Chief constable in child sex scandal
For Constable Johnston it was just another day.
Eleven o’clock on a bright, but chilly, March morning saw him, as usual, on his beat in Paragon Street. It was not a role he relished.
Johnston knew his patch well, having walked the mean streets of the town for well over ten years, but in all that time he had never come to terms with what went on in Paragon Street, described by one local journalist in a hard hitting article on the state of law and morality in the town as “an offence in the eyes of all decent minded people.”
The morning saw Paragon Street slowly coming to terms with what had gone on the night before. Already many of its inhabitants were sipping their first drinks of the day. By early afternoon they would be spoiling for trouble with drunken brawls commonplace along the whole stretch of the street.
There was, however, mounting sympathy for the lot of Pc Johnston and the other members of the hard pressed force who faced similar problems across the town. Richard Cooke was the owner and editor of the Hull Critic, a weekly newspaper which took a satirical and also a serious look at life. Cooke was no stranger to controversy, nor was he a man to mince his words:
“I do not envy the poor policeman who has Paragon Street for his beat. He has to exercise the utmost forbearance, good temper and tact while at the same time he is powerless to compel those who offend public decency to retire to their homes...”
It was not only what went on along the streets which was causing problems. There were major difficulties with what happened at all hours of day and night behind the closed and battered doors across Hull. According to Cooke: “One of the first acts of a new home secretary should be to bring in a Bill which would give the police the power subject to a case being proved to the satisfaction of the magistrates so that all well-known houses of ill-fame could be instantly closed and the residents evicted.”
Like Pc Johnston, Mr Campbell, the Chief Constable, was well aware of the problems, but knew that keen though he was to crack down on crime in the town in some cases he was powerless to take effective action. Brothels existed because landlords allowed them to. But generally the chief’s no-nonsense stand had proved popular. The effects of tougher policing were most certainly being felt by the criminal community.
The chief had not been in the job for very long, being picked from a short list of six to head a police force with immense problems of its own after Thomas Cooke, his predecessor, had been asked to leave.
Until the appointment of a successor the role of chief had been filled by members of the Watch Committee and in particular its chairman, Mr Stuart. It had proved an ineffective arrangement, one which prompted one newspaper to comment:
“It is painful at every meeting (of the Watch Committee) to sit and listen to the petty disputes and the trumpery offences with which policemen are charged and it would be amusing, if it were not disgusting, to see the way the chairman and the committee examine and cross-examine the poor delinquents who are brought before them... It is to be hoped that when the new chief is appointed, he will be allowed to manage his own men and be something more than a chief constable in name.”
What was needed was a man who was upright, honest and determined to enforce the law in the interests of the local citizens. In Mr Campbell, formerly a superintendent with the North East Railway Company in York, Hull probably had such a man. Or so it was believed. Certainly no one would later argue that he had not done his job quite effectively. It was the claim made against him that led to problems and to his eventual departure. But just whether he was really guilty must, a century on, leave some room for doubt .
At the time brothels such as those which infested the Paragon Street area abounded throughout the rest of the town, too, prompting journalist Richard Cooke, to write: “There are dens in which vice flourishes uninterfered with, where the broadcloth of the pastor and his words of admonition and entreaty are never seen or heard.”
Among them were houses in Queen Street where one “showed perhaps less poverty than aversion for cleanliness.”Cooke piously continued: “Before the fireplace is a filthy old hag who for a great number of years has lived on the destruction of the virtue of young girls...but what is the most pitiable sight of all is a young child, a girl of about eleven or twelve years, who unless she is soon to be rescued from the atmosphere of corruption will in all probability sink as deeply into the mire of infamy as the adults who offer her.”
In another house the policeman he accompanied found a young woman who only two weeks before had left the Worsley Street Home for Fallen Girls “seemingly thoroughly repentant and determined to lead a virtuous life.”
Cooke concluded: “We get sickened at the fearful atmosphere which pervades the whole place...”
Nothing, it seemed had changed for some time.
For the police were a law unto themselves with sober constables being hard to find and a watch committee which was said to be “so petulant that to run a truly efficient force would have been a thirteenth labour of Hercules.”
Into this came Mr Campbell, a tough warrior on the side of law and order determined to bring decency to the streets. It was a battle which won him acclaim from many, but one which was to end with him leaving in disgrace.
in the mid 1880s the fate of the women who were on offer in the dens of vice was causing growing concern and it was a poor law guardian and member of he Watch Committee who decided to take the matter up and press for the police to tighten the screws and prosecute brothel keepers under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. In particular this worthy gentleman wanted to stop the wave of juvenile prostitution.
And that was where Mr Campbell became involved.
December of that year saw revelations that despite efforts to cut down on young prostitutes their clients were not always from what was at the time referred to as “the lower orders.” Mr Campbell himself, it was suggested may well have had leanings towards girls of a very young age indeed.
This came about with claims made by 14 year-old Edith Creighton, a member of a family which was not well-off, but had no reputation as being dishonest.
It had happened, or so it was claimed,when her father was away at sea. Her mother was at work and her mother was among the audience at a meeting of teetotallers. So Edith was alone at home. With the Chief Constable.
It was claimed that when Mr Campbell arrived at the house, in St Thomas’s Place, Portland Street, he had asked if anyone could see in, sat down and encouraged Edith to sit on his knee, kissed her and started to unbutton his trousers.
But then, realising the error of his ways he was alleged to have given the girl sixpence and asked her not to mention what had happened to her mother, a request she did not agree to.
When the matter came before a disciplinary hearing it was said that Mr Campbell, himself the father of nine,
had been a regular visitor to the house but all in the line of duty, calling to see Edith’s father on what he described as confidential police business.
Cooke took up the story: “It must be conceded that for a man in middle life to take a full grown girl of fourteen upon his knees and fondle her as if she were a two year old baby is grossly improper and indiscreet.”
The Watch Committee heared this view and despite hearing Mr Campbell’s spirited defence asked their chief to resign, which he eventually agreed to do, but only after pointing out that he had no money at all and requested three month’s salary, which was granted.
Cooke took a high moral tone in The Hull CAritic which thundered: “A chief constable, like the proverbial spouse of Caesar, not only should be, but must be above suspicion and whatever indescretions may be tolerated in an inferior officer there can be no condonement or excuse for the shortcomings of the head of the force.”
In fact things had not been going too well with the police anyway, a serious complaint regarding its management of it being made by Mr Justice Hawkins, which prompted Cooke to comment: “It is possible that some persons may look upon the incident as a lucky termination to an unfortunate appointment.”
But the antagonism which the chief’s actions generated was soon to be tempered when the Creighton family decided to take out a summons against him leading Cooke to take up the cudgels again, this time on the chief’s side.
“Mr Campbell is a disgraced and ruined man for whatever he did, be it simply an indiscretion or something worse. He has paid dearly and suffered bitterly and the sooner the matter passes into oblivion the better. Meanwhile, every disreputable character in the town is rejoicing greatly over Mr Campbell’s downfall for he was once in sooth a terror to evildoers.”
Even some of the leading figures in town decided to lend their support. Friends and sympathisers of the Campbell family started a collection on their behalf, bringing the comment: “The punishment of the late chief is almost more than he can bear, especially as he is conscious of his own innocence... The facts have transpired which show what the family of he girl are by no means so perfect and angelic as the Watch Committee believed them to be.”
Written by The Editor - 14/03/2001 15:45:56
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