Sir Richard Webster's Closing Statement
The Old Bailey (November 5, 1885). Quoted in Alison Plowden, The Case of Eliza Armstrong: A Child of 13 Bought for £5 (1974)
Gentlemen of the jury, I desire to give every indulgence to Mr. Stead, who is in the position of wishing to defend himself, and to put his case before you in his own words. I feel - and I know my lord has been actuated by the same feeling - that to a man of education in such a position of wishing to do his duty to himself, great indulgence should be shown. But I believe I shall have my lord's concurrence when I say, that had that address been delivered to you by counsel, and not by Mr. Stead, there were passages in it which it would have been his lordship's duty to have stopped. We are told that this is a prosecution as unjustifiable as it is cruel, and that the police are hunting out Mr. Stead and not the villains who destroy girls. I am for showing every indulgence to Mr. Stead, but in the name of justice, in the name of the law, I ask you to disregard such inflammatory observations, and to follow me while I bring you back into the region of fact. Let us look for a moment at the principal actors in this case. There were the father and mother and six children living in a room in Charles Street.
Apart from the question of the mother being given at times to drink, the family has been respectable.
Do think of what this means. Six people in one room - that in itself is a difficulty to deal with; the surroundings of such a street as Charles Street, because their poverty does not enable them to live in a better; the elder daughter put out to respectable service; the girl Eliza, a truthful and cheerful child, accepted by Mr. Russell as a truthful witness, brought up in the ways of a Christian child. You and I may be so situated that it is no trouble to us to keep our children straightforward and pure; but it says something for the poor woman whose character has been attacked that neither the agents of the Salvation Army or of Mr. Stead, have been able to discover anything against her in connection with the bringing up of her children. The mother, it is said, drinks; but her husband has told you that she is affectionate to her children, and that, except when she gets a drop of drink in her, she does not use bad language. The father is a sweep. I have yet to learn that men's hearts are black because their hands are black. Mr. Stead has said he believed the father was a drunken lout. He had no right to believe that of the father without evidence; he has no right now to suggest that the father is a drunken lout. These are the people who, up to the time of the appearance of Jarrett in that street on June 2nd, whatever their failings may have been, were endeavouring to bring up their children honestly and straightforwardly in the sight of God and men. Now, who is Mrs. Broughton? Mrs. Broughton is the wife of a man who has been about there for several years, said to be perfectly respectable. Mrs. Armstrong has known her for three years as a respectable person about the street. Even Jarrett was forced to admit, when in the witness-box, that she had never known Mrs. Broughton to commit or to confess to having committed any improper conduct. Mr. Stead thought fit, on July 6th, to call her a brothel-keeper, and to describe her house as a brothel, but he now admits having failed to substantiate his allegations. So far as we know, therefore, there is nothing against her except that she lives, unfortunately, in what is called a low neighbourhood, because she cannot afford to live in a better. Are women to be presumed to be infamous, to be disreputable in the worst sense of the word, without evidence or proof? It is unheard-of that these women are to have their characters blasted by the evidence of such a creature as Rebecca Jarrett proves herself to be.
Let us see what sort of a woman Jarrett was. Jarrett has been posing ever since the month of April, 1883, as a repentant Magdalen. You know there is a great temptation to women of that class of mind and it is perfectly clear, I submit, that Jarrett is one of those women who are led to exaggerate their own guilt for the purpose of glorifying or exaggerating their degree of present merit. You heard that very extraordinary scene when Jarrett told me that I had dragged lies out of her. Now, when she was first asked about her past life, beyond appealing to my lord whether she was bound to answer, she, without any other sign or suggestion of unwillingness, gave three specific addresses at which she had kept improper houses. We made inquiries, and those addresses were found to be lies.
Gentlemen, it was necessary that Rebecca Jarrett should lie. Rebecca Jarrett could not keep up her position with Mrs. Butler, she could not keep up her position with Mr. Stead without lying. You remember that she is introduced to Stead as a woman who has been steeped in sin, but is now repentant. And please remember that Stead, burning with the belief that an iniquitous trade exists, is desirous of proving it. He gets Jarrett up, and under threats, under persuasion, he gets from her the story of her past life. She tells him that she had kept gay houses and knew how to get at girls who were in the market, or "in stock". Do you suppose he did not ask where? The result is that Stead, with a voice of indignation, turns round upon her and says, "If this is true you deserve to be hanged and damned." What was Jarrett driven to do?
She pretends that she can carry out Stead's scheme. Her reputation, her truthfulness in the eyes of Stead, in the eyes of Mrs. Butler, depend on her being able to establish the facts she had told to them. Jarrett started out to do that which she had said she could do - to buy girls in the market, and it was absolutely essential that she should do it, or in a short time she would be discarded by Stead and possibly by Mrs. Butler. Up to Tuesday night, June 2nd, although she had been searching for two or three days, she had absolutely failed in her mission. That night she had to go back to her master again. What did she tell him? She now says she told him that she had failed, which was true; but according to Stead's story, she told him that she had bought a child for £5, who was to be delivered to her next day. Mr. Stead now pleads that, owing to the excitement he was in at the time, he may be mistaken. But it is absurd to suppose that Mr. Stead, even in his excitement, could have imagined that. She must have told it him. My view is that Stead was misled by the lies Jarrett told him. I submit to you that the whole story speaks with no uncertain sound, and that you will have no difficulty in coming to a verdict. The only legal question here is whether Stead and Jarrett took Eliza Armstrong out of the possession of her father against his will. That is, did the father consent to the child going away; and, if he did, was it for immoral purposes? I submit that there is no evidence that the father either knew or consented to the child being taken for an immoral purpose.
As far as I am concerned, I never have and never will, press hardly against any defendant or prisoner. But I offer to your judgement the whole case, submitting that you must find Jarrett and Stead guilty of the offence charged against them.