‘Hot under the collar’

The garotting moral panic of the 1860s

Authored by: Chas Critcher

The Routledge International Handbook on Fear of Crime

Print publication date:  December  2017
Online publication date:  December  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138120334
eBook ISBN: 9781315651781
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315651781-3

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Abstract

Fear of crime has a history. A revealing episode was the garotting scare of the 1860s, centred on London. An apparently new form of street crime, in which victims were partially strangled by one attacker and robbed by another, prompted immediate social reaction. Opinion in Parliament and the press blamed the crimes on ‘ticket-of-leave’ men, effectively convicts on parole who could no longer be transported to Australia. The whole furore lasted just six months but had substantial effects on penal legislation, reversing the reforms of the previous decade. The Garotters Act reintroduced flogging for perpetrators. Other laws harshened prison regimes and weakened the evidence needed to convict repeat offenders. Such measures were justified by the need to suppress a so-called ‘criminal class’, even though crime rates were slowly falling. With garrotters as classic folk devils, the whole episode met all the criteria for a moral panic about crime, one of the first of its kind. Politicians, police, press, and public opinion united around the need to act against a perceived menace. Rational arguments allied with deep-seated emotional appeals to construct fear of crime as a central preoccupation of a newly emergent public sphere.

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