COMPLAINTS having come in of the loss of purses, watches, jewellery, etc., in the vicinity of Hyde
Park Corner and Rotten Row-this sort of thing
happened annually; but it is chiefly owing to the carelessness of the owner, who often leaves
such articles on
a chair or seat (purses most frequently), or dropping
them, from not having been securely fastened to their
person. But on this particular occasion, as there appeared an unusual number, we naturally came to the
conclusion they were not all accidentally lost.
Accordingly two experienced detectives were applied for to investigate and keep observation on this locality. Sergeant Mott and another detective were deputed for this duty. I may add, with reference to Sergeant Mott, who was then stationed at King Street Station, Whitehall-our head divisional quarters, my knowledge of him was, as being a most clever, astute detective officer; he had an eye lihe a hawk. But to continue, it was in the month of June-the height of the season and about six o'clock in the evening. The Park was in full swing, the sides of the Row were thronged, and the carriage traffic was simply packed and only moving at a walking pace. I had just come up the side of the Row from the direction of Albert Gate, and was standing alongside one of the trees that run through the centre of the path, directly opposite the clock at Hyde Park Corner. I remained some few minutes satisfying myself things were apparently going on all right, and was just about to make my way over the crossing to see how the constables were getting on who were busily engaged with the traffic and assisting people across, when someone touched me on the elbow, and said quietly, "Don't go away, Sergeant; we are just going to ' tap' someone. I half turned round, and recognised Mott, and a yard or two away stood the other detective. He returned to his colleague, with whom he appeared to have a few hurried subdued words.
During this little time I looked about me, though did not stir an inch; in fact, I was almost afraid to look, let alone stir, in case the slightest movement on my part might frustrate the officer's designs, so anxious was I that they should successfully accomplish their object. Yet, as I have stated, I did glance about me, but no individual could I see that aroused my slightest suspicion. I did not expect to see a thief of the Bill Sikes type, but I certainly expected to see someone who I at least thought they had fixed upon, but no one was near me only those whom I imagined belonged to Society. In considerably less time than it takes to write these words, Mott returned, followed by the other officer, and, stooping down, spoke in an undertone to three gentlemen who were sitting on chairs directly in front of me. I did not hear what he said, but it was brief, and for the moment I wondered if he was asking them a question about something they may have seen or heard, or even lost; but to my astonishment he grasped two of the men each by the arm, the other officer seized the third- this was the signal for me, and I very soon relieved Mott of one. Their blanched faces, incoherent protestations and "feigned indignation convinced me at once who they were. However, there was no scene, no scuffle or confusion; Mott, in his quiet but firm manner, had "fixed" his right men, and told them they would have every opportunity of stating or giving an account of themselves at the police station; and througt ranks of London Society we marched them. I should imagine it must have caused no little comment at the dinner-table that evening by those who witnessed this incident, for their "make-up" was simply complete-silk high hats, frock coats, dust coats on arm,* ( The idea of this class of thief carrying a dust-coat is, that apart from it aiding them in their make-up, it is rather convenient in covering the arm and hand when relieving ladies, and even gentlemen, of the contents of their pockets, which they accomplish with amazing dexterity.) umbrella, etc., and I must say their under attire equally corresponded with their outer; for, after being charged, the process of stripping for searching and obtaining marks of identification, gave me the opportunity of observing this, evidently they had taken every precaution - if that one thing could have assisted them-in evading their proifession, viz., thieves, which they undoubtedly were proved to be.
It may occur to some of my readers strange that these men should be arrested while sitting down quietly; why could they not have been watched until caught red- handed? I can only come to one conclusion on this matter; you must bear in mind the detectives had had these men under observation for hours - for days for all I know, almost stealthily dogging their actions while moving about among that fashionable crowd. I must here also point out, this class of thieves are equally as wary as they are clever at their profession, consequently the stratagem and tactics the detectives have to adopt to bring their quarry to bay is not my business to relate; I must leave the reader to the detectives alone who tell their experience in such cases. A detective officer and a uniform officer are distinct lines of police work altogether. One little knows the difficulty they have in tracking these cunning, light-fingered characters to justice, and I have but little doubt in this particular case they were a bit too "fly" to be caught, as I have said before, "red-handed", for by some chance one out of the three had caught the penetrating glance of Sergeant Mott's eye. That was enough; they "rumbled "-to adopt their slangy phraseology - upon scenting danger, the game was up. Then came the question- What was the best thing to do? To "bolt" or even stalk away would be to seal their fate; but to sit down quietly and brazen it out may possibly give them a chance, the "tecks" may have a doubt about them, or may wait another day in order to have them "on the job". Such thoughts as these undoubtedly were flash ing through their minds. I need hardly add, if once these individuals could have got clear unmolested, Hyde Park would not have seen them again for many a day.
Mott knew this; that was the hurried conversation I witnessed between the two officers prior to the arrest. It was now or never, and rather than let them slip altogether he would have them on the minor charge Suspected persons, etc., etc. It was a big haul-three at one swoop, and I always considered great credit was due to Sergeant Mott for the tact and confidence he displayed in ridding the Park of a gang of such expert fashionable criminals.
I w as once rather amused with the eulogy paid to this class of people by a gentleman. He was relating to me the loss of his valuable gold watch, which had been stolen-he had not the slighest doubt about it, he said. " But the mysterious way they got it from me is astounding. And it is not on account of its intrinsic value that I troubled, or they should have it for their cleverness; but being a present from my father on my twenty-first birthday, I would give double the value for its recovery. But there," said he, continuing, "I shall never see the watch again; and I believe, if they made up their minds to do it, they would take the very teeth out of your head." Of course, that was putting it rather strong. Still, as to their cleverness there is no doubt, and it behoves one to be most cautious with valuables, in crowds particularly.
In concluding this subject, it is perhaps just as well not to lose sight of the fact that there are roaming about some most clever professional "female thieves", not that I am aware of any particular case in the Park of a woman being charged with having committed, or even suspected, of theft - not in the daytime among the fashionable, at all events. I am inclined to think these ladylike-looking "prigs" confine their manipulative "business" chiefly to the pockets of their own sex, while travelling in omnibuses, tramcars, etc., and not infrequently while standing about looking in shop windows.
Edward Owen, Hyde Park, Select Narratives, Annual Event,
during twenty years' Police Service in Hyde Park, 1906