Secret Service Theologian


Sir Robert Anderson has had a remarkable and rare opportunity for studying and becoming acquainted with most existing forms of crime, and also with the manner and working of our criminal punishment system. His views therefore are worthy of the utmost respect and consideration.
The Liverpool Post.

WE justly deplore the barbarity with which past generations treated their criminals. The elaborate folly of our present methods will excite the wonder of generations to come.” These are the opening words of the book Criminals and Crime published in 1907 and based upon a series of articles in various journals from 1891 onwards, notably The Nineteenth Century, the editor of which, SirJames Knowles, was a strong supporter of the campaign for reform. “But he is a pioneer,” said Lord Guthrie the Scottish judge when I was introduced to him in South Africa as the son of Sir Robert Anderson. The following pages will in some measure show the truth of the remark.
One plea which met with a good deal of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, not to say hostility in some quarters, was for a new approach to the problem of “professional crime.” Habitual criminals belonged to two classes. One consisted of those who were so utterly weak or so hopelessly wicked that they could not abstain from crime. Some of these were hereditary criminals who were allowed to beget children to follow in their steps. Such children were brought up in surroundings which would be fatal to the offspring of the best of men; and then we were proud of having efficient police to capture them and well-ordered gaols in which to cage them!
But the other class were those who were criminals by deliberate choice, pursuing a career of crime with full appreciation of its risks. A certain man of good education and address was visited in prison by a minister of religion. When the latter voiced his distress at finding him in such a position, the man asked whether one who was keen on fox-hunting gave it up when he had a fall. “I have had a bad fall and no mistake,” he said, “but I count on better luck another time.” This case was thoroughly typical, said my father. For such a man a criminal career was a life of adventure such as would compare favourably with most kinds of sport. He was not a weak creature who yielded to uncontrollable impulse. Stories of Benson and Raymond, two men of this class, have been given in the chapter on Scotland Yard. Such men, the elite of the profession, lived well; they could name their favourite wine and knew a good cigar. A trip to Brighton was an ordinary incident in their easy lives, and a winter visit to Monte Carlo nothing out of the way. They were responsible for the elaborate frauds, the great forgeries, jewel larcenies and bank robberies, which now and then startled the public.
They were few in number and as well known to the police as were the members of the Cabinet. The men who were competent to finance as well as to organise great crimes were so few, said my father once, that the room in which he was then writing would suffice to seat them comfortably. But there were many others who might fairly be called criminals by profession ; they too were well known to the police, and a single wing of any large prison would hold them all.
Referring especially to those who were trained and accomplished burglars, he described the routine at Scotland Yard when a skilled burglary was being investigated, or such a theft as that of an oil-painting from a public gallery. The problem could not be solved by sitting down in the Sherlock Holmes style with a wet towel round one's head. The men competent to plan and execute the crime were limited in number and were definitely known. Some would be "doing time" at the moment; others would be known to be out of London; yet others could be proved to have been at their registered addresses on the night in question. The list thus became reduced to working dimensions; and it was not difficult to go on eliminating one name after another until the thief was discovered.
If evidence was forthcoming (and there was the difficulty), he would be arrested and sentenced to perhaps five years' penal servitude. In less than four he would be back at the practice of his profession. After another good run during which he might commit ten, twenty, fifty crimes, enjoying a "high old time," he would be caught again; and the same farce would be re-enacted.
This routine my father described as the "shot drill" of the C.I.D., referring to the obsolete punishment of having to carry cannon-balls from one spot to another in a prison yard and then carry them back again. The energies of the most highly trained police in Europe were expended in ways bearing a striking resemblance to this. The case of a ladder larceny in which "Quiet Joe" was implicated was mentioned in the previous chapter. If the men had been asked what they would do on the termination of their sentence they would have replied "why, go back to business of course ; what else?" And so he records that the year after he left office he recognised his old friends in the newspaper accounts of a similar case at Bristol.
The C.I.D. noticed that the men were meeting at a free library and studying provincial directories ; they were tracked to a bookshop where they bought a map of Bristol, and to other shops at which they got the plant for a ladder larceny. They then went to Bristol where they took observations of the house they had fixed upon. At that stage the local police, warned by the Yard, seized the criminals, who were given a nine months' sentence on a minor issue. The burglars openly expressed their gratification at the police not having waited to "catch them fair on the job," as they were both over sixty and another penal servitude sentence would have about finished their career. As it was they would live without expense for a short time, and a paternal Government would see that the money found on them would be given back on their release to enable them to buy more jemmies and wire and screws, so that no time would be lost in getting to work again. Such was our punishment-of-crime system
"Quiet Joe" made a good income at his "profession," wrote my father; but he was a thriftless fellow who spent his earnings freely and never paid income tax. "Old Carr" was of a different type. Never having done an honest day's work in his life, he was a thief a financer and trainer of thieves and a notorious receiver of stolen property. "Upon his conviction," runs the story, "I was appointed statutory administrator of his estate. I soon discovered that he owned a good deal of valuable house property; but this I declined to deal with, taking charge only of his portable securities for money. The value of this part of his estate may be estimated by the fact that he brought an action against me for maladministration of it, claiming £5000 damages ! . . . The man lived in crime and by crime; and old though he was, and rolling in wealth, he once more resumed the practice of his profession. He was arrested abroad during a trip taken to dispose of some stolen notes, the proceeds of a Liverpool crime, and his evil life came to an end in a foreign prison."
No words surely, argued the C.I.D. Chief, could be needed to point the moral of such cases. The criminals who kept society in a state of siege were as strong as they were clever. If the risk of a few years' penal servitude gave place to the certainty of final loss of liberty on conviction, these professionals would put up with the tedium of an honest life.
What, then, was the suggested new method for dealing with these professional criminals? The proposal was that any convict who had been registered or licensed under certain Acts, when again convicted, should be further charged with being a professional criminal, and the judge might then proceed to an after-verdict inquiry upon that issue. This should be an open inquiry and the accused should be given adequate opportunity for meeting the charge. Then, if as the result of such judicial investigation a man was adjudged a professional criminal, he should be registered as such, and solemnly warned that if by his own wilful act he was convicted of further crime, he would for an indefinite period be deprived of a liberty which he used only to prey upon society. If at any time new circumstances or proof of genuine moral reformation seemed to warrant it, he could be restored to liberty. In a lecture he said: "I do not mean that these men [the professional criminals] are to be numbered by tens, but they are to be numbered only by hundreds. We have in London five hundred burglaries a year; . . . they would be the work of probably not more than fifty men. What an outrage that these fifty professional burglars, who are perfectly well known to Scotland Yard, should be permitted to be at large, a terror to the community.” With regard to armed burglars, he considered that when a burglar was found with a revolver in addition to the legitimate “instruments of his profession” he ought to be given a life sentence.
In an interview my father said: “During my time at Scotland Yard I acted as administrator to almost every high-class professional criminal, and I know who and what they are and how comparatively few they are. You ask: Would shutting up a few dozen criminals really make any sensible difference in the crime of the country? And I reply that is precisely what I mean. My opinion is based on definite facts and a knowledge of the personnel of the criminal fraternity.”
“One of the best and boldest utterances in the January magazines is Dr. Anderson’s article in the Contemporary on the means for the abolition of organised crime" was the opinion of a reviewer as far back as 1891. Ten years later an article in theNineteenth Century evoked a great deal of comment mainly favourable; an exception being The Times which, after saying that few persons had larger experience with reference to the criminal classes, proceeded to accuse him of wanting to put down crime by terror and harshness. However my father was able to turn the tables rather neatly when in Criminals and Crime he quoted a Times leader of 1891 strongly supporting his views. The Spectator received the proposals with favour, saying that the suggestions seemed simply a precept of common sense. Many other papers, London and provincial, drew attention to the articles and the book. The view of a Church journal was that, while on the surface the scheme seemed almost terrifying, beneath the surface it might be found as merciful as it would prove to be effective. Whilst the proposals regarding professional crime attracted most attention many other matters were brought forward. The whole “punishment-of-crime” theory, was attacked as in the following words: “In any sensible and civilised community the aim ought to be to deal with the criminal and never mind the crime. If the crime is a chance offence our main effort ought to be to save the offender; if a deliberate crime the main thought should be the protection of the community.”
Sir John Bridge, one of the most experienced London magistrates, had said: “I have nothing to do with punishing crime. That rests with a Higher Power. My business is to protect the community.” Major Arthur Griffiths, one of H.M. Inspectors of Prisons, had declared that the prison population might be classed in two main divisions, those offenders who ought never to have been sent to prison at all and those who ought never to be released. “I maintain” said my father, “that no one should ever be sent to prison in the aimless and unintelligent way in which so many offenders are committed. Every committal ought to be with some definite object, whether it be the prisoner’s punishment, or his reformation or merely his detention, or some combination of these aims.”
“Let us judge of our present methods by results,” he wrote. “Are the sentences of imprisonment imposed by our courts in fact deterrent? And does the imprisonment as now administered reform those who are subjected to it? . . . As regards the first question, do the sentences now imposed create a dread of the gaol in the minds of the class from which the prison population is recruited? Here two facts claim notice. First, a considerable proportion of commitments are due merely to default in paying money penalties. Secondly, the majority of direct commitments are for terms almost as brief as the above. The opinion of those in a position to judge is that so far from having a deterrent effect, the result is that persons who specially need such an influence come to regard imprisonment as a commonplace incident in their lives. .
“As regards reformation; human nature being what it is, a few weeks in gaol may do much to demoralise, even to degrade, but practically nothing to elevate or reform. But do not the severe sentences imposed by the superior courts avail to make the law a terror to evil-doers? The answer may be gleaned from the notorious fact that criminals return again and again to penal servitude. For even the discipline of a convict prison has no terrors for men who have become gradually accustomed to a life in gaol by a preliminary course of short sentences.
“If it be reasonable to expect that no one shall be imprisoned without a definite and intelligent purpose, is it not equally reasonable to insist that, when that purpose is the reformation of the offender, the discipline and treatment shall be adapted to bring about that result?” Reform in the character of prison buildings was strongly urged, especially in the matter of windows designed to shut out all view of external nature such as might soothe and possibly elevate the mind. Asylum prisons were advocated for those who gave proof that they could not be trusted with liberty; for there were the utterly weak as well as the utterly wicked. Discipline and industry must be enforced, such a prison being made self-supporting. But there should be as much liberty and opportunity for mental and moral improvement as compatible with discipline; and prisons should be open to all the influences of Christianity, not only to official religious services. “It is nothing short of a scandal,” he wrote, “that in a Christian and Protestant country the inmates of our gaols should know nothing of religion save what comes to them officially like the water and the gas. To turn from the soul to the intellect; what means are now available to develop or excite a prisoner’s mental powers? Short-sentence prisoners have practically nothing. And the only provision for those who are committed for longer terms is that the use of library books is allowed as a reward for good conduct. But what use would it be to Bill Sykes or to Hodge if you gave him all the thirty-five volumes of Wisdom while you wait! Why should not prisoners on one night a week have a religious meeting of a kind fitted to win them, and on another night a popular lecture calculated to interest and instruct them? By all means make them work hard; and punish severely for idleness or misconduct ; but don’t starve either their souls or their brains."
Apart from the indefinitely prolonged seclusion of those who deliberately outlaw themselves by making crime the business of their lives, there should be an "habitual offender division," in which the convict will obtain even more generous treatment than is now either politic or justifiable. There are two ways of preventing a dog from biting one’s neighbours. One is by the fear of the lash, the other by chaining him up. If the criminal is to be restrained by the fear of a measured sentence, the discipline ought to be severe; if by his being kept in seclusion then severity is unnecessary.
Our methods of dealing with unpremeditated "chance crimes" due to moral weakness, sudden temptation, or the pressure of want, he considered to be "deplorable both in their severity and in their effects."
The restitution of stolen property ought to be insisted on. A burglar should not be set at liberty until he had disclosed what he had done with his booty. This would go far to abolish the market for stolen property and even put an end to stealing. If necessary the thief should compensate the individual he had robbed by work done and paid for in prison.
Very strong support came from Mr. Justice (Sir Alfred) Wills, of whom it was said that in all the great qualities that go to the making of a just and merciful judge he was pre-eminent. After its criticisms of the 1901 Nineteenth Century article Sir Alfred wrote a long letter to The Times emphatically agreeing with my father’s main contentions and proposals, and pleading for a prompt and effective inquiry into them. The following year Mr. Justice Phillimore in the charge to a Grand Jury drew attention to the articles and said that the matter had been brought before the King’s Bench by one of the oldest, most experienced and most humane of their number, with the result that communications had passed between the Home Office and the judges with regard to devising some new form of detention, more or less permanent, for old offenders. When Criminals and Crime appeared in 1907 Sir Alfred Wills wrote to my father:
"I should like to find some opportunity for saying in public how thoroughly I agree with almost - I think I might even say with quite all that you say. . . . I like particularly your objection to the ‘punishment of crime’ theory. . . . I can only now thank you heartily for your manly and courageous support of true principles, and your plain speaking upon matters with respect to which hesitation, cowardice and mealy-mouthedness have already done such infinite harm."
In 1908 Mr. Herbert (later Viscount) Gladstone introduced a Bill " to make better provision for the prevention of crime," which adopted some of the proposals which had for so long been advocated by my father, although in 1901 the then Home Secretary had stated that there was nothing in them which could be made the basis of legislation! The measure, however, suffered severely in its passage through the House. "I found," wrote Sir Alfred Wills, "that as you say everything of value in Part II was gone." And again: "The ‘humanitarians,’ as they audaciously call themselves, have scored this time, and I suppose they will until a set of statesmen arise, if they ever do, who have views of their own and will stick to them regardless of consequences when a great principle is at stake."’ Sir Robert himself said
"The chief merit of this Bill is in the recognition of the principle that the protection of the public is a justification for prolonged sentences. But this recognition is made in a halting and incidental way. The Bill fails to provide for the numerous class of cases in which, though the actual crime charged is not in itself a grave one, inquiry would satisfy the court that the offender is a professional criminal who ought to be detained indefinitely. If the sick were treated with the folly which marks our dealing with criminals, a man with a violent cough would be sent to hospital though possibly suffering from nothing worse than a fly in his throat or a common cold, whilst a slight cough would be neglected although it might be a symptom of some fatal disease."
Regarding the relationship of drink and crime, Sir Robert remarked that judge after judge had said drink was at the root of the bulk of the crime of the country. That, he said, must be taken with a certain reservation. Crimes of violence and brutality were nearly always the result of drink. But gambling and betting also led to crime and misery; so did overcrowding and dirt and everything that tended to immorality and the lowering of the standard of life. I remember his saying that he had asked one of the most experienced of the London magistrates what proportion of the ordinary cases of crime coming before him he considered to be wholly or in part the result of drink. The reply, which he confessed was a surprise to him, was that drink was an element in nine out of every ten cases.
So great an advance has been made in respect of the treatment of first offenders, especially of juveniles, that I deal only very briefly with this aspect of Sir Robert’s penology. "The aim," he argued, "should be by all possible means to reform a young offender and give him a new start in life." To this end he advocated corporal punishment in suitable cases - anything in fact rather than gaol.
In reply to those who objected to punishments which they classified as degrading, although affording an alternative to imprisonment in the case of youthful offenders, it was urged that no punishment degrades an offender so thoroughly as one that allows him to make his crime a subject of boasting. The Irish story related in the first chapter of this book was given as an example of the opposite effect being produced. "I will not," he said, "insult the intelligence of the reader by explaining the moral of my story. And I will only add that if offenders of this class were punished in the manner that public schoolboys are punished, and then turned out at once to rejoin their companions, an appearance in a police court would cease to be a matter for boasting!"
The right of boys to go wrong was challenged: "I advocate reforms that will reduce the ranks of the army of crime; I plead also for measures that will stop the recruiting." Before the unemployment problem had become acute, and before two wars had accustomed the British people to conscription, it was pointed out that the sort of boys who become "street arabs" and hooligans often made splendid soldiers and sailors. And the suggestion was that magistrates should be empowered to deal with any lad between the ages of, say, sixteen and twenty-one who habitually made the streets his home and had no visible means of subsistence.
The Earl of Meath, founder of the Empire Day Movement, having seen an article by my father in 1910 on the best way of dealing with young offenders, drew his attention to the Duty and Discipline series of leaflets, and asked him to write one dealing specially with the subject of corporal punishment for children not amenable to milder influences. Lord Meath said: "There is so much humanitarian sentiment to be met with in the present day that there appears to be a real danger lest all control over the rising generation should be thrown to the winds."
The Aliens Act required strengthening and honest administration. No other country in Europe tolerated the presence of alien criminals. Why then should such men as anarchist conspirators be allowed to live in Britain? The ne’er-do-wells and known criminals of other countries should be excluded. "Why should a professional criminal be admitted because he happens to have a first-class ticket on the Channel boat? He would not be fit for his ‘profession’ if he could not dress like a ‘toff’ and pay for a high-class revolver of the newest pattern."
Accusations of hardness, lack of sympathy and the like were not wanting. In his letter to The Times, already quoted, Sir Alfred Wills had said: "Dr. Anderson is undoubtedly fearless, and pace his critic in your columns, in my opinion a merciful and fair- minded man." Another kind of light was shed on the question by a writer in the Daily News: "I believe Sir Robert Anderson to be one of the best friends of those who can be reclaimed, whether young or of mature age. He is in full sympathy with the boys (an average of 500 annually) whom Mr. William Wheatley has in hand, and the Superintendent certainly looks upon him as a very steadfast friend. I happened to be in the chapel in Little Wild Street when Sir Robert gave an address to nearly 500 children belonging to the schools of the St. Giles Christian Mission, and Lady Agnes Anderson distributed some hundreds of prizes. It strikes me that this is service worthy even of the Humanitarian League." Mr. Wheatley, on hearing of my father’s death, wrote: "I am more than grieved to read this morning of the passing Home of my very dear old friend, Sir Robert. Words fail me to express the deep feeling of my heart."
A fact which is probably not generally known was mentioned in Criminals and Crime. Speaking of one of the organisations which had attacked him as being too hard on their protégés the "professionals," the author said: "I must add that never a, day passes in which the much-maligned police do not give more help to weak and deserving criminals than this sort of society has rendered during all its history."
I close this chapter with a few South African opinions and suggestions in the years 1945 and 1946. Their similarity to what Sir Robert Anderson was saying fifty years ago is too obvious to need pointing out. Dr. F. E. T. Krause, late Judge-President in the Orange Free State, was quoted recently as having said:
"The doctrine of retribution and revenge was and is still now the underlying principle of our penal laws. . . . It was not and is not now the prescribed function or duty of the prison staff to do anything towards the actual reform of the prisoner. All prisoners are dealt with as if they conform to a single pattern or type. . . . What is needed is not a reasonable interpretation and a liberal application of the regulations, but an entire change and abandonment of a barbarous, wrong and purposeless system. .
Reformatories have now been placed under the jurisdiction of the Education Department. This has been the first tangible proof of a change in the policy which regarded the 'crime’ and not the criminal as the principal factor in awarding punishment. .
Most of our country prisons still follow the dungeon pattern - thick iron bars, slits of windows, no sun, faulty ventilation and semi-darkness in the cells."
At a conference in Johannesburg on penal reform, Mr. W. G. Hoal, Secretary for Justice and Director of Prisons, said that the gaols were overcrowded with persons many of whom should never be there. The short sentence for a trivial offence, followed by committals for longer periods according to a carefully graded scale, defeated the whole object of imprisonment. The head of a reformatory stated that it was nonsense to say that the punishment must fit the crime; it should fit the criminal.
The Cape Times in a leading article on the above conference said: "Time after time it has been emphasised by the highest authorities that thousands of prisoners are housed in our gaols who should never be there. Modern observation has proved beyond doubt that prisons create more criminals than they frighten or cure. Only with a drastic overhaul of the present methods of conviction and detention is there hope of our prisons fulfilling their rightful function of reformatories."
And Mr. Justice Twentyman Jones is reported in the Cape Times of 23rd August 1945 as saying with reference to lawlessness among coloured youths, that it was time some institution was established with full powers to round up these youths and put them where they would have no opportunity to commit crimes. The Government should take the matter up and not wait for the courts to commit the youths to gaol, because when they came out they only resumed their criminal activities.
A commission on penal reform was appointed by the South African Government in November 1945. The terms of reference include inquiry into the general objects of punishment; the desirability or otherwise of short terms of imprisonment and the means by which, if undesirable, they may be avoided; the classification and proper control of penal institutions and of the inmates ; also the development of suitable forms of education for all prisoners.
In a leading article on the commission under the heading "Prisons on Trial," the Cape Times says:
"The need for a radical examination of the prison and punishment system of the Union is obvious. All civilised countries have at last made up their minds that the true object of imprisonment ought to be not so much the desire to exact revenge as the desire to reform the criminal. The long history of the penal system . . . gives fairly clear evidence that the deterrent effect of punishment has been grossly overrated. . . . It is plain that our present penal system is a hopeless failure and needs complete renovation."

Chapter Six

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