Police Constable Ernest Thompson

Posted: January 11, 2009 in Obituaries
P.C. Ernest Thompson, the officer who found the dying body of Frances Coles lying under a railway arch in Swallow Gardens, was stabbed to death on December 1, 1900 while attempting to disperse some people near a coffee stall in Commercial Road. Here is a detailed account of the incident:
Three outrages were reported from the East End of London yesterday. Police-constable Ernest Thompson, of the H Division, was murdered in Commercial-road. He died shortly after being stabbed in the neck. Thompson was dispersing some people near a coffee stall, when, it is alleged, one of them drew a knife, and drove it into the policeman’s neck. He held on to Barnett Abrahams, who was charged at the Thames Police-court with feloniously killing Thompson. The other outrages are attributed to the Hooligans. A married woman, Harriet Ficken, residing in Elsa-street, Limehouse, was admitted to the London Hospital on Friday night with a bullet wound in her head. She was watching from her window the noisy rowdyism of a number of boys, and it is supposed she in some way remonstrated with them. One of the boys said, "We will shoot her," and he immediately fired. The woman fell backwards, and when found was taken to the hospital, where she was detained. Simon Sekone, a wood carver, was attacked by three ruffians in Whitechapel-road and so severely stabbed and maltreated as to necessitate his removal to the London Hospital. Three Italians are under arrest.
The Hooligan outrages which for months past have made the East End and other districts a disgrace to civilisation, reached a climax on Saturday morning, when a young constable was stabbed to death in Commercial-road, Whitechapel. The murdered man, who was named Ernest Thompson, 240 H, went on duty on Friday night at ten o’clock. His beat lay mainly in the vicinity of Commercial-road, and there is plenty of evidence to show that nothing unusual happened until about an hour after midnight, when, under circumstances which the course of judicial proceedings must elucidate, the Commercial-road immediately opposite Morrison’s Buildings became the scene of a quarrel, culminating in the lamentable tragedy that shocked the public on Saturday morning, and awakened them to the gravity of the state of affairs which makes Whitechapel less safe for peaceable people than the Transvaal. When I visited Commercial-road the purple stains which marked in gruesome splashes the site on which the fatal scuffle had occured were still fresh, in spite of the drizzling rain. Curiosity had evidently attracted a small group of gossiping women to the spot, but otherwise there was nothing to indicate that anything out of the ordinary course had happened. Morrison’s Buildings are a large block of model flats overlooking the spot on which poor Thompson fell in the execution of his duty. I interviewed the occupants of these dwellings, all of whom are respectable working people, and English. It sounds rather superfluous to say that the dwellers in a Whitechapel tenement are English people. But in this district English people are the exceptions, Germans, Poles, and Russians the rule. The flashing eyes and crisp black hair of the men and women one meets on the pavements suggest rather an Eastern city than London. The people in Morrison’s Buildings, which are the property of the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company, retire to bed early, for their employment compels them to be early astir. At half-past one or a little earlier on Saturday morning they heard angry shouts of "hold him down," sounds of scuffling, then the
blown long, but by degrees more faintly. To the noise of quarreling they are unfortunately too well accustomed. Brawling is the common characteristic of Commercial-road when once night has fallen, and the gangs of desperadoes who burrow rather than live in the neighborhood issue forth from their lairs in search of plunder and prey. When the people in the workmen’s dwellings heard the whistle some of them rushed to their windows, while others remained in bed, indifferent as to what was going on in the street. The occupants of No. 10, Morrison’s Buildings were awakened in the manner I have described. They had been in bed from eleven. The whistle which signalled that the forces of law and order were being overpowered, attracted them to their window. In the darkness of the newly-born month of December, they saw a couple of policemen lift a man from the pavement and put him into a cab. It was poor Thompson, being carried to the East London Hospital. They observed another party go away on foot. This was an English Jew, who was found clutched in the arms of the dying policeman, and who was arrested by the constables whom the whistle caused to hurry to the place. The couple living at No. 12 heard the disturbance likewise. But the wife was ill, too ill to leave her bed, and the husband was too sleepy to understand that underneath his windows a solitary policeman was bravely holding on to a prisoner in the face of a hostile mob.
According to the police, the story of the crime shows that Thompson, who was considered by his comrades as a most inoffensive man, was going his usual round this morning. At a coffee-stall at the corner of Church-lane he saw the prisoner with two women. He asked them to move on, and Abrahams did so very slowly and hesitatingly. The prisoner went off in the direction of Bow, while the women turned towards Aldgate. This much was witnessed by the coffee-stall keeper, who, however, did not see what is alleged to have subsequently happened. The prosecution, however, intended to submit evidence showing that Abraham, on reaching the bottom of Union-street at its junction with Commercial-road, took out a knife from his pocket and walked towards the policeman, who had been coming in the same direction. There, as is alleged, he attacked Thompson, plunging the knife into the policeman’s neck. It is the custom to remove prisoners from Leman-street Police-station to the Arbour-square court about one o’clock in the morning, and this morning some half a dozen policemen were in charge of the removal of prisoners. They were passing on the other side of Commercial-road when they saw Thompson struggling with Abraham, and one of them says he saw prisoner’s hand descending on Thompson’s neck, although he was too far off to see an instrument. Two of these
policemen at once went to their comrade’s assistance, and one of them is said to have seen


It is at least beyond doubt that an ordinary 3-inch blade pocket-knife, covered from tip to haft with blood, was picked up close to where the policemen and the prisoner were struggling. Thompson was at once seen to be in a serious condition. His neck and clothes were covered with blood. He had a tight hold on his man, but almost immediately his mates came up he seemed to collapse, and loosening his grip he said with great difficulty, "Hold him. I’m done." While Thompson was being speedily taken to the Hospital, his alleged assailant was conveyed to the police-station. The police say that the prisoner struggled desperately on the way. That is how the police explain the fact that Abraham was frightfully bruised about the eyes and head. When he appeared in court his face was one mass of bruises, big swellings being present under the eyes, and plaster on one or two lacerations on the top of his head. The counsel for the defence is likely to make a strong point of this in connection with the case for the prisoner. The full defence has not yet been divulged. It is suggested, however, that Thompson first attacked the prisoner when he was standing at the coffee-stall, and anything the prisoner may have done was done in self-defence. Abraham has, so far as is known, a clean record up to the present. He is an English Jew.
Thompson was the constable who came nearer than any member of the force to catching Jack the Ripper. On the occasion at the last murder there was practically only a matter of inches between the murderer and the police, and Thompson was the policeman. He was commended in this connection by the police authorities. Curiously enough, this was the first time Thompson had donned the uniform of a constable. He was always ready to speak of the night when he saw Jack the Ripper get up from where he had foully murdered his victim, and speed away into the darkness. Thompson used to exclaim, "I nearly had him. He was only an arm’s length away, and I missed him." The deceased officer is a married man with four children. Poor Thompson had 12 years’ service, being only 32 years of age. A great portion of his career had been spent in the East-end, and he was thoroughly familiar with its most dangerous quarters.
When I saw Dr. Hilliard, of the East London Hospital, he had just completed the post-mortem examination of the remains of the unfortunate constable. The young doctor was on duty at the hospital when Thompson’s comrades brought him there yesterday morning. "Nothing," said the doctor "could then be done for him. He was already dead." With regard to the statements published in various quarters that the dead man had been treated with the most relentless savagery, his back being stabbed in several places, the post-mortem examination disproves their accuracy. Doctor Hilliard found only one wound on the body. This was in the nature of a puncture on the left side of the neck, which nicked the jugular vein. "The constable had very bad luck," said the doctor, "had the weapon taken ever so slightly a different direction the result would not have been fatal." As it was Thompson’s life blood began to ebb the instant the weapon was withdrawn. He still clung bravely to his prisoner. No doubt his determination in this respect accelerated the bleeding. For a violent struggle must have taken place during the interval that elapsed between the infliction of the wound and the arrival of assistance. The fact that the deceased man is married, and is the father of four young children, intensifies the melancholy nature of the tragedy. Such, in brief, is the evidence which on Monday will be unfolded at the coroner’s inquest. Meanwhile the police are diligently pursuing inquiries, and it is expected that when the prisoner, who was taken from the arms of the dead constable, is arraigned on Friday next in the police-court, he will not stand alone in the dock.
At the Thames Police-court, later in the morning, Barnet Abrahams, 41, a cigar maker and English Jew, residing in Newark-street, Whitechapel, was charged with feloniously killing and slaying Police-constable Ernest Thompson (240 HR), by stabbing him in the neck with a knife while in the execution of his duty. Prisoner’s head was bandaged, he had two black eyes, a broken nose, one ear lacerated, and bruises on the body.
– Inspector Divall asked that only evidence of seeing prisoner with the murdered constable and that of arrest be taken in the present occasion.
– Constable 100 HR was called, and deposed that about half-past one o’clock that morning he saw Constable Thompson, who was bleeding, holding the prisoner. The constable was placed in a cab, and conveyed to the London Hospital, but died on the way thither.
At the Police-station Detective-inspector T. Divall (H Division) asked: "Do you understand English?" and accused replied, "Well." Witness then said, "Well, I am an inspector of police, and am going to charge you with feloniously killing and slaying Constable Thompson by stabbing him in the neck with this knife" (at the same time pointing to a long pocket-knife covered with blood). Prisoner asked, "Then I am charged with maliciously killing?" Witness replied, "You are charged with feloniously killing." Abrahams said, "It is quite possible. I don’t remember anything about it. I had no cause to do injury to anyone." – On that evidence Mr. Dickinson remanded prisoner.
Some startling developments may be expected at the inquest on Constable Thompson. The accused man Abrahams is of very small stature, and bears the reputation of being a quiet and harmless cigar maker. When in the dock at the police-court he bore traces of considerable ill-usage. Both his eyes were blacked and the bridge of his nose broken. It was stated he is bruised all over his body. The accused man intended to give evidence at the inquest on Monday before Mr. Baxter, and will also be represented by his solicitor, Mr. Deakin. The prisoner intends to inform the coroner how he came by his injuries, and by whose hands they were inflicted. If he does so it is probable that the charge now preferred against him may be reduced. That statement will be to the effect that while larking with two women near a coffee stall in Commercial-road Constable Thompson ordered Abrahams to move on, and because he did not quickly do so he was attacked by the officer. He used the knife to protect himself.
Source: News Of The World of Sunday, December 2, 1900, page 1


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