In our second instalment of Sir Charles Warren’s character profile, we will be taking a look at his operations during the Ripper murders in 1888.
To start with, many fictional accounts of the Ripper case portray Warren as a bit of a buffoon and out of his depth. His previous investigatory experience had been strictly military, and he hadn’t known any other career outside of the armed forces. The press, at the time, mocked Warren for his extravagant dress uniform, his obsession with the quality of the police’s boots and the reintroduction of the drill.
Despite seeming aloof to many of his officers, Warren had a genuine concern for their morale and welfare. He was also known to get on well with his Superintendents. Plus, the introduction of the drill was just Warren’s way of trying to raise standards and discipline – it was effective in the army and in effect ‘all he knew’. The obsession with boots was quite understandable too, not to mention sensible considering some of his officers walked up to 20 miles a day!
Warren also clashed with the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, who was the political opposite of him and supported the moves of James Monro, the Assistant Commissioner (Crime), to operate outside of Warren’s authority and that of the police force’s Chief Financial Officer.
The first major piece of bad publicity the police received during Warren’s tenure occurred at Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, when the police arrested a girl for soliciting. Elizabeth Class was apparently a respectable young seamstress who the police mistakenly arrested whilst she was out shopping.
Her employer loudly supported her innocence, and she was found not guilty. An inquiry was held, and her arresting police officer was tried for perjury (but acquitted on the grounds he had made a mistaken identification).
Things got worse from there though as on 13th November of the same year, a demonstration being held in Trafalgar Square was violently quelled by the police, of which 2000 officers were dispatched, and the army, which deployed 400 troops. Four hundred people were arrested, and 75 people badly injured (including many police officers). This event, named “Bloody Sunday”, would be the turning point at which Warren would lose what little support he had in the press, and public opinion would turn totally against him.
In 1888, when the Whitechapel Murders occurred, and a notorious serial killer, known as Jack the Ripper, walked the streets of the East End, Warren was still struggling with the press and political enemies. A row between Warren and James Monro led to the latter’s resignation; Henry Matthews had appointed Monro as commander of Special Branch, outside of Warren’s jurisdiction.
Monro’s successor, Robert Anderson, and newly appointed Chief Constable (CID), Adolphus Williamson (known as “Dolly” and now a character in the ITV series “The Suspicions of Mr Whicher”) were both encouraged to report to Monro without Warren’s knowledge. Add this to the fact that Anderson went on medical leave (requiring a holiday for work-related stress) within days of his appointment, plus, at the time, the press fever of the Whitechapel murders was beginning, Warren has probably been unfairly blamed for the police failures.
Yes, as Commissioner, he was ultimately responsible for the police’s successes and failures, but it is difficult to see what more he could do.
Here are some of the criticisms Warren had to deal with from the public and press:
- Not offering a reward – Warren, in fact, supported the idea, but the Home Office blocked it.
- Not enough police officers on the ground – The number of police patrols and officers stationed in Whitechapel was greatly increased from September 1888 until early 1889, but there was only a limited amount of officers, resources and money. This isn’t to forget the rest of London still needed policing.
- His ‘obsession’ with uniformed officers and not having an interest in detectives – It could be argued that Warren allowed them to conduct their own investigations without interference. They also had their own Assistant Commissioner to oversee them.
- Bloodhounds – Firstly, Warren was criticised for not using bloodhounds; then he was accused of being obsessed with them. When they performed well in tests and trials, he was also mocked for apparently losing them.
Eager to defend himself and the force, in general, Warren took to the pages of “Murray’s Magazine”, writing an article on the police’s actions during the investigation. The Home Office was outraged that he had discussed his office publicly without prior permission and Warren received a dressing down from Matthews.
His reaction to not being able to defend himself and his men publicly was to resign on 8th November 1888. The following day, the murder of Mary Kelly occurred and the detectives waited three hours before entering her room, until being informed that he had resigned.
Following his resignation, Warren returned to the military services, communing the garrison in Singapore, the Thames District in London, and commanding a division in the Second Boer War – which he terribly bungled. He was recalled to Britain in 1900, twelve years after the Ripper murders, and although still on active duty, would never command troops in the field.
Despite his bungles in Africa though, he went on to receive several military honours and promotions. He retired in Somerset, where he authored several books on archaeology and worked with Baden Powell in the early years of the Boy Scout movement. He sadly died of pneumonia in 1927 and was buried with military honours.
This is just a slice of Metropolitan Police history and one of its members at the time of the Ripper murders. To find out more about Sir Charles Warren and other officers, join us on our Jack the Ripper walk in the East End of London.