Police Entrapment, 1830

The Hyde Park Gang

NOTE: The London Metropolitan Police Service was founded in 1829. Less than a year later, in 1830, the S Division began a campaign against sex between men in Hyde Park. For this purpose, they used plain-clothes policemen to entrap victims, focusing on areas where such encounters regularly took place, notably a path south of Marble Arch, parallel to Bayswater Road. But the campaign backfired, as lawyers who came forward to defend the men pointed out that such police tactics were designed to entice men to the commission of a crime. It was also deplorable that mostly middle-class men were being entrapped by working-class constables – whose motive may have been simply to profit from the costs of prosecution. The publicity resulted in discussions at a high level, and the practice was discontinued. Charles Upchurch in his book Before Wilde: Sex Between Men in Britain's Age of Reform (2009) has a section on The Hyde Park scandals.
          The cases are interesting for revealing the characteristic techniques of plain-clothes policemen. One, for example, was disguised as a servant, who positioned himself near a clump of trees in the park, and when someone came near, coughed to attract his attention. The counsel for the defence argued that these men in disguise frequently made the initial overture, and actively invited men to withdraw into the bushes with them. One of the disguised constables had arrested five men recently, each of whom paid a 5 fine and was discharged. Counsel for the defence argued that the statute that regulated this was in fact little more than a money-spinner. Typically these incidents had no witnesses to corroborate the story of the constable, who was the sole accuser, suggesting the possibility of false accusations. The jury were as indignant as the counsel for the defence. One jury acquitted a man despite clear evidence of his guilt, and the judge agreed with them that the police should not be given their prosecution expenses, the defence counsel observing that "there would be no more disguises when it was found that nothing was made by it."

30 March 1830

QUEEN-SQUARE – Four more of the miscreants who infest Hyde-park at night were brought up in custody from the watch house, and placed at the bar before MESSRS GREGORIE and WHITE.
          The first was a very respectable looking young man, who gave his name and address, James Byrne, No. 1, Duke street, Grosvenor square. On being further questioned, he said he was a clerk in the India house, in the audit office.
          Michael Cannon, police constable, S division, No. 46, stated that he was on duty about nine o'clock in the evneing in Hyde-park, he was disguised in plain clothes. The witness here detailed the nature of the assault charged against the prisoner. On being taken to the watch house, the prisoner told the inspector he was rather tipsy, or he should not have been guilty of such an act.
          The prisoner, in his defence, said, if he had acted in the manner stated by the constable, it was from being in liquor. His servant could prove he had drank a great quantity. He was only going to Knightsbridge to buy a cigar.
          Mr. David Williamson, inspector of the S division of police, was called by Mr. Gregorie and questioned as to the state the prisoner was in when brought to the watch-house. He said the prisoner did not appear to be in the least intoxicated.
          The prisoner said he wished to call a witness, when a very respectable-looking young man came forward, and gave his name and address Mr. George Cox, of No. 57, Torrington-square. He stated that he had known Mr. Byrne above six years, and never knew any thing against his moral conduct.
          Mr. WHITE. – What are you, Sir?
          Witness – I am a clerk in the India House in the same department as Mr. Byrne.
          The magistrates, after consulting, fined the prisoner 5l., the full penalty.
          The money was instantly paid, and the prisoner left the office with his friend, amidst the hootings of a crowd assembled outside.
          The next was a genteel looking young man, fashionably dressed in a blue frock coat. He would not at first give his name, but at last gave the name of Frederick Sims. He lived at Devonport in Devonshire, and had only arrived in town from Bath on Saturday evening, when he took a walk in Hyde-park previous to his taking lodgings in town. The name given is a fictitious one, his real name being Mr. R. Symons. Thomas Byrne, S. Division, No. 13, gave evidence in this case, which was the worst of any. In reply, the prisoner attempted, in a most ingenious manner, to give a different meaning to the language he used, and said the assault was accidental.
          The magistrates ordered him to find bail, himself in 100l., and two sureties in 50l. each, and 24 hours' notice of bail.
          The remaining two were then palced at the bar; one stated himself to be a gentleman's servant at Berkhamstead, in Hertfordshire, and the other a lodger in Norfolk-street, Strand. The evidence having been gone into, the constables would not swear positively, and there appearing a doubt, the magistrate said the safest way would be to discharge them.
          This makes 14 of the gang. The two last, as they were discharged, it might be unfair to name. (The Times)

2 April 1830

THE HYDE PARK GANG – The person who gave his name Mr Frederick Nims, who was ordered, on Monday last, to find bail for an indecent assault on a police-constable, was brought up again from Tothill Fields prison, and placed at the bar before Messrs GREGORIE and WHITE.
          Byrne, the police constable, was again closely questioned by the magistrates, but he did not vary in his story in the least.
          In answer to a question, he said when he searched the prisoner at the watchhouse, he could find no money upon him except 5s 4d.
          Mr GREGORIE directed Pople, the other officer, to be sent for, and asked him whether the prisoner had not given into his charge a large sum of money.
          Pople said, that when he locked the prisoner up on Monday, he knocked from the inside, and said he wished to speak to him. He opened the door of the cell, when the prisoner gave him 86l to keep for him, for fear he should lose it. The following morning he gave the prisoner his money back in Tothill Fields prison, who delivered it to Mr Nodder, the governor to take charge of for him. Besides the 86l he had a number of sovereigns in his possession.
          Mr GREGORIE ordered Pople, as well as the police-constable, to be bound over to prosecute, and the prisoner was taken back to Tothill-fields prison.
          Shortly afterwards, two respectable-looking young men offered themselves as bail for the prisoner.
          Mr GREGORIE said, they were quite willing to take bail, if, on inquiry, it was found to be respectable, but he was well aware that the name given by the prisoner was fictitious, and without he had his real name and address, bail would not be taken.
          After some consideration the parties declined giving his name and address, and left the office to consult with the prisoner.
          As they were leaving the office Mr GREGORIE said, whatever name and address might be given, the strictest inquiry would be made as to its correctness. (The Times)

6 April 1830

QUEEN-SQUARE. – APPREHENSION OF ANOTHER BATCH OF THE HYDE-PARK GANG – Yesterday four more of the miscreants who infest Hyde-park were brought up in custody by the new police constables, from Knightsbridge watchouse, charged with assaults of a revolting nature.
          The first placed at the bar was a stout-built middle-aged man, dressed in a brown frock coat, who gave his name and address Edward Butler, a lodger at No. 41, Park-street, Grosvenor-square.
          In answer to questions put to him by the sitting Magistrate, Mr. Gregorie, he said he was a servant out of place.
          Thomas Byrne, police constable, S. Division, No. 53, stated, that he was on duty in disguise, in plain clothes, on Saturday night, between eight and nine o'clock, near Cumberland-gate, in Hyde-park. The prisoner accosted him – "It's a fine night." The witness then detailed some further conversation of the prisoner's, of the most disgusting nature, and stated that he assaulted him twice in the most revolting manner.
          Mr. Gregorie asked the prisoner what he had to say to the charge?
          Prisoner. – Why, I believe what the police constables have stated to be nearly correct. I am ony a poor servant, and I hope you will forgive me this time, and I promise it shall never happen again, and be merciful to me, for I am only a servant.
          Mr. Gregorie ordered him to find bail, and give 24 hours' notice of bail.
          The second placed at the bar was in a soldier's dress, and gave his name Thomas Sykes, a private in the 5th company of the third battalion of the 1st Regiment of Guards.
          Edward Nugent, police constable S. Division, No. 51, stated that he was on duty in disguise on Saturday night, between eight and nine o'clock, when the prisoner met him. The witness here detailed the prisoner's language, and the nature of the assault, which, as usual, was of the most disgusting nature.
          The prisoner denied the charge.
          Mr. Williamson, the Inspector of the S. division of Police, stated that when the prisoner was brought to the watch-house, he said he was in liquor, or he would not have done it.
          Serjeant James M'Gregor, of the third battalion of the first regiment of Guards, was asked by the Magistrates what sort of a character the prisoner bore in the regiment. – The Serjeant in reply said, he bore a very indifferent character.
          Mr. Gregorie, after consulating with his colleague Mr. White, directed the prisoner to be given up to the custody of the serjeant, to be tried by his own officers, and intimated that the police constable would be in readiness to give evidence.
          The third fellow as a stout-built, respectable-looking tradesman, he gave his name Richard Mylam, a master baker, carrying on business at Hammersmith, near the Hammersmith toll-gate. This name and address are perfectly correct. The prisoner had his shop robbed a few days ago of 52l., the particulars of which appeared in some of the morning papers.
          Thomas Scott, S. division, No. 49, stated, that he was on duty, in disguise, in Hyde Park, on Sunday evening, a little before eight o'clock. The witness here stated the nature of the assault. The witness also said, that the prisoner asked him if he was married, and on his answering in the negative, advised him not to marry, as it was of no use. He then called him "a pretty dear little fellow;" and after the prisoner had talked in this style, he then committed the assault. He took him into cutody, when the prisoner offered him any money to escape.
          The prisoner, in reply, said he had lived upwards of four years at Hammersmith, and bore an irreproachable character. He denied the statement of the constable, and said that it was the constable who wanted him to go amongst the trees with him, which he refused. He concluded by complaining of the manner he had been robbed of his 52l. at Hammersmith.
          The prisoner was ordered to find bail, and give 24 hours' notice.
          The fourst prisoner was a middle-aged man, dressed in livery. On the buttons of his coat was a crest, a female, with a rose in her right hand. He gave his name George William Alexander, but refused at first to give his address.
          Edward Nugent, S. Division, No. 51, gave evidence in this case, which was nearly of the same revolting nature as the preceding cases, with the exception of the language.
          The prisoner denied the statement.
          He was also ordered to find bail, and give twenty-four hours' notice.
          Mr. Gregorie asked the prisoner if he chose to give his address?
          The prisoner said he would privately; he then wrote an address on a piece of paper, and it was handed to the Magistrate.
          The parties were then all bound over to prosecute. (Morning Advertiser)

14 April 1830

James Paxton was put to the bar, ehcarged with assaulting Michael Cannon, a policeman, in Hyde-park, on the 5th inst.
          The prisoner pleaded not guilty!
          Mr. Barry said the prisoner had only been in custody a few days, and not having had time to prepare for his trial, he wished to be liberated on bail, and have his trial traversed to the next Sessions.
          The Chairman granted the application, and ordered the prisoner to find bail, himself in 200l., and two sureties in 100l. each.
          Henry Green and William Taylor, the former a respectable looking man, who described himself as a tailor, and the latter a private in the Coldstream guards, were indicted for a similar offence.
          The prisoners were found in an indecent siaution a public-house on Thursday evening last, by the waiter, who burst open the door and discovered them.
          Mr. Alley, for the prisoner Green, also applied to postpone this trial upon his finding bail.
          The Chairman said, he could not comply with this request, unless the other prisoner also wished to have his trial postponed.
          The soldier expressed his desire to have the trial put off.
          The Chairman ordered each of them to find sureties, himsel fin 200l., and two sureties in 100l. each, and to give 48 hours'notice of bail.
          Richard Reeves Childs, a man about 50 years of age, respectably dressed, was indicted for an assault on James Curry.
          The prosecutor, who is a policeman (No. 54, Division S.), stated, that on the 25th of March he was in Hyde Park in disguise, being in the dress of a servant, and when near a clump of trees, at the head of the Serpentine River, at half-past eight o'clock, he happened to cough; a person, who turned out to be the prisoner, also coughed, and came up to him, saying "It's a fine night;" he answered it was. The witness then described the nature of the assault, and he subsequently walked arm in arm with him until he got near Knightsbridge watch-house, when he lodged the prisoner there.
          Cross-examined by Mr. Alley – He had been a policeman only since Christmas; he had formerly been in the army; went in plain clothes in disguise by the orders of his superiors. Had frequently been so disguised, and had taken five men for this offence, four of whom were fined 5l. each and discharged.
          Mr. Alley. – What do you get that uniform for but that the public should know you?
          Witness. – I was ordered to dress in plain clothes.
          Foreman of the Jury. – How came you to cough at that moment?
          Witness. – I had no motive in it; I had a cold.
          Mr. Alley then addressed the Jury for the prisoner, and severely censured the system pursued by these policemen, in being sent in disguise into the Park, to lure and entrap persons into the commission of an offence at which humanity and nature revolted. He severely censured the whole of the new police establishment, as an encroachment on the rights, the liberties, and the immunities of the people of England. The Act of Parliament itself he condemned in strong terms, and designated those who framed and supported it as fit subjects only for Sodom and Gomorrah, if the Act was intended to reach cases of this description; if the Act was not so intended, why did the Magistrates discharge so many persons charged with this detestable crime, upon payment of 5l. each? Such a fine, for so heinous an offence, was nothing; while, if a person be innocent, none ought to be inflicted. Why, then, did the Act of Parliament take cases of this description out of the hands of a Jury? The Learned Counsel then commented on the evidence in this case, and contended that a man who, like the prosecutor, could lend himself to lure and entrap a number of persons (five by his own admission) into an offence, and then take them to a Police-office to be fined 5l., was not to be believed, unless his evidence was supported by other testimony; here no person appeared to corroborate one single fact; and he (Mr. Alley) implored the Jury, not for the sake of the prisoner only, but upon a general public principle, not to encourage this system. He observed, in conclusion, that Mr. Peel's bill was a famous money bill, for he understood about twenty-four persons had paid 5l. each sooner than be exposed, by which in a few days the treasury had been enriched 100l..
          The Jury, after considerable consultation, found the prisoner Guilty, but added, "the Jurors whish that the convicting witness had not been the person with whom the offence was committed."
          The Chairman observed, that he was afraid it could not be otherwise, for it was very seldom a third person could witness it.
          The Court then sentenced the prisoner to six months' imprisonmeent.
          Mr. Alley observed, that this was much fitter for the offence than a fine of 5l.
          The Chairman said the find of 5l. would not again be inflicted.
          The Chairman then addressed the policeman, and said he had behaved himself extremely well, and given his evidence very properly.
          There were several cases of a similar nature, but the Court ordered them to stand for the adjournment day. (Morning Advertiser)

17 April 1830

One of the Hyde-park gang, named Richard Reeves Childs, who had been several times in custody for a similar offence, was on Monday found guilty at the Westminster Sessions, and sentenced to six months imprisonment. (Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle)

26 April 1830

The persons who were apprehended in Hyde-park by some policemen in disguise, for certain practices, were on this day placed at the bar for trial.
          Wm Benton, the first defendant, was found Guilty, the policeman swearing positively against the prisoner.
          The evidence against the next defendant, Joseph Clare, was equally positive, but the jury without hesitation acquitted him.
          Edward Butler, the next defendant, was also acquitted.
          Mr C. PHILLIPS, and all the other gentlemen of the bar present, expressed the utmost indignation against the demoralizing system of policemen disguising themselves to ensnare to crime. Mr C PHILLIPS remarked, that instead of a preventive police, such persons as the prosecutors deserved the designation of an accessorial police.
          Richard Milan, the next defendant, was found Guilty.
          Owen Barry, the next defendant, was acquitted for want of evidence. A number of his friends, male and female, attended to speak to his character.
          Upon this the jury rose up as one man, and requested that none of the prosecutors in these cases should be allowed their expenses. The CHAIRMAN and Bench of Magistrates assented most cheerfully.
          Mr C PHILLIPS observed that there would be no more disguises when it was found that nothing was made by it.
          Benton and Milan were then brought up for judgment. The first pleaded his innocence in the strongest language. They were sentenced to six months' imprisonment. (The Times)

21 May 1830

John Batson, a well-dressed young man, about 35 years of age, was indicted for an assault of a revolting description upon a police-officer of division S.
          The prosecutor stated, that having been stationed in Hyde-park on the night of the 5th of April, disguised in his private clothes, he met the prisoner, who entered into conversation with him, and subsequently committed the assault complained of.
          Constable No. 55, of the same division, corroborated the above evidence, and added that the prisoner had assaulted him in like manner. When taken into custody the prisoner offered witness money to let him go, which he refused to take, observing that it would be more than his situation would be worth to accept a bribe.
          Mr. C. PHILLIPS, who appeared for the prisoner, cross-examined both witnesses. The former admitted that he had brought forward four cases of a similar description, and the latter two.
          The learned counsel then proceeded to address the Court in behalf of the prisoner, and observed that very little credit was due to the testimony of witnesses, who acknowledge that they went into the Park in disguise for the avowed purpose of soliciting the commission of abominable crimes. Such a mode of employing police-officers was most degrading, and was calculated to bring the present system into public odium. It was perfectly well known that the police constables had motives for trumping up such charges, and these motives were fully explained by the learned Common Serjeant, before an assembly of his fellow-citizens on the preceding day, when he declared his firm conviction to be, that police-constables brought forward cases for the mere purpose of obtaining the expenses attending prosecutions. No man who had observed the conduct of the new police in courts of justice, could doubt this fact, and he (Mr. Phillips) referred to the circumstance to show the sort of reliance which ought to be placed upon the testimony of such men in giving evidence where the character and liberty of the subject were at stake, and how narrowly that evidence ought to be watched. He had heard that the intervention of a jury in cases of this description had been dispensed with, and that certain magistrates, before whom these cases were brought, had, in their discretion, substituted a fine of 5l., instead of sending the parties charged to be tried by a jury of their country. He could hardly credit this, and was willing to believe that some mistake had been made on the subject; but if the fact were true, – and he should regret to find it so, – then he was bound to say that such magistrates had not only acted illegally, but they were a disgrace to the bench, and contaminated the purity of justice. The learned gentleman then proceeded to comment upon the evidence, and endeavoured to show that the testimony of the constables was wholly unworthy of belief.
          The CHAIRMAN, in summing up the evidence, expressed a contrary opinion to that of the learned counsel, and also to that of the Common Serjeant, with respect to the motives of the police in bringing forward cases for trial. With regard to the present prosecution, it had been objected that the officers had assumed a disguise for the purpose of entrapping the prisoner. It was quite clear, however, that unless some such means were resorted to, delinquents charged with offences of this nature could not be brought to justice, and therefore the observations of the learned counsel on that point ought not to weigh with the jury. The learned chairman then re-capitulated the evidence.
          The Jury consulted in the box for a quarter of an hour, when it appeared, that 11 of them had agreed to a verdict, which was resisted by the remaining juror. They were then directed to retire, and in another quarter of an hour, returned with a verdict of Not Guilty.
          A tailor, named Green, and a private soldier, named Taylor, were found guilty of having met together, in a public-house, in Westminster, for a revolting purpose. They were each sentenced to six months' imprisonment and hard labour in the House of Correction. (The Times)

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Police Entrapment, 1830", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 29 November 2018 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1830hyde.htm>.

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