Monday, 18 June 2012

On 'lewdness', 'annoyance' and turning a blind eye

Although the investigation into the death of Harry Pace and the trial of his widow Beatrice took place far, far away from the bustle of London's streets, the case became tangentially connected to a chronic problem in the policing of the metropolis in the 1920s: prostitution.

The connection had to do with debates about police powers, which (as I've noted here before) were a hotly debated topic in the latter half of the 'roaring twenties'.

In the context of putting some final touches on another essay of mine on the police powers issue, I was very pleased to discover that an article by my friend Stefan Slater has seen the light of day in the current issue of Law and History Review: 'Lady Astor and the Ladies of the Night: The Home Office, the Metropolitan Police and the Politics of the Street Offences Committee, 1927–28'.

The article is, unfortunately, behind one of those annoying paywalls, but if you have access to a good university library (or know someone who does), you should be able to get a copy.

The abstract runs like this:

Section 54 (11) of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 criminalized the act of a common prostitute causing annoyance by soliciting in public. For the police to implement this legislation was no simple matter, as no definition of “prostitute,” or indeed “annoyance,” was scribed in statute law. Although common law aided the interpretation of this offense—the case of Rex v. de Munck (1918): “We are of the opinion that prostitution is proved if it is shown that a woman offers her body commonly for lewdness of payment in return”—in practice, identifying a “common prostitute” and defining “annoyance” was left to the discretion of the individual police officer. Although specific squads were deployed to target streetwalkers in West End police divisions, where the presence of prostitutes was more likely to cause public offense, a “blind eye” was often turned to women soliciting in the less salubrious streets of the metropolis. Local knowledge gained on the beat and the informal advice of colleagues shaped an unofficial police policy of containment and toleration.
I had the pleasure of reading a couple of draft versions of this article and also discussing it and related topics with Stefan on several occasions.  

With articles like this one and this one, Stefan is establishing himself as one of the leading historians of twentieth-century British policing.

He's also probably one of the best barmen in London. 

This is a rare combination, you will admit.

No comments:

Post a Comment