‘If you want to know the time, ask a policeman’

ask-policeman

It is fairly unusual to see the police in the dock at the Police Courts, mostly they appear as prosecutors or witnesses. However, from the creation of the Met in 1829 the new force had been subject to complaints about the behaviour of officers, including fraternising with local women, taking bribes from pimps and their prostitutes, corruption, and even petty theft.

The Music hall standard ‘If you want to know the time, ask a p’liceman’ was a gentle send up of the ‘boys in blue’ and makes reference to their shortcomings.

If you want to know the time ask a p’liceman
The proper Greenwich time, ask a p’liceman
Ev’ry member of the force, has a watch and chain of course
If you want to know the time ask a p’liceman.

as sung by James Fawn, composed by E. W. Rogers & A. E. Durandeau – 1889.

Every copper had a ‘watch and chain of course’ because (the accusation went) he had lifted it from a drunk he’d found in the street.

On Boxing Day 1893 a policeman did find himself on the wrong side of the law in the Greenwich Police Court. PC Joseph Muller (of M Division) was 26 years old and married. He had an impeccable record as a serving officer but something must have gone wrong that December.

At 4.25 on the morning of Christmas Eve PC Muller and the landlord of the Dover Castle public house at Rotherhithe presented themselves at the Police Station to report a possible break-in at the pub. PC Muller said that while he was out on his beat he had discovered that the door to the pub was open and unlocked, although he had earlier checked and found it secure.

Inspector Hawkes, Muller and the landlord, Frederick King then returned to the pub and made a search. The inspector concluded that the pub had not been broken into but it had been made to look as if it had. ‘A piece of wood had been cut from the door’ to fool any inspection. The inspector’s conclusion was that someone must have hidden on the premises after closing time and then had burgled the place.

Mr King checked his property and found that a cash box containing £1 in ‘new money’, some cigars, tobacco and cigarettes were missing. The inspector and PC Muller returned to the station.

About an hour later King was at the station levelling accusations at PC Muller. He said he thought he had heard some coins ‘rattling in his pocket’. Inspector Hawkes said that this was a very serious accusation and turned to Muller, asking him to turn out his pockets.

The copper did so, revealing nothing. But then he suddenly gave up all pretence and confessed. ‘It’s no use’, he said, ‘there’s the property’, prodding the cash-box from inside his coat.

In court at Greenwich he pleaded with the magistrate to take pity on him and hear his case summarily (as that way he would received  a lesser sentence and avoid a jury trial). He said he had got into bad company (with a sailor) and they had been drinking. He had no idea what had come over him.

Despite having a good character in his five years with the force Mr Mead (the justice) said it was ‘far too serious an offence’ for him to deal with and he remanded him for a full jury trial.

It didn’t reach the Old Bailey so I imagine it went to the Sessions or to the Surrey assizes. Given that he admitted his guilt there was only really one course of action open for the courts; he would have lost his position, his career and his freedom.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, December 27, 1893]

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s