Monday, October 31, 2011

November 1, 1887 --- Miss Cass v. The Constable

A London bobby's trial offers some salacious diversion for those sated with Jubilee festivities. The night of 28 June, PC Endacott had arrested a young woman walking unescorted along Regent Street. Elizabeth Cass was taken to Police Court, charged with soliciting and, despite her tears of denial, jailed overnight.

At arraignment next day, Endacott testified that he'd seen Miss Cass frequently in the area "annoying" gentlemen, three of whom complained to him but none of whom were in court. Elizabeth's employer, a respectable dressmaker in Southampton Row, stated that Miss Cass had been in London but six months and was hard-working and quite moral. The magistrate, forced to dismiss the charge, launched into some questionable obiter dicta, “If you are an honest girl, don't walk in Regent Street at night after 9:30, for if you do next time you will be sent to prison or fined.”

Miss Cass became an instant heroine for feminists and police-bashers of all stripes. The magistrate was condemned for his "utterly unjustified" remarks. The harassed Home Secretary reluctantly ordered an inquiry which led to the indictment of PC Endacott for perjury. Though the constable is on trial, it is poor Miss Cass who must defend her virtue. She's asked about an embarrassing dalliance with a married man in her native Durham, which prompted her move to London. She insists there were "never immoral relations." In the end, the defense concedes that Endacott might have made an honest misapprehension on a dark, crowded street. Fortunately for Endacott, the judge, Sir James Stephens, a perjury scholar, directs an acquittal. Stephens adds that if this happened every time a bobby's charge was disproved, "in a very little time you would have all the police in London committed for perjury."

PC Endacott is reinstated while Miss Cass leaves court with the best wishes of all, e.g. The Times: "She has suffered in a manner which must command universal sympathy." The Saturday Review rebuked "the prurient mob of both sexes which pounced on the first version of the story and hastened to enlarge it with all the greasy nastiness they could rake together."

Sketch from the Penny Illustrated Paper

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