s'excuse s'accuse. But I have no need to offer any defence of my reign at Scotland Yard ; and it is not in that sense, but as a tribute to the Police Force, and for the satisfaction of the public, that I give the following statistical table, taken from the Commissioner's report for 1898. It shows at a glance what marked success attended the work of the Criminal Investigation Department during the first twenty years of its history. The figures give the average proportion of crimes against property, to each 1,000 of the estimated population of the Metropolis, during the quinquennial periods specified.

1879-1883 ...................... 4,856
1884-1888 ...................... 3,823
1889-1893 ...................... 3,249
1894-1898 ...................... 2,755

The proportion for 1899 was 2.439, and for 1900 (my last completed year at Scotland Yard), 1,534.' In judging of these results, moreover, it must be remembered that, from 1879 to 1900, the population of the Metropolis increased by some 2,000,000, No other large city in the world could show such results as these. And having regard to the huge population of London, and its peculiar characteristics, the safety of life in the Metropolis is a standing miracle.

One evening in the year after the Chicago Exhibition, I dined with some American gentlemen at the Hotel Cecil, and they gave me some astounding particulars of the number of homicides in that city. They mentioned 2,000 cases as having occurred in the previous year. I can scarcely believe such a tale, but that is not the point of my story. Presently they asked me how many murders we had in London in a year. I pleaded that London was three times as large as Chicago, and that facilities for crime increased in proportion to population How many cases would they consider normal? After some discussion among themselves, the estimate they gave me was 200. I told them that the preceding year was the worst I had known, as we had twenty murders ; but the average was fifteen or sixteen. They threw down knives and forks, and stared at me and at each other. My words travelled across the Atlantic, and I received several letters, including one from a prominent official in Washington, asking me if I had spoken seriously and by the book.

Though the Metropolitan Police deserve their meed of praise for such results as these, a full explanation of them must be sought in the characteristics of our national life, and in the peculiar influences to which those characteristics are mainly due., But here I will deal only with the facts. In reply to questions in Parliament last year, the Home Secretary gave the following striking statistics. The murders in the Metropolis, he said, from the 1st of January, 1903, to the 30th of September, 1908, numbered 92, and among these there were only 1o " undiscovered crimes." Four of the 10, moreover, were deaths due to illegal operations ; and such cases are murders only in a technical sense. This means six "undiscovered murders," or an average of one per annum, and this in a population that averaged more than 7,000,000 during the six years in question. It seems almost incredible, and I own that I should refuse to believe it if I had not personal knowledge of the care and accuracy with which the criminal statistics are compiled.

And Mr. Herbert Gladstone added that, in some of the cases where no one was made amenable, the criminals were known to the Police, but evidence to justify an arrest was not obtainable. One of the 1908 murder cases, for example, was in this category, both the witnesses and the victim being low-class Polish Jews. This element, I may add, of offences by aliens against aliens, is not a negligible one in considering the crime of London. And even among our own people it sometimes happens that the murderer is known, but evidence is wholly wanting. In such circumstances the French Police would arrest the suspected person, and build up a case against him at their leisure, mainly by admissions extracted from him in repeated interrogations.

I recall a case in which I allowed myself to be goaded by popular clamour into taking a first step in French procedure. It was a murder that excited unusual interest, and the murderer, a near relative of the victim, sided with the newspapers in a sustained outcry against Scotland Yard. So I sent for the man, my ostensible object being to satisfy him that the Police were doing their duty. As I cross-examined him on the case he gave himself away over and over again. In any French court a report of that interrogation might have convicted the criminal. In an English court it would have raised a storm that might have brought my official career to a close ! I never tried that game again.

If I speak of ,my reign at Scotland Yard" I may seem to ignore the Chief Commissioner of Police. But it is a popular mistake to suppose that " Scotland Yard " represents the Metropolitan Police. Until the new building on the Embankment was opened the Commissioner's office was in Whitehall Place, whereas the original office of the Detective Department was a building which stood till lately in the middle of Scotland Yard-a place which has fallen from the greatness of other days, when the Scottish kings and their ambassadors lodged there. That the new buildings were christened New Scotland Yard is due to Mr. Monro's love for his old department, for it was in his time as Chief Commissioner that we moved to the Embankment.

I have already noticed the origin of the Criminal Investigation Department" in 1878. The only grudge I have against my friend the late General William Feilding is due to my suspicion that it was he who coined that Frenchified title for the detective department of the Force. Or possibly he shares the blame with Howard Vincent, its first chief. The title is a mouthful, and I will henceforth use the cipher by which it is known in the Force and call it the C.I.D. Vincent was not under the Commissioner of Police, though his subordinates, of course, were members of the Force, and subject to the discipline of the Force ; so that he was entirely dependent on the co-operation of the Police generally in his efforts to cope with crime. As I have said before, no one but Howard Vincent could have made such a system work. When he retired, the C.I.D. became an imperium in im,berio, its chief having the same statutory and disciplinary powers as the other Assistant Commissioners. The outside working of the machine is public property, and may here be explained, for the knowledge may possibly be both interesting and useful to the public. But if any one takes up these pages in expectation of learning the secrets of the department, he may throw them down at once. For I cannot speak too highly of the sense of honour which prevails, not only among the officers, but among the pensioned officers, of the C.I.D. in regard to all matters of which they have official knowledge.

I had a notable proof of this a quarter of a century ago. Political feeling ran high in those days, and rumours which were freely current in society circles seemed to afford material to check the influence of a certain prominent public man. Facts were the desideratum, and money was abundant with those who were in search of evidence. But though liberal offers were made to several pensioned officers who could have given the needed facts, they one after another refused to disclose them, and this because their knowledge was gained in the course of their official duties.

But as to the machine. The Metropolitan Police district extends over a radius of 15 miles from Charing Cross ; and it covers an area of 700 square miles, extending from Colney Heath, Hertfordshire, on the north, to Mogadore, Todworth Heath, Surrey, in the south, and from Lark Hall, Essex, on the east, to Staines Moor, Middlesex, in the west. The population of this vast province increases at the rate of some 100,000 a year, and is now about seven and a half millions ; more than Canada, with a territory almost as large as Europe, and considerably more than Australia, with an almost equal area. Now any one can appreciate the difference between looking for a person in a country village and in a huge town ; and the problem which daily faces the Chief of the C. I. D. is to find criminals hidden among the seven millions of people who are crowded together in London. Like a spider in the centre of a monster web, he is in touch with every part of the Metropolis ; and every crime committed is immediately reported to him. The system is an adjustment of centralisation with decentralisation. "Unity of design, and responsibility of its agents," was Peel's statement of the main principle on which the Metropolitan Police was organised. The whole Force is a unit ; and yet London is parcelled out in twenty-one divisions, each of which is under its own Superintendent. And to each division is attached an Inspector of the C.I.D., with a staff of officers of the department under him. Police action thus follows on the commission of a crime as promptly as though each division were a separate town, and yet the unity of the whole is maintained. And every officer, though part of this vast machine, acts as though he stood alone.

Sydney Smith it was who said that with him the only illusion left in life was the Archbishop of Canterbury. Like " Cantuar," the office of Constable is of great antiquity. And it is of unique importance. The duties of an officer, as he patrols a London street, may seem almost mechanical in their simplicity. And yet at any moment he may find himself in circumstances fitted to tax his energies and to test his intelligence. 'And he must act with discretion, and not without some knowledge of the criminal law, Here lies the difference between the soldier and the constable. The soldier's duty is limited to obeying the orders of his officer, and he has no authority beyond what is derived from the orders he receives. But the constable is not only clothed with statutory powers, numerous and far-reaching, but further (as Blackstone tells us), he "bath great original and inherent authority." We all know the story of the children who were discussing the relative importance of the professions of their respective fathers. One of them, the child of the parson, was enlarging on the dignity of the clerical calling when the other, the doctor's child, cut in with the answer, " But my pa could kill your pa." And although the Lord Chancellor or the Prime Minister is a far greater personage than a policeman, yet if one of these great dignitaries should stand at a street corner at night to meditate on his dignity, the policeman on the beat might run him in for " loitering with intent." And no one but a police constable has such power as that.

There is no recorded instance of a First Lord of the Treasury being thus run in ; but I remember well a night, some forty years ago, when this happened to a clerk of the department. The story was current when I first came to London that Lord Palmerston, on being asked by an influential supporter for a temporary clerkship in the Treasury for a nominee of his, exclaimed " Impossible ! but if you have a friend who wants a bishopric or anything in reason, let me know." My friend was a temporary clerk in the Treasury, and he thought himself " a tremendous swell"; but he was taken to Walton Street Police Station and made to give an account of himself. There was no doubt that he was loitering, though not with felonious intent.

Some one may fancy that it is to " magnify my office" that I have written this. But I myself never enjoyed such powers. I never was a constable, though when I resigned office the Treasury insisted on according me that dignity. But this was merely a pretext to enable them to defraud me in fixing my pension. A Police Commissioner has no powers save those which are expressly conferred on him by the Police Acts, or which pertain to him as a magistrate. For under the Metropolitan Police Acts each of the Commissioners is a magistrate for all the Home Counties ; and he has all the legal powers of a magistrate, though forbidden by statute to act in Sessions. I may add here that when I was appointed I was surprised to find that my colleagues had never taken the oath, for as a lawyer I held this to be essential. Being snubbed for declaring my view of the matter, I naturally pressed it, and the Law Officers, to whom it was referred, supported me. Accordingly we all took the oath as magistrates before the Lord Chancellor.

* I am here assuming that the murder of Alice M'Kenzie on the 17th of July, 1889, was by another hand. I was absent from London when it occurred, but the Chief Commissioner investigated the case on the spot and decided that it was an ordinary murder, and not the work of a sexual maniac. And the Poplar case of December, 1888, was a death from natural causes, and but for the "Jack the Ripper " scare, no one would have thought of suggesting that it was a homicide.