Friday, May 12, 2023

Bow Street Runners

Something I learned recently. Henry Fielding, the English author of the fantastic novel Tom Jones among many other works, was also a magistrate in London and just prior to the formation of the Metropolitan police reformed the first professional police force called the Bow Street Runners

Before the introduction of the Bow Street Runners and anything of the like, policing took the form of privately paid individuals used to maintain law and order without a formal system connected to the state. This resulted in unofficial policemen who were known as ‘Thief Takers’ who would capture criminals for money and negotiate deals in order to return stolen goods whilst claiming rewards. People who partook in this activity, such as a figure called Charles Huitchen and his accomplice Jonathan Wild, were voluntarily policing the streets of London for big profits when in fact, these men and others like them were often behind much of the crime in the area. The informal, volunteer based system was not working.

Fielding was different from most magistrates at the time in that he was honest. This would make him different from many judges and prosecutors today as well.

In 1729 Thomas De Veil became a justice of the peace, eventually settling in Bow Street. He was as corrupt as any; he had some 25 children to provide for, however in 1748 Henry Fielding took the post, and he just happened to be honest.

It was Henry’s half brother John who showed that in order to stamp out corruption, magistrates must not be given an incentive to arrest and take bail money; instead they should be paid a stipend. John followed Henry to the position of Principal Justice and raised Bow Street’s reputation to the point that he became what would in modern terms be the Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police.

Fielding's novels are pretty risque so it was a bit surprising to me he had another life reforming the judicial system but then again it it often the ones who promote themselves as being holier than thou who are the most corrupt. Take Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Please. 

No comments:

Post a Comment