Thursday, July 24, 2008

On unhealthy, sickly, womanish tendencies and the threat of feral ruffians

We have happened to visit London in the midst of a fairly insistent media panic about street violence, meaning that we have been confronted by a steady stream of stories about the horrors of ultraviolence at the hands of feral youths. (Or, 'FY's, as we've come to affectionately know them. We hope this might catch on.)

And today, even the Conservative leader was the victim of crime.

I'm far from unconcerned about the topic of youth violence (or adult violence for that matter), but it is interesting to note that the actual facts of the matter are far more ambiguous than they often are presented.

Moreover, such possibly excessive concerns are hardly new.

Just today--while researching various historical crime-related issues at the Colindale newspaper archive--I ran across similar media-expressed concerns from the (now sadly defunct) World's Pictorial News from 1926 about the mayhem perceived to be facing Britain.

One of the weekly paper's commentators went by the name 'Man of the World', and--perhaps rather like Max Mosley--he had a bit of thing for flagellation.

The vast majority of people not only agree that certain criminals should be punished with the “cat,” but they agree that it is a punishment not ordered as often as it should be, and that there are cases for which it cannot be ordered that should be made punishable with the “cat.”

Three Liverpool ruffians battered and bashed a man in order to rob him. They also brutally assaulted a woman who observed them at their fell work. Mr. Justice Swift sentenced the eldest, aged 26, to three years and 20 lashes of the “cat,” the others, aged 25 and 21, had sentences of six months’ hard labour and 18 lashes each!

The judge added: “So that you may feel some of the pain and suffering you inflicted.”


Most righteous Judge! There has been an unhealthy, sickly, womanish tendency of late to over-pity the convicted and the condemned. Mr. Justice Rigby Smith must be thanked for reminding the mugwumps of the painful position of the victims of our more interesting criminals.


There are several offences to which the lash should be a sequel. The repeated offences of the cruel and heartless swindler often merit it. But above all there is the sexual offender.

The filthy satyr who molests children, in the parks or anywhere, and the equally detestable beast who commits what lawyers call the full offence against girls or women should be flogged.

That further protection girls and women do demand, and judges cannot give it.

More “cat”—less crime of the kind indicated would be the result. It was so with highway robbery and so on till the judges got in the habit of forgetting the “cat.”’

‘More “Cat”—Less Crime’, World’s Pictorial News, 7 February 1926, p. 4

Later that year, things had, it seems, not improved:

The record of undiscovered crime mounts up. Fraud and larceny are commonplace, but I am referring to the much more serious offences of violence, especially assaults on women.

For one arrest and conviction of a footpad two escape. Particularly is this the case with assaults on women and girls, both for robbery and for other objects.

The state of things in some districts and cities is such that women and girls are actually afraid to go out after dark. The assailant waits his time, it may even be in a street, and pounces out on his victim. There is at least time for plunder is dealt a knock-out blow. In lonelier places a criminal assault is attempted and often accomplished. [...]

Some of the violently indecent men may be mental cases. In that event they should be detected and known and placed in restraint for good. All the others should be flogged—flogged the first time.

--‘Footpads and Young Girls’, World's Pictorial News, 5 December 1926, p. 4
Early in 1927, one of his colleagues, T.A. Hannam, penned a familiar-sounding follow-up:

‘People must be beginning to ask, “Will the Judges act?” For war has been declared on the community by reckless, daring men.

The new highwayman is here. Hanging cured the old highwayman. Flogging will kill the new one, but the judges of the King’s Bench must determine to act together and consistently.

Is orderly Britain about to enter a new era of licence and lawlessness?

T. A. Hannam, ‘New Highwaymen of Britain’, World's Pictorial News, 16 January 1927 , p. 5

I'm not sure whether I find the continuities across eight decades to be comforting or disturbing.

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