Gilbert's Letter to The Times of 6 November 1873
Issue 27840, pg. 5 col F


The Police and Their Prisoners


Sir,--About three weeks ago I saw a policeman turn a drunken man out of a publichouse in Wardour-street. That the man, though decidedly drunk, was not incapable of taking care of himself may be gathered from the fact that the policeman contented himself in the first instance with simply ejecting him. The policeman walked away, saying "That's the third time I've turned you out of that house to-day." The drunken man replied, "Policeman, I'm surprised to hear you say so." This very innocent remark appeared to excite the constable beyond all bounds, for he immediately turned, rushed violently at the man, exclaiming "I'll surprise you!" and threw him (perhaps unintentionally) to the ground. In the meantime another policeman had arrived on the scene, and the two dragged the unhappy drunkard, now on his back, now on his knees, to within 300 yards of the Marlborough-street Police-station. The man implored them to allow him to walk quietly, but they paid as little attention to his appeals as to the indignant remonstrances of the crowd that followed.

I was so utterly disgusted with the gratuitous brutality of these constables that I determined, at the very greatest personal inconvenience, to attend at the police-court the next day and give evidence as to the treatment the prisoner had received at the hands of the police. The constables swore that the man had made a violent resistance, and that, although they had afforded him every opportunity of walking to the station-house, he had thrown himself on the ground, and resolutely refused to move. Against this, my own evidence that the man had made no resistance of any kind whatever, and that he implored the constables, over and over again, to allow him to walk quietly, went for nothing at all. I was curtly informed by Mr. Newton, the sitting magistrate, that it was "most unlikely" that the police would have acted as I described, and the man was fined 5s., which I had the satisfaction of paying for him. It did not seem to occur to Mr. Newton that the disinterested evidence of a respectable passer-by, who had voluntarily sacrificed some three or four hours of valuable time in order to give evidence on behalf of an utter stranger, with whose personal condition he could have had no sympathy whatever, was entitled to be entertained for one moment against the evidence of two policemen of the C division. I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

November 5.

W.S. GILBERT

Previous letter Next letter



Page created 9 October 2004