Gilbert's Letter to The Times of 17 October 1908
Issue 38780, pg. 12 col C


Police Methods at Hatfield


Sir,--Yesterday (Thursday) afternoon, my car was stopped on the Great North Road (north of Hatfield) by two constables in uniform, who took the number and details of my car and then asked my driver for his licence. The licence was duly produced and long and apparently elaborate notes were derived from it. I asked the constables why they had stopped me, but to this question they made no reply. I asked them when I should be allowed to proceed and they replied "Presently." After a lengthy whispered consultation between them I was informed that my car had been timed over a certain length of the road and if it should prove that I had exceeded the statutory speed of 20 miles per hour, I should receive a summons in due course. There was no suggestion that I had done anything of the kind, and the delay involved was about five minutes.

As a magistrate of long standing who has been accustomed to deal with motor cases during the past six or seven years, I fully recognize the value and importance of police controls as they are usually worked. The customary practice is to produce the stop-watches used by the two constables, for the information of the motorist who is "held up," and he is thus able to satisfy himself that the watches have worked together or otherwise. In the process adopted at Hatfield the motorist is supplied with no such information; he has no means of knowing the precise portion over which he has been timed, or the method by which the timing is arrived at; and, as a necessity, he is at a most serious disadvantage in his defence.

But, apart from this consideration, I submit that it is intolerable that a peaceful and unoffending passenger should be "held up" by two policemen in uniform, subjected to a serious delay on his road, and exposed to the amused comments of the lookers-on, who appear to spring sporadically from the earth whenever a constable stops a motor; and this simply on the off-chance that the motorist may possibly have exceeded the speed limit on some unspecified portion of the road, in the course of his day's journey.

As I believe the action of the constables to be absolutely illegal, I shall not allow the matter to remain where it is. My driver does not exceed the speed limit, and on this particular occasion we were keeping to our exact 20 miles an hour, as registered by my speedometer, for a special reason with which I need not trouble you. I may add that, although I have been a constant motorist for seven years, I have never been stopped before.

Your obedient servant,

W.S. GILBERT
Harrow Weald, Oct. 16. Previous letter



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