27 FEBRUARY 1886, Page 5


FEW sensible men, we think, will read the Home Secre- tary's Report on the events of February 8th without arriving at his conclusions. In his opinion, and in that of Lord Wolseley, who is, at all events, a competent strategist, the governing staff of the London Police on that day broke down utterly, displaying such incompetence that a reorganisa- tion is imperatively required. The evidence is not yet pub- lished in extenso ; but no one disputes the facts of the Report, and Lord Aberdare, who has been an experienced and, except in regard to remissions of punishment, a successful Home Secretary, has put out an able plea for the Chief Commissioner. The truth appears to be this :—When Sir Richard Mayne, who had created the London Police, died in 1869, Sir Edmund Henderson, who, as Governor of the last of our penal Colonies and Director of the convict system, possessed excep- tional experience, was selected to succeed him. A fuss was made at the time because he refused to live in the centre of London, and that refusal was probably characteristic of an unanxious temperament ; but there can be no doubt that his administration for sixteen years was upon many points successful. He really made the Detective Police, which hardly existed before, and which is now deficient only in the want of a few men of special intelligence selected from a different and more thoughtful class, an improvement delayed, we fancy, like one or two more, by a certain stinginess which pervades Metropolitan Police management, and is especially manifest in the absence of sufficient rewards for special gallantry or acuteness. Mr. Cuthbert, for example, who saved Oxford Street, should have six months' pay and a medal. Sir E. Henderson also managed a dangerous discontent which broke out in the ranks in 1870 with both spirit and discretion, and, moreover, with the fine temper often lacking in such officials ; and the great force which grew under his command is now fairly contented. Moreover, he has managed some " Demon- strations.'" with skill, and he has for sixteen years fairly pro- tected this wonderful city, with its huge population, its endless wealth, and its mass of men—there are said to be thirty thousand —who either live by crime or belong to the potentially criminal class. He has. in fact, administered a force equal to a small Corps d'Armee engaged in a difficult country in carrying on an important and harassing war. These are considerable services, and we trust they will be honourably acknowledged ; but, nevertheless, Sir E. Hender- son, on February 8th, did fail grievously. We take it that, never having had to cope with a dangerous riot, and having for years seen all "Demonstrations" follow a certain routine, and having learnt thoroughly the great truth that in London the majority on the side of order is overwhelmingly great, he had come to regard the fear of a mob as rather foolish, and to believe that social order could not be seriously disturbed. He did not expect to be called on for generalship against a mob, and had made absolutely no provision for such a contingency, not even so much as would secure him early information. He knew perfectly well that the mob of the 8th would be unusually dangerous, for he told the Home Office so, and collected unusual force to watch it; but he, we conceive, at heart hardly believed his own story, for he actually entered the crowd himself, in plain clothes, to observe it, and allowed Mr. Walker, his next in command for the occasion, to be so buried in it that he was quite indistinguishable and useless. We do not wish to be harsh on mere blundering, but that incident is really too like Mr. Alicawber, who thought that the energetic way to begin a coal business on the Medway was to go and see that river. On a difficult day, a General in command of ten thousand men—for that is Sir E. Henderson's position when rioting is afoot—was lost among a crowd of his enemies, and could neither receive information quickly nor issue orders easily. He sent no message to the Home Office whence any demand for the military must have proceeded ; he despatched no force to head off the rioters ; and, in fact, so far as appears, he never knew till too late that the rioters had shown a dangerous spirit. He made no arrange- ments for watching the exits from Trafalgar Square to the West, provided no force in that direction, and did not even warn the" fixed points " to send him information. He admits himself, indeed, that he never expected the mob to move to the North or West, though the richest shops lie there, because they had come from the South and East, and a London mob, as he had observed, always returns upon its tracks. In fact, had it not been for the self-reliance of an Inspector, named Cuthbert, who ought to be specially rewarded, who thought that, orders or no orders, a dangerous mob ought to be repressed, and who accordingly, with only eighteen men, attacked them in Oxford Street successfully, whole streets of shops might have been sacked, in which case the riot, we may be certain, would have ended only after a charge of cavalry. Clearly, Sir E. Henderson, whether successful or not as an ad- ministrator, proved himself an unusually incompetent General ; and as he undertook, as part of his duty, to be General on occa- sion, and failed on a great day, it is right that he should retire. London would not trust him again ; and in all such struggles public confidence is of the very essence of success. The young respeetables of London would turn out fast enough, if need were, on any sufficient summons, and could, barehanded, over- whelm all the Socialists and criminals who are likely to fight ; but the regular Civil Army must be employed first, and must, to succeed, be well directed, which on the 8th, under Sir Edmund Henderson, it was not.

The experts will, of course, prepare the needful plans of im- provement, but it certainly seems to outsiders that the lines to be followed are clear enough. In the first place, the Commissioner selected, whether a soldier or a civilian—and we should prefer a civilian, because he would keep touch better with the Home Office—should have a military Chief of the Staff, with all his own authority,but with the special duty of watching, managing, and, if needful, acting against disorderly crowds. Their

management really requires professional knowledge, and a kind of skill which only a soldier can be expected to possess, more especially when, as in this case, the chief is expected to succeed without using too much violence. It is the civilian, not the soldier, who forgets the efficacy of discipline, and calls on his men to act too violently or too soon. Next, the force requires a few superior officers spread over London with fixed territorial jurisdictions, whom the Commissioner can instruct, who can be rapidly informed, and who, in emergency, would be empowered to give sudden orders. The force, large as it has grown, is centralised to death, till we wonder policemen venture to take up pugs without special instructions in each case from Scotland Yard. Next, the Inspectors should be allowed, as the Report recommends, a little more initiative, so that it should not be a breach of instructions for Inspector Cuthbert to save London, and an Inspector ordered to watch Lord Salisbury's house should not think himself bound to neglect a crowd rushing past the head of the street. Then, the means of rapid communication should be carefully thought out and prepared, with special reference to the fact that telegraphs may be destroyed and telegraph-offices gutted ; and finally, the mounted police should be increased until the Commissioner can, without upsetting the suburban service, watch a crowd, with a full regiment of civil cavalry at his immediate disposal. With those improvements, a scene like that of February 8th ought to be impossible ; but those improvements are required, even if the next Commissioner is an ideal policeman. Mr. Childers must not flatter himself that the crowd of that day was accidental, or that dangerous rioting will not occur again for the next ten years. London is used to tranquillity, and may be tranquil for another life- time ; but it is quite possible—Mr. R. Giffen evidently thinks it quite certain—that England will have a most dangerous quarter of an hour to pass through, viz., a general and serious fall of wages, occurring at a moment when Parliament is irresolute about everything, and when the doctrine that the rich plunder the poor is spreading fast from the Continent among those who know only that they suffer. Any sailor who is evil enough can wreck any ship. In such a time any accident may produce a riot ; and though London differs from most great capitals in the overwhelming strength of its respectable classes—among whom we count the whole of the vast body of skilled workmen—the trained forces of order ought to be kept in the highest condition of efficiency. The expense, with good management, ought not to be great ; but the safety of London is the safety of the Empire, and no consideration of twopence-halfpenny ought to be allowed for one instant to impede any changes necessary to the full security which is the indispensable condition of its remaining the centre of the world's work. We were very near a Lord George Gordon riot on the 8th ; and we do not hesitate to say that three days' repetition of the old tumults would cost London more in credit alone than she could recover in two years, and throw a perceptible per-centage of her workmen for months out of employ. It is the interest of the people them- selves that the police should be made strong, and fortunately they know it. A London plebiscite on the proper fate of rioters would not be considered by humanitarians either in- structive or agreeable reading ; and it is creditable to the fifty Members for London that, with the pressure behind them, they wait so calmly for the decisions of the Home Office.