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W.T. Stead's Closing Statement

The Old Bailey (November 4, 1885). Quoted in Alison Plowden, The Case of Eliza Armstrong: A Child of 13 Bought for £5 (1974)
 

I believe everyone in court knows perfectly well that the reason I did all these things was in order, by private enterprise and private adventure, to achieve a great public good. Last May, when we began this work, the battle appeared to be going against us all round - the battle for womanhood, the battle for purity, the battle for the protection of young girls. The Criminal Law Amendment Act, which had been introduced as urgent in 1883, was hung up, having been watered down before it was hung up. Everything appeared to be lost, but there is great virtue in individual resolve, and at that time I and my few helpers descended into the thick of the fray. We succeeded in one month in driving back the host of the enemy and in planting the standard of purity, virtue and chastity within the lines that had been held by our insulting foe. We could expect no help from the police. And why? Because a great number of the police are in guilty conspiracy with brothel-keepers, bribed by the persons carrying on that infamous traffic; and I was assured that if I told the police of my intention, the "tip" would be sent all round, and I should find the persons I wished to expose on their guard against me. I was told more than that - that if I tried to rescue a fallen girl, the police, at the instigation of those living on the fallen one's earnings, would take steps against me. I defend my refusal to communicate the knowledge in my possession to the police on the ground that I was pledged not to expose Jarrett's friends, and that it would have been unjust to bring punishment on one or two individuals.

Great pressure has been put on me to suppress the names of those who have debased their manhood by defiling English girls, and having refused to denounce a duke, do you think I would stoop to denounce Mrs. Armstrong? If I had anticipated that all this business would have to be threshed out in court, I might easily have taken precautions to get better proof of Mrs. Armstrong's and Mrs. Broughton's guilt. I might be asked what proof there was of the sale of Eliza, but it would be insulting your intelligence to suppose you are under the delusion that a transaction of that nefarious character is always drawn up in form, and signed in the presence of witnesses; and I do not think it would have been possible to get evidence with the explicitness that would have been necessary to convince persons who are absolutely persuaded that English mothers never sell their daughters to vice. What I did was to employ a woman Mrs. Butler assured me I could trust, and I sent her to do her work in her own way, as she knew best how to do it.

As to the discrepancies between my evidence and Jarrett's as to what she told me - all I can say is that to the best of my belief that which I committed to writing four weeks after she told me the facts, was exactly that which she told me. My own impression was that the father was a drunken sweep who did not care where his girl was going to. I may be right or wrong, but I am absolutely convinced that so far as the mother and Mrs. Broughton were concerned, the child was handed over to me for an immoral purpose. I acted upon that belief, and that belief governed every subsequent step in the proceedings. What I tried to do was not to abduct a child, but to raise up such a sentiment in the country as to render abduction and all kindred offences more dangerous than they had been. You know now how I succeeded. I admit I made many blunders and mistakes. I only ask you to judge me as a fellow man. You know what it has cost me, and what it must have cost a man reared as I was, and trained as I have been, to go down there and all for what? Mr. Attorney General says we must protect the children of the poor. Was not that the object that I did all this for? You know it was, and you know that was why Jarrett did it, and Jacques did it, and Bramwell Booth did it. It was not in order to abduct a girl, but to rescue her from what we believed to be her inevitable doom; and if in the exercise of your judgement you come to the conclusion that you can take no note of motive, no note of character, no note of the intent and scope of our operations, all I have to say is, that when you return your verdict I make no appeal to any other tribunal. My lord has told me the question of motive may be considered afterwards, but if you find me guilty by your verdict, I shall make no appeal. By your verdict I stand or fall, and if in the opinion of twelve Englishmen born of Englishwomen, possibly the fathers of English girls, if they say to me "You are guilty", I shall take my punishment and I shall not flinch.

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