Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Police and public

Not only a fascinating story in its own right, the Pace case sheds light on many broader issues and themes in 1920s Britain. One of the most interesting--to which I devote a chapter--could be labelled 'justice'. Various criminal justice institutions or agencies were criticised (both in the press and in Parliament) for the way they treated the 'tragic widow', even more so after her acquittal.

The police took a lot of the heat, specifically the Scotland Yard detectives who came from London to the remote Forest of Dean to investigate the mysterious death of Harry Pace. As I've noted here before, accusations were made at the time that the detectives treated Beatrice badly during her questioning, using 'third-degree' methods in an attempt to influence the  'voluntary statement' she made to them on 11 March.

The 'third-degree' accusations didn't come from nowhere: the Pace case was actually only one of a series of scandals and controversies that rocked British police forces (especially London's Metropolitan Police) in the late 1920s. In my research, I've been able to show--for the first time--how this particular case fit into the broader concerns about alleged abuses of police powers and possible dangers to civil liberties in this period.

So, yesterday, I was pleased to receive the print edition of my latest article on police powers in the 1920s: 'Press, Politics and the "Police and Public" Debates in Late 1920s Britain' which appears in the current issue of Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History and Societies (full details for you academic geeks out there: vol. 16, no. 1 [2012]: pp. 75-98).

I actually published my first academic article with CHS back in 2003, so it's nice to do so again (not least in an issue that contains articles and reviews by several good friends of mine in the crime and justice history field).

As CHS isn't the kind of thing you find on newsstands (you'll need a university library most likely), you may want to check out the final pre-publication draft which is available here.

The article focuses on the debates around policing, with a particular focus on the roles of the three main political parties (Conservative, Liberal and Labour) and the press in addressing the issues raised. 

This is how it opens:

In June 1929, a Manchester Guardian editorial[*] marked a London visit by continental police officials. ‘The French and the Germans do many things better than we do’, the paper noted,

but, by general consent, there is one institution that is rather better in England than in France or Germany. Our police are not at all perfect, as some recent events have shown, but they are, nevertheless, very good, and few foreigners visit this country without being impressed by their quiet efficiency. 

Parisian police, it continued, ‘are often brutal when they make arrests’, and while the Berlin police chief had done away with brutal, ‘third-degree’ methods,

Herr Zörgiebel, too, could learn a good deal from the study not only of British police methods but also of the way in which the public reacts instantaneously to anything that looks at all like an excess on the part of the police, demanding that there shall at least be an inquiry and, if there is guilt, the punishment of the guilty. 

Remarkably, this praise came in the wake of nearly two years of relentless scandals and parliamentary inquiries (the ‘recent events’ cited in the editorial); from the autumn of 1927, diverse concerns about the police fed into one another, resulting in a perfect storm of controversy and the most dramatic challenge to the legitimacy of a major British police force in the first half of the twentieth century. 
[* Manchester Guardian, 13 June 1929, p.10.]

By all means, if you like this kind of thing, please do read the rest...

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