View Full Version : Charged with being a suspected person

Just Gillian
14-02-12, 20:37
I have a 2 day sub to the British Newspaper Archive and, inevitably, keep getting distracted by all the fascinating oddments.

I have just come across the 1870 case of a woman in Hull charged with being a suspected person. The policeman reported that she was loitering with another woman of disreputable character, had changed her dress once or twice during the day and was otherwise acting suspiciously. She pleaded not guilty and was sentenced to three months hard labour.

Was "acting suspiciously" a euphemism for soliciting at that time, or was it really possible to find oneself imprisoned purely for looking as if one were up to no good?

Mary from Italy
14-02-12, 20:57
There used to be a general offence of "loitering with intent"; not sure if it still exists. It meant the police didn't actually have to prove you'd committed a crime; they could arrest you if they just thought you were acting suspiciously (e.g. lurking around in a striped jersey with a bag marked "swag" over your shoulder").

Olde Crone
14-02-12, 21:23
In Jennifer Worth's book "Shadows of the Workhouse" she devoted a couple of chapters to the iniquitous law which allowed the police to arrest any woman even remotely suspected of being a prostitute and having her examined to see if she was infectious - women were believed to be the carriers of VD, the poor men merely being victims.

The law was widely flouted by police and medical men, as a way of bhaving in an unrestrained manner and committing all sorts of assaults on innocent (and maybe not so innocent) women.

The law was eventually repealed after Josephine Butler brought it to the attention of the concerned middle classes.

Jennifer Worth reports in her book the story of a young innocent girl (14) who was arrested for acting suspiciously (she was delivering washing for her mother, a laundress) and she was subjected to an "examination" by a policeman and a police surgeon - it took nearly an hour. She was utterly traumatised. It makes horrendous reading.


Just Gillian
14-02-12, 21:48
Mary - I had forgotten "loitering with intent" although I had thought that began with a later Act of Parliament. I wonder if the disreputable woman she was seen with was also charged, or if she was less suspicious as she didn't change her frock!

OC - that is horrendous! I had not heard about the Contagious Diseases Act until googling Josephine Butler. It probably wasn't on my convent school curriculum lol I might have to give Jennifer Worth's book a go - I have been a bit put off by the rather wimpy version of her in Call the Midwife.

Olde Crone
15-02-12, 08:08
Yes, do read all three books, which (as usual) are better than the watered down TV version and have some compelling descriptions of social history.


Just Gillian
15-02-12, 18:41
Thanks OC. I'll look out for them.