Howard Vincent

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Howard Vincent (1849-1909), the founder of the Criminal Investigation Division at Scotland Yard, was something of an unlikely police reformer. A barrister with no experience in or connection with police affairs, he was called upon in the wake of the Trial of the Detectives to reform the C.I.D.. Vincent traveled to Paris to study the methods of the French Sureté and Police Judiciare, which were regarded by many as the world's most efficient force. He submitted his report to the Home Secretary, who supported Vincent 's appointment as assistant commissioner with the title Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI). Vincent's reorganization of Scotland Yard centralized and organized its key operations, and minimized the divisional rivalries which had marred its earlier incarnation.

The corrupt detectives were dismissed, and the whole detective force culled to the fourteen men regarded as absolutely trustworthy. Additional appointments had to be made to fill the gaps, and vetting new candidates proved time-consuming and difficult -- but well worth the temporary reduction in numbers. For nearly three years, in fact, the CID had only one Chief Inspector (Shore, by name). It may also be noted that Inspector Abberline, who later became so closely associated with the case of Jack the Ripper, was one of the detectives appointed during this period.

Yet despite his good intentions, Vincent encountered a good deal of difficulty as he attempted to preside over his own reforms. He faced considerable resistance from the Superintendents, who complained publicly against 'the manner in which detective-constables and plainclothes officers under them were taken out of their control by the DCI . . . and set to work by a system of espionage, similar to that of the French Secret Police.' In the wake of these complaints Vincent backpedaled, sending each of the Superintendents a memo declaring that "I shall transact the criminal business through you. It was entirely contrary to my intention to deprive myself of the great benefit of your experience."

This, in effect, was the origin of the eventual truce between the Central C.I.D. and the C.I.D. officers assigned to each division. In theory, the "local" C.I.D. were still under the control of the Central office, but in practice they were supervised by, and reported to, the divisional commanders.

Vincent also re-introduced some methods of the earlier Detective Department, which under certain circumstances permitted plain-clothes officers to pose as ordinary persons in order to apprehend suspects red-handed. This had been done before, as Dickens recounted in "The Detective Police," when a Detective Sergeant posed as a butcher's apprentice from the provinces in order to gull the notorious "Warehouse Porters" gang, receivers of stolen goods. The Sergeant's deception was so effective that, when one of the accused saw in testifying in uniform in the dock, he was puzzled as to how the "butcher"had so quickly started a new career as a policeman.

Magistrates tended to look askance on such operations as a species of entrapment, and the regular police also regarded them with great caution -- this was something of the "espionage" about which the superintendents had complained to Vincent.

It was just such practices that, injudiciously carried out, led to the mini-scandal over the case of Thomas Titley, a chemist who was suspected of providing abortifacients. Under the incautious hand of Inspector John O'Callaghan, a plan was devised in which a woman employed as a searcher at the Bow Street police station was recruited to pose as the mother of a young woman seeking an abortion. The scheme rapidly got out of hand, with the Inspector himself forging a letter, signed only "H.W.," purported to be from the seducer, who then had to be impersonated by a young Detective-Sergeant. Titley was apprehended after supplying the Sergeant with the abortifacient.

Despite an inquiry which seemed to clear the officers of wrongdoing, there remained a great public outcry, and in order to quell it the Home Secretary announced that no further such methods would be used without the direct authorization of the Home Office.

Later Career

After six years as the head of the C.I.D., Vincent resigned to enter politics, standing as a Conservative candidate for Central Sheffield in 1885, where he was handily elected; he was returned five times, and served in that capacity until his death in 1909. He was made a CBE in 1885, and knighted in 1896. He was active in organizing regiments for the Boer War in 1899, and in 1901 served on a committee advising about reforms in the Irish Constabulary. He died on April 7th 1908, just after returning from a vacation in France, and was buried in Cannes near his summer villa.


The Official Encyclopedia of Scotland Yard, ed. Martin Fido and Keith Skinner (London: Virgin Books, 1999)

Reginald Lucas, ‘Vincent, Sir (Charles Edward) Howard (1849–1908)’, rev. Clive Emsley, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 accessed 29 April 2007