Crime

Robert D. Storch argues that the state of policing before Peel was not always as bad as the reformers liked to claim.

In the Tudor and Stuart periods, English constables were important local figures in rural parish life. Drawn from the more substantial members of the village community, the status of constables appears to have been on a par with churchwardens and overseers of the poor. Propertied village worthies seem to have rotated through all three offices. Constables in this period have been characterised as 'headmen' - high-status locals who played a mediating role between the village and central authorities, and functioned both as agents of the Crown and village representatives. Despite perennial criticism, the state took the old constabulary seriously enough to assign it an important role in the enforcement of its plans to reform morality and control crime. This was especially true in the seventeenth century, but as late as the 1780s, magistrates attempted to mobilise and pressurise the constables to act against moral offences, drinking and local disorders - though apparently with disappointing results.

Richard O. Collin tells the story of Italy’s parallel police forces, and how they have contended with Mussolini, the Red Brigades – and the Mafia.

Looking at Italy today, penologists see a curiously non-violent society which becomes progressively less murderous with every passing year.

Despite past images of Mafia gunmen, jealous lovers, and Red Brigade assassins, present-day violations of the Italian criminal code tend to be rather more gentle. Even twentieth- century Italian civil conflicts have been relatively bloodless; the 1919-22 turmoil that saw Mussolini’s fascisti destroy the country’s fledgling democracy only cost about 2,000 lives – and produced about as many books.

When Italians themselves have looked at Italy, however, they have historically seen rampaging anarchy, time-bombs ticking, and daggers drawn as criminals and subversives compete for the honour of destroying the social order. When the peninsula found itself haphazardly unified in the mid-19th century, Italy’s founding fathers inherited many policemen and many enemies. Nervously, they recruited even more policemen to fight bandits and revolutionaries (often the same people).

So suspicious were Italy’s early leaders that they created mutually antagonistic police organisations to ensure that none became too powerful, according to the time-honoured principle of divide and rule.

Women as perpetrators of crime, rather than its victims, were figures of especial fascination and loathing in the Victorian popular press. Judith Knelman delves deeper.

The domestication of women early in the reign of Queen Victoria – inspired largely by her example – made it especially difficult for the English to believe that women would harbour, let alone indulge, murderous impulses. By this time the popular press had, through its sensational treatment of such figures, defined the murderess as a cold-blooded monster who operated by stealth and was particularly attracted to poison as a weapon. Such women, having betrayed the trust of their nearest and dearest, could not be understood as women, and so they were loudly derided as traitors to their sex. The crude woodcuts of nineteenth-century broadsides often showed a freshly hanged female figure being gawked at by an assembly of her moral superiors. Newspapers were more reliable but not much less subtle in their depiction of murderesses.

From about 1830, newspapers faithfully recorded all the physical and psychological details they could muster of the few women who were prosecuted for murder. Before that, newspaper reports of murder cases were fairly short and to the point, the point usually being that an execution date had been set. But these could be supplemented with colourful, sometimes poetic and often fictitious accounts in the form of broadside ballads chanted and sold in the streets.

In the aftermath of 1798 the British had to deal with thousands of political prisoners. Michael Durey traces the mixture of decisiveness, pragmatism and clemency with which they were treated.

Within two days of his arrival in Dublin on June 20th, 1798, the new Lord Lieutenant and Commander-in-Chief, Charles, Marquess Cornwallis, received encouraging news of the defeat of the Irish rebels at Vinegar Hill and the recapture of the town of Wexford. Although the rebellion was by no means over - large pockets of resistance were to remain for many months and a French invasion force was still to arrive - the issue was no longer in doubt. The immediate concern of his government was, therefore, to bring some semblance of order and normality to Ireland. Cornwallis and the young Irish Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, were convinced that priority had to be given to returning the tens of thousands of rebels still in arms to their allegiance to the king. To achieve this they developed a strategy which sought to bring the rebel leaders to justice, but exonerated the deluded rank and file. On surrendering their weapons and taking the oath of allegiance, ordinary rebels not involved in murders or robberies were to be permitted to return quietly to their homes.

Marika Sherwood trawls contemporary reports of the anti-Catholic protests that rocked London in June 1780 to reveal the black men and women who took part, exploring their motives and punishments for doing so.

'The evident Decay of Trade, the enormous Increase of Taxes to carry on a ruinous War against our Colonies, joined with a Perfect Hatred against the secret Advisers and Promoters of it... the Ministry has laid too many Burthens on the People to be borne with Patience. I only wonder they have been quiet so long...'

So wrote 'A Detester of ill-grounded Accusations' to the Public Advertiser on Ju1y 24th, 1780. The 'they' were the Londoners who had rioted during the first week of June 1780.

The poor of London, as well as the not-so-poor, had many other reasons for discontent. For them the city was an unsavoury, unsanitary and grossly overcrowded place, where footpads and robbers were a constant menace and 'justice' was often meted out on the evidence of paid informers. The many gaols housed the bankrupts, the criminals and the political discontents: some 200 'crimes' merited capital punishment. There was resentment against war-profiteering and against the numbers of the Government's 'placemen' and pensioners. Those not liable to taxes were liable to impressment, into both the army and the navy, whose thirst for men seemed unquenchable. Employment was insecure and irregular and 'combining' to attempt to obtain better wages and conditions was illegal.

Alistair Goldsmith describes how Glasgow's police force endeavoured to preserve the city's standing as it played host to a series of international set-pieces.

The spate of international exhibitions held in Glasgow from 1888 to 1938 endeavoured to underline the economic importance of the city. Their organisation as examples of large-scale sustained events linked Glasgow to international projects going back to the Great Exhibitions of London (1851), New York (1855) and Paris (1855). The Empire Exhibition in 1938, for example, far from being seen as a parochial imitation compared with the magnificence of Wembley in 1924-25, was likened in the most positive terms, particularly architecturally, to the Paris exhibition of 1937. In addition, the Glasgow Exhibition authorities welcomed visiting organisers from the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco and the New York World's Fair held the following year.

Traditionally, the reaction of the authorities to large assemblies of people has been one of suspicion. Crowds could be, and were, seen as potentially seditious and as disruptive magnets for criminals, to be con- trolled at all costs. This anxiety was echoed by the City of Glasgow Police when the first exhibition was staged in 1888, coming at a time when fears of social unrest were widespread. The predisposition of the Glasgow police to the four exhibitions held in the city, while not overtly hostile, was guarded, apprehensive even.

Simon Smith questions our image of buccaneers as bloodthirsty opportunists claiming they were often highly organised and efficient businessmen in the waters of the Caribbean.

Pirates are one of history's most colourful gifts to literature: around a few certain facts, myths and legends have been woven by story-tellers. The lives of the most notorious pirates of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth century attracted attention from contemporary writers, such as Daniel Defoe, and in the next century inspired artists as diverse in range as the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, the poet Lord Byron, and the composer Hector Berlioz. Pirate tales encompass the timeless and highly marketable themes of escapist adventure and rebellion against authority, motifs equally adaptable to both blood- thirsty and comic interpretations.

Tracing the different representations of pirates it is fascinating to see how the pirate persona has changed over time. The images pirates chose for themselves, epitomised by the symbol of the Jolly Roger, emphasised violence and menace so as to strike fear into the hearts of victims. These psychopathic leanings are a world apart from the romantic image generated by writers such as J.M. Barrie, reinforced later by Hollywood, of pirates as either gangs of ruffians led by civilised gentlemen with a sense of honour or bands of rough diamonds led by cads.

Richard Evans looks at the social and intellectual pressures that forced Germany to rethink how and why it punished wrongdoers.

One of the most striking changes in the nature of penal policy in nineteenth-century Europe was the abolition of public executions in many major states. Even where this did not formally take place, as in France, public participation was severely curtailed by a series of reforms carried out at roughly the same time as the removal of executions behind prison walls elsewhere.

It used simply to be assumed that this change was no more than a step in the direction of a civilised and humanitarian administration of the law. This view is still taken by those who, like the Dutch historian Pieter Spierenburg, follow the great German sociologist Norbert Elias in discerning a 'civilising process' at work here, as in other aspects of European society at this time. The rise of the modern state, in this view, depended on people restraining the kind of vengeful and sadistic emotions which had found expression in the violence and ribaldry of crowd behaviour during public executions. Aggression was sublimated in the impersonal operation of the law, and a process of 'conscience formation' began in which the citizen developed a kind of human identification with other citizens which led to an increasing revulsion against the open display of physical mutilation and annihilation which public executions involved.

At one level the conviction of Rosemary West has drawn a line under the grim story of life and death in Cromwell Street, Gloucester. At another, the issue remains wide open. How, we wonder, can apparently ordinary people commit such deeds? Are there really 'natural born killers', or should we look for answers in terms of the alienation of late twentieth-century society? Surely, we feel, such things could never have happened in earlier times?

Did Andres Aranda Ortiz die for his crimes or his anarchist beliefs in a Barcelona prison just before Christmas 1934? Chris Ealham considers an episode that lays bare the social and political tensions of a Spain on the eve of civil war.

On December 21st, 1934, Andres Aranda Ortiz, a twenty- year old anarchist, was garotted in Barcelona prison. Before the executioner ended Aranda's short life, the condemned youth launched a final passionate call of 'Viva la anarquia' (Long live anarchy!), the favoured cry of anarchists condemned to death. Like many anarchists before him, Aranda faced his executioner with stoical contempt. However, Aranda was not executed for killing traditional anarchist targets, such as tyrannical politicians or hated employers. Instead, Aranda went to the executioner for his part in a bungled robbery on a tailors' shop which left a fellow worker dead.

Aranda represented the sum total of bourgeois fears in 1930s Catalonia. During these years, both the local authorities and business interests – what can be called 'Official Barcelona' – were alarmed at the regularity of armed robberies which earned the city the title, 'the Catalan Chicago'. At Aranda's trial, and in the conservative press prior to his execution, 'Official Barcelona' forcefully articulated its accumulated neuroses regarding law and order. In fact, it was the deafening clamour of politicians, businessmen, and military, legal and religious personalities, rather than any conclusive evidence, which provided the basis for the prosecution case that led Aranda to his death.

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