Policemen as Entrappers and as Participants, 1840s

Saturday 13 July 1844

UNNATURAL CRIME. – Alfred Sirdefield, a clerk in the Branch Bank of England, in Hanover-street, in this town [Liverpool], and John Merser, one of the county police, have been apprehended on a charge of having committed one of those revolting crimes which disgrace human nature and outrage every feeling of decency. It appears that Sirdefield is a young unmarried man, of very respectable exterior, and that he was lodging at Bootle. Merser, also a young unmarried man, whose number is 171, was stationed in the same village. A handsome walking-stick, silver-mounted, which was left behind by Sirdefield when he fled, has partly led to his detection and identification. The prisoners have been examined before Mr. Rushton in private. The party upon whose evidence the case principally rests is a police-officer, and the offence is alleged to have taken place in a lane leading from Bootle down to the sands, on Saturday morning last, about two o'clock. The officer who made the charge did not apprehend them at the time of the occurrence, but gave information to one of the inspectors, who immediately took the necessary steps for having them taken into custody. The prisoner was brought up again yesterday, and the stick, which was produced, was identified by Mr. Francis Wilson, a clerk in the bank, as belonging to Sirdefield. He was then further remanded. (Liverpool Mail)

Friday 2 August 1844

John Mercer, 24, and Alfred Sirdefield, 32, charged with attempting to commit an unnatural crime – Acquitted. (Liverpool Mercury)

Saturday 3 August 1844

ABOMINABLE OFFENCES. – Two cases of this revolting nature were tried before the Recorder and a respectable jury, at the Borough Sessions, on Saturday afternoon. In the first, a grey-headed old man, dressed in a blue frock coat and fashionable vest, named Edward Boyd, was indicted for having attempted to commit the offence, on the morning of last Monday week, in the large field front Shaw-street, Everton. Mr. Arnold conducted the case for the prosecution; the prisoner was undefended. The principal evidence was given by police-constable 49 who stated that about twenty minutes to one o'clock, on the morning in question, he was on duty in the neighbourhood of Plumpton-terrace, when he observed the prisoner and another man turn into the field and cross the footpath. The night was starry but not moonlight, and, when they stopped, witness lay upon the ground, about three or four yards distant from them, where he obtained a distinct view of their indecent conduct by the reflection of the gaslamps in Shaw-street. He then arrested them both, but the other man succeeded in making his escape, and could not now be identified. The jury, after a brief consultation, convicted the prisoner. A witness was then examined as to his previous character, which was described as good, and the Recorder proceeded to pass sentence. He said he had been found guilty of attempting to commit a very scandalous crime and a most infamous offence. A high character had, indeed, been given to him; but, whatever character a man had previously borne, if he so far forgot himself, if his mind was so very depraved as to be proved to have committed an offence of this nature, he must necessarily receive a heavy punishment. In the present case there was but one witness; but his testimony had been tested, and the result was, as it seemed to the jury and the court, that the prisoner had been clearly convicted of having, at least, attempted the offence. Under these circumstances a severe punishment should be inflicted. The offence was rare: it was hoped it would continue so; and, in order that it might so continue, it was necessary that the sentence should be stringent. He then sentenced the prisoner to imprisonment for twelve calendar months, and regretted that he was not at liberty to add hard labour or he should willingly do so.
          In the second case Alfred Sirdefield, a clerk in the Branch Bank of England, Hanover-street, and John Mercer, a county policeman, stationed at Bootle, were indicted for having committed a like abominable offence, on the 2d instant, at the corner of Mersey-view, Bootle. Mr. Ramshay, conducted the case for the prosecution. The prisoner Sirdefield was defended by Mr. James, and the other prisoner by Mr. Arnold. The only witness examined in the case was a Liverpool policeman, named Wm. Wright, who stated that the offence was committed between the hours of two and three o'clock on the morning named in the indictment, in a sort of thoroughfare leading from the main road to the Bootle shore. He was cross-examined at very considerable length by the learned counsel for the defence, and, when he was about to leave the box, the Recorder appealed to the jury, as to whether they were satisfied with the evidence, as the case depended entirely on the testimony of Wright, and he had varied his statements on several material points. He then referred to the points in question, and said that, if they could not safely convict upon such testimony, there was an end to the case. The jury consulted for about five minutes and announced, through their foreman, that they were dissatisfied with the evidence. A verdict of "Not guilty" was accordingly returned, and the prisoners were discharged. (Liverpool Mail)

Saturday 27 July 1844

CHARGE OF COMMITTING AN UNNATURAL CRIME. – On Tuesday last Edward Boyd, after undergoing a private examination before the magistrates, was committed to the sessions on a charge of having committed an unnatural crime, a few days since, in the neighbourhood of Plumpton-street. The prisoner is said to be a stone or marble mason. The other party to the abominable transaction made his escape, and has not since been heard of. (Liverpool Mail)

Saturday 26 October 1844

[Calendar of charges awaiting trial:] . . . William M'Cracken, indecently assaulting Police Constable Redmond, and attempting to commit a felony, by endeavoring to induce the said constable to commit an unnatural crime . . . (Dublin Evening Packet)

Thursday 12 February 1846

The court sat at ten o'clock yesterday.
          Michael Enright was indicted for having committed wilful and corrupt perjury in an information sworn on the 27th of November last, before the magistrates of the Hend Police office, charging a policeman named Keenahan with an attempt to commit an unnatural offence.
          Mr. Plunkett, Mr. Pennefather, and Mr. Smiley were for the crown; and Mr. J. A. Curran and Mr. O'Hea for the defence.
          After several witnesses had been examined, Mr. Plunket said there was a trifling difficulty in the amount of evidence to support the indictment, which difficulty he could not get over, and he would give up the case.
          The prisoner was accordingly discharged.
          The general evidence was unfit for publication. (Freeman's Journal)

Saturday 10 April 1847

The cases to-day, were, most of them, of a description, that, in our opinion, it would be better if they were not tried in open court, but the details are certainly unfit for publication. Two of these were for offences on females. – In the first, Stephen Green, 23, was indicted for a capital assault on Keziah Hubbard, a girl 12 years old, committed at Caister, on the 29th of August last. He was found guilty of a common assault, and sentenced to be imprisoned twelve months. – In the second case of this description, George Smith, indicted for a capital assault on Sarah Judd, of Wiggenhall, the wife of David Judd, was acquitted.
          John Casteney, 19, was convicted of an unnatural offence, committed at Wells-next-the-Sea, and sentenced to 18 months.
          Edmund Saul Dixon, was charged with having committed an indecent assault on a policeman. This case excited great interest, and the court was crowded during the trial. Mr. Andrews and Mr. Wortlege appeared for the prosecution, and Mr. Prendergast, Mr. O'Malley, and Mr. Palmer, for the defence. – The policeman swore positively to the fact, and was not shaken on cross-examination.
          James Harrowing, gamekeeper to R. H. Gurney, Esq., said, I know George Roberts [the policeman]. I recollect seeing him on the 30th September last, on the turnpike-road, near my house, between twelve and one o'clock. After some conversation with him, I told him that I was going across the Cantley planatation. We parted, and I went into the field against the turnpike road. I had just got into the field, off the turnpike, about 150 or 290 yards, when I saw Roberts (the policeman) and a man talking together. I could see Mr. Roberts pointing towards Cantley planation. He was standing sideways to me, and the man talking to him stood on the other side of him. Roberts went up the hill, and the other man went towards my house. He went a little way and then turned back, following Roberts towards Cringleford toll-gate. I did not see any thing more. The other man was in a dark dress. – Cross-examined. The road that the man went leads to Mr. Dixon's house. From my position I could see every part of the persons of the two men. While I stood there the other man could not have acted as described by the last witness without my seeing him. I stood there till the men parted. There was nothing whatever to intercept my view, the hedge being lower than the crown of the road. There is a double cottage about 20 or 30 yards from the spot where the men stood. A door and window of the cottage front the road. Three different families live in the cottage. There is no place more public, nor more liable to observation from a distance. There is a round-house about two hundred yards from the spot where the men stood. The men could see me very plain from the road. There was no fence to interrupt the view. – Re-examined. I was stopping to see if any body was coming to speak to me. The place where I stood is 10 or 15 yards from the road, and about 120 yards from the spot where the men were talking. I could see the policeman and the other man quite distinctly. I could see whether the other man had a stick in his hand, and I saw the defendant walking with a stick before he met the policeman, and afterwards. – By the JUDGE. I remember being before the magistrates. – (The deposition of the witness before the magistrates was handed to him to read.) – The JUDGE. Did you not say, before the magistrates, that you could not see both? Witness paused for some time, and then answered, I might say so. – The JUDGE. Did you not say, that you did not pay much regard to the men? Witness. I did not pay much regard to them. – The JUDGE. Did you notice the other man? Witness. I never saw the other man do any thing. I saw Roberts point his hand to the field. – The JUDGE. Did you not say that the man had no stick? Witness. I recollected afterwards that he had a stick in his hand.
          Several other witnesses were examined, to shew, that the policeman complained to them of having been assaulted by the defendant.
          Mr. PRENDERGAST then addressed the jury in defence at great length, urging the improbability of an offence of this description having been committed in such a public place, where the parties were so well known, and the want of corroborative evidence. He called witnesses to character.
          The Rev. C. Turner, the Rev. J. Bailey, the Rev. J. Pereowne, J. Colman, Esq., Mr. J. Faulkner, C. Marsh, Esq., Mr. J. L. Onfande, Mr. J. Barber, Mr. S. Blunderfield, and Mr. R. Phillips, gave the defendant a good character. – All stated, that they had known him for some years, and could testify to his moral habits.
          The learned JUDGE then summed-up very carefully, commenting on the evidence as he proceeded. – The jury having consulted for about half an hour, returned a verdict of not guilty. (Norfolk Chronicle)

Saturday 10 February 1849

A gentlemanly-looking man named Walter Smith, supposed to be an assumed name, pleaded guilty to two indictments, charged him with indecently assaulting two police-constables. – The prisoner who pleaded to the count charging a common assault, was sentenced to six months' imprisonment and hard labour. (Windsor and Eton Express)

Monday 21 May 1849

MARYLEBONE. – A stylishly dressed young man, who gave his name William Wilson, and said that he resided at 9, Curzon-street, May-fair, was placed at the bar before Mr. LONG, charged with having indecently assaulted Police-constable Palmer, 214 D, with intent to incite him to the commission of an unnatural offence.
          The case excited a considerable degree of interest, inasmuch as it was currently reported that the prisoner was a man of high standing in society.
          The prisoner, who acted under the advice of his solicitor, declined making any defence at present, and was committed for trial. (Evening Mail)

23 June 1849

CHARGE OF INDECENT ASSAULT. – William Wilson, a well-dressed gentlemanly-looking young man, was indicted for having indecently assaulted Martin Palmer, a police-constable, with intent. Mr. Parry defended the prisoner. – The prosecutor stated that, whilst on duty, at about three o'clock in the morning, in George-street, Manchester-square, the prisoner came up to him, and asked him the way to Curzon-street, to which place witness directed him, and he left him, but shortly returned, and asked the way to Oxford-street: and having been directed, he still continued following the witness until he came into Manchester-square; when he again asked him the way to Mayfair, and upon being again directed, he seized hold of witness in an indecent manner, accompanying the act with language which left no doubt on witness's mind of his intentions; and he at once took him into custody, when he begged several times to be let off. On their road to the station-house, they were met by another officer, Ebenezer Bowen, 103 D, and he again begged to be let off, saying he was only a servant out of place, and if he had committed himself he was sorry for it; it was no use taking him to the station on a charge like that; he would give them all he had got, and as much more if he had it. When at the station-house, after the constable had made his statement, the acting sergeant asked him if he had heard what had been stated by the constable? he said, "Yes, that is all right; I had forgotten myself." The prisoner appeared to be sober. – The officer, Bowen, fully corroborated the statement of Martin, from that part of the transaction where he overtook him with the prisoner incustody. – Mr. Parry, in addressing the jury for the defence, said, that the police-constable, whom, in the course of his cross-examination, he had shown to be a hasty and irascible man, had been too hasty in the matter, and had misconstrued the prisoner's meaning. The fact was, that the prisoner had been out with some friends, and drinking freely, and he might have accidentally touched the constable, and the language attributed to him was not intended to apply to the constable, but to some women. – The learned counsel was proceeding with the case, when the jury stopped him and "Acquitted" the prisoner. (Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser)

Friday 14 September 1849

The master of the Brompton Grammar School has been committed for trial on a charge of indecent assault on a police-constable. (Hull Advertiser)

Saturday 15 September 1849

MARYLEBONE. – SERIOUS CHARGE AGAINST A MASTER OF A GRAMMAR SCHOOL. – Mr. T. A. Cockayne, who for many years has held the situation of master at the Brompton Grammar School, was charged with having committed an indecent assault upon Police-constable Angell, 255 S. – Mr. Steele attended for the prisoner, many of whose friends, highly respectable persons, were present in court. The hearing occupied the attention of the magistrate more than an hour and a half. Mr. Steele cross-examined the complainant at some length, and contended that the conduct of the complainant throughout was such as ought not to entitle him to any degree of credit. – Mr. Broughton, after carefully reviewing the whole of the evidence adduced, came to the conclusion that the case was one which he must send before a jury, and upon being applied to with respect to bail, said he would take the prisoner's own recognisance in 300, and two sureties in 200 each for his being forthcoming on Monday next. – The required recognisances were entered into, and the prisoner was liberated. (Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser)

Tuesday 23 October 1849

Thomas Ashton Cockayne surrendered to take his trial upon a charge of misdemeanour.
          Mr. W. Cooper prosecuted, and Mr. Bodkin and Mr. Ballantine were for the defence.
          The nature of the misdemeanour imputed to the defendant, who, it appeared, was a person very respectably connected, and who holds the office of deputy master of the Western Grammar School, at Brompton, was that of having committed an indecent assault upon a police constable of the S division, named Charles Angel. The offence was alleged to have been committed on the night of the 7th of September. The details are of course not fit for publication; but the story told by the constable was of a very improbable and unsatisfactory character, and he was contradicted in some material portions of his testimony by the other witnesses in the case. Upon cross examination, the prosecutor, who, it appeared, was a native of Melksham, in Wiltshire, admitted that he had been charged with manslaughter; and although he refused to answer many of the questions that were put to him with regard to his former habits and associates, it was pretty clear that his character was very indifferent. Notwithstanding this, however, it would seem that, upon his arrival in London, he very soon obtained the appointment of police constable.
          Mr. Bodkin made a most eloquent and forcible appeal to the jury on behalf of the defendant, who, he stated, was a person who had all his life maintained the very highest character for morality and honourable conduct, and who was utterly incapable of acting in the manner described. He commented upon the evidence given by the porosecutor, pointing out the contradictory statements he had made, and said that the charge had evidently been trumped up for the purposes of extorting money. The learned counsel concluded by expressing his surprise that such a man as the prosecutor evidently was by his own showing should ever have been appointed to a situation where the property and persons of the public were entrusted to his charge. Several highy respectable witnesses were then examined, all of whom confirmed the statement of the learned counsel with regard to the character for morality and honourable conduct enjoyed by the defendant, and three persons residing at Melksham, one of whom was the superintendent of police, were also examined, and they stated that from their knowledge of the prosecutor and his associates, and his general conduct, they would not believe him on his oath.
          The jury, without hearing any more evidence, interposed at this stage of the proceedings, and said they were satisfied that no case had been made out against the defendant.
          The Recorder asked if he was to understand that the jury considered the case too doubtful to justify them in convicting the defendant, or whether they did not place any reliance upon the evidence of the prosecutor.
          The jury said they did not believe the story told by the policeman.
          The Recorder said that this expression of opinion by the jury was highly satisfactory in a case where a gentleman, whose character appeared unimpeachable, was attacked by a person of bad character. He had long felt that there was no case to warrant a conviction, and he had only let the matter proceed so far in order that this might not only be made apparent, but that it should also be shown that the prosecutor was unworthy of credit.
          Mr. Bodkin said that, after what had been stated by his lordship, he trusted the defendant would leave the court without the least imputation upon his characteer.
          The Recorder said in his opinion he would do so, but at the same time he considered it very satisfactory that in such a case as this counsel had been engaged on both sides, and he could not help also expressing his satisfaction at the very candid and fair manner in which the case haed been opened by the learned counsel for the prosecution. He had stated the facts most fairly, and had made the defendant aware of every pont upon which the prosecutor relied, and thus gave him an opportunity of fairly meeting the accusation.
          A verdict of Not Guilty was then recorded.
          The Recorder gave directions to the inspector of police on duty at this session to report to the proper authorities the fact of the jury having expressed an opinion that the prosecuitor was unworthy of belief. At present he was in the position of a protector of the public, and it was therefore very necessary that the opinion entertained of him by the jury should be reported in the proper quarter. He had no doubt that it would be so, but he felt it right to state publicly what his opinion was upon the subject. (Morning Post)

SOURCE: Various newspapers, as cited.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Policemen as Entrappers and as Participants, 1840s", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 1 November 2016 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1840spol.htm>.

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