5 crimes that changed law enforcement in Britain

The Curious Case of the Campden Wonder
Simon Whistler
Fingerprints can now tell us so much more
Fingerprints' hidden secrets - Click - BBC News
Britain's CSI School - Fingerprints - The One Show
Today in History: First person charged with drunk driving (1897)
John Robson of TheRebel.Media reports that on September 10 1897 a certain George Smith, a London cabbie, had the dubious distinction of being the first person charged with drunk driving. The automobile was still in its infancy. But human misconduct was all grown up. And of course cars have continued to get better, fancier, faster and more stylish ever since.
30th June 1937: World's first emergency telephone number began operation
The world’s first emergency telephone number, 999, began operating in London. On 10 November 1935 a resident of Wimpole Street called the local Welbeck telephone exchange to report a fire that had broken out in the house opposite. This was the established way of seeking the emergency services, but there was no way of prioritising such calls since they used the same exchange number as all other calls. Consequently the caller was unable to raise the alarm, and five women died in the fire. A letter from the frustrated neighbour appeared in The Times shortly afterwards, and this brought the issue to national attention. On 10 December the Postmaster General, who was responsible for the telephone network, informed parliament that he was to launch an inquiry into what he referred to as ‘urgency calls’. The 999 service was launched in London on 30 June 1937, and initially covered a 12 mile radius from Oxford Street. The number was initially chosen because it was easy to modify existing payphones, which used rotary dials, to allow the number 9 to connect without money needing to be inserted. 111 was ruled out since the accidental touching of telephone wires could accidentally trigger the call.
Leave No Trace - Footprint Evidence
This clip demonstrates how footprints can be used by forensics to identify people.
Britain's CSI School - Footprints - The One Show
The first man to be convicted of a crime in the UK by fingerprint evidence was Harry Jackson in on September 13, 1902

The case of William Harrison 1660

On Thursday 16th August 1660 William Harrison, an elderly gentleman, disappeared without trace from the prosperous market town of Chipping Campden. All that remained were his slashed hat and bloodied neckbands lying in the highway.

His servant and two accomplices were later hanged for the murder.

A year after the executions, locals were shocked when none other than William Harrison arrived home and informed the authorities that he had been abducted and later sold as a slave. Somehow he managed to escape and concealed himself on board a barque sailing for Dover.

Harrison’s account of his terrible ordeal and following this terrible miscarriage of justice courts in Britain would follow a principle of ‘no body, no charge of murder.’ This principle was maintained well into the 20th century.

However, in the 1940s John George Haigh, commonly refered to as the ‘Acid Bath Murderer’, killed at least six people and dissolved their bodies in acid.

Although the bodies of his victims had been dissolved, advances in forensic science made it possible to convict Haigh.


The case of Harry Jackson 1902

The case of Harry Jackson is renowned as being the first criminal trial in the United Kingdom in which an individual’s was convicted squarely on fingerprint evidence.

On 27th June 1902, a number of billiard balls was stolen from a house in Denmark Hill, South London during a burglary. During the investigation of the scene, a police officer discovered fingerprints on a recently-painted windowsill. With suspicions that the burglar had entered the premises through this window, the Fingerprint Branch of Scotland Yard was contacted.

They found  and photographed a number of  fingerprints, including a clear left thumbprint. After sifting through the fingerprints of known criminals a similar print was found. The fingerprint belonged to 41-year-old Harry Jackson.

Jackson was an habitual thief and had been suspected of committing several burglaries in south London.

At the trial and after much deliberation the prosecution managed to successfully convince the jury of the reliability of fingerprint evidence. A difficult task, as the entire case rested on the reliability of one print which many questioned.

In September 1902, Harry Jackson was found guilty and sentenced in the Central Criminal Court to seven years imprisonment.


The case of George Smith 1897

The first person to be arrested and charged for driving under the influence of alcohol was George Smith, a London cabdriver.

Charged with drunk driving on 10 September 1897

This article from the Morning Post reported that at about 00:45 on Friday 10 September 1897, Smith’s vehicle ‘swerved from one side of the road to the other, and ran across the footway into 165 New Bond Street’.

George Smith admitted that he’d had ‘two or three glasses of beer’ and apologised, stating that ‘it is the first time I have been charged with being drunk in charge of a cab’. In fact, it was the first time anyone had been charged with the offence.

Smith was fined 20 shillings and told ‘you motor-car drivers ought to be very careful, for if anything happens to you – well, the police have a very happy knack of stopping a runaway horse, but to stop a motor is a very different thing.’

The British Newspaper Archive

The case of Thomas Duffy

BBC News

On 30 June 1937, the capital’s new emergency telephone line was unveiled. A notice in the Evening News advised the public how to use it.

“Only dial 999… if the matter is urgent; if, for instance, the man in the flat next to yours is murdering his wife or you have seen a heavily masked cat burglar peering round the stack pipe of the local bank building.

“If the matter is less urgent, if you have merely lost little Towser or a lorry has come to rest in your front garden, just call up the local police.”

A week later, on 7 July 1937, the press reported the first arrest after a 999 call.

Early on the morning of 7 July 1937,  John Stanley Beard of Hampstead in north London was  awoken by a noise outside his bedroom window.  Looking outside he thought he spotted the intruder. His wife quickly rang 999 describing the intruder who the police identified as Thomas Duffy who was soon arrested nearby.


The case of Sydney Malkin

Sydney Malkin was a 47-year-old chef who had a penchant for women’s underwear. In 1956, he broke into the Hastings flat of one Mrs Edith Bowles and stole items of underwear and a silk slip. Mrs Bowles, whose flat was on an upper level, had left her underwear out to dry with the windows open. Mrs Bowles reported the crime to a local police officer, PC Ernest Parker. Parker examined the point of entry and was astonished to discover a number of bare footprints – one on top of the television, one on a loudspeaker and finally one on the floor.

The unusual modus operandi – stealing women’s underwear from high-rise flats – matched the profile of Sydney Malkin. He was arrested and comparisons were examined between the footprints left at the crime scene and impressions taken of Malkin’s feet – they were identical. Fingerprint expert Detective Superintendent Holten from Scotland Yard presented his findings to the magistrates at Hastings. Malkin was convicted – the first case of its kind in England – and bound over to keep the peace for three years.

Gary Powell is the author of Convicted: Landmark Cases in British Criminal History (Amberley Books, January 2018)

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