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A Fairy in Parliament

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  • A Fairy in Parliament

    CRIMINAL LAW—THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS—OFFER OF REWARD.HC Deb 12 November 1888 vol 330 cc902-4 902
    § MR. CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM (Lanark, N. W.) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, If he contemplates offering any additional reward for the capture of the White-chapel murderer? The hon. Member explained that he did not ask this Question from any desire to embarrass the Government; but simply because considerable excitement prevailed in the East End of London.

    § MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.) Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that Question, I wish to ask whether he has taken into consideration the propriety of extending a free pardon—which, as I understand, applies only to the last murder—to the preceding murders, especially having regard to the fact that in the case of the first murder, committed last Christmas, according to the dying testimony of the woman, several persons were concerned in the murder?

    § THE SECRETARY OF STATE (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.) Owing to the public interest taken in this question, I hope the House will allow me at greater length than is usual in answering a Question to state why I have hitherto refrained from offering a reward in the Whitechapel cases. Before 1884 it was the frequent practice of the Home Office to offer rewards, sometimes of a very large amount, in serious cases. In 1883, in particular, several 903 rewards, ranging from £200 to £2,000, were offered in such cases as the murder of Police Constable Bowies and the dynamite explosions in Charles Street and at various Railway Stations. These re wards, like the reward of £10,000 in the Phœnix Park murders, proved in effectual, and produced no evidence of any value. In 1884 there was a change of policy. Early in that year a remarkable case occurred. A conspiracy was formed to effect an explosion at the German Embassy; to "plant" papers upon an innocent person; and to accuse him of the crime in order to obtain the reward which was expected. The revelation of this conspiracy led the then Secretary of State (Sir William Harcourt) to reconsider the whole question of rewards. He consulted the Police Authorities both in England and in Ireland; and the conclusions he arrived at were—that the practice of offering large and sensational rewards in cases of serious crime is not only ineffectual, but mischievous; that rewards produced, generally speaking, no practical result beyond satisfying a public demand for conspicuous action; that they operate prejudicially by relaxing the exertions of the police; and that they tend to produce false, rather than reliable testimony. He decided, therefore, in all cases to abandon the practice of offering rewards, as they had been found by experience to be a hindrance, rather than an aid in the detection of crime. These conclusions were publicly announced, and acted upon in two important cases in 1884—one, a shocking murder and violation of a little girl at Middlesbrough; the other, the dynamite outrage at London Bridge, in which case the City authorities offered a reward of £5,000. The principle thus established has since been adhered to, I believe, without exception at the Home Office. The whole subject was reconsidered in 1885 by Sir Richard Cross in a remarkable case of infanticide at Plymouth; and again in 1886 by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) in the notorious case of "The Queen v. Louisa Hart." On both occasions, after careful consideration, and with the concurrence of the best authorities, the principle of offering no reward was maintained, and rewards were refused. Since I have been at the Home 904 Office I have followed the Rule thus deliberately laid down by my Predecessors. I do not mean that the Rule may not be subject to exceptions—as, for instance, where it is known who the criminal is, and information is wanted only as to his hiding place, or on account of other circumstances of the crime itself. In the Whitechapel murders, not only are these conditions wanting at present, but the danger of a false charge is intensified by the excited state of public feeling. I know how desirable it is to allay that public feeling; and I should have been glad if the circumstances had justified me in giving visible proof that the authorities are not heedless or indifferent. I beg to assure the hon. Member and the House that neither the Home Office nor Scotland Yard will leave a stone unturned in order to bring to justice the perpetrator of these abominable crimes, which have outraged the feelings of the entire community. With regard to the Question of the hon. Member below the Gangway (Mr. Hunter), it is not proper that I should give an answer on the sudden. I will, however, carefully consider the question.

    § MR. CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM I beg to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation, and to say that I agree with him entirely.

    § MR. MONTAGU (Tower Hamlets, Whitechapel) said, he wished to explain why he offered a reward in the case of the last murder.

    § MR. SPEAKER said, that the hon. Gentleman would be out of Order in making any explanation at that time.