Thursday, 25 February 2021

The Twitch - an Early Method of Police Restraint on Arrest

 I was researching an officer who had died and was unlisted on the National Police Roll of Honour. He was constable James Armstrong who had fallen from a fell in Cumberland, on 30th September 1847; James is now listed. I was researching his life story, as best as I could, and found he had worked at Carlisle, with that city Police Force. He then moved to Maryport where I found him working with another constable. It was whilst James was dealing with a James M'Keevor on 24th May 1835 at an Inn at Maryport, on the Cumbrian coast, that M'Keevor said to him, “You bloody b------, you once had the twitch upon me at Carlisle, and I’ll have your life tonight.” I couldn't understand this reference and took it to mean similar to 'the evil eye'; that he had marked him in some way, and M'Keevor was aware of it. It was only after I kept running this by other colleagues that one, who had an interest in equine matters, said that a twitch was a restraint applied to a horses upper lip to calm the animal. That colleague went on to describe it as a stick that had a leather strap that extended from it and could be pulled back taught, clamping the lip. (I believe it can also be two pieces of wood with a leather 'hinge' at one end, although the strap was the more common instrument.). Having never heard of, or seen any pictorial view of an officer carrying a twitch, or image in any police museum having possession of one for display, I decided to research these further. 

The first twitch refence I could discover, was used by Glasgow police, and this came from a court case were the arrested person was a complainant in a civil case in October of 1826. A Mr. M'Gibbon had given evidence of his accusation of torture by the use of the twitch on 7th August, and the Police (Watch?) Committee spent 17 hours on the hearing of witness evidence. At the conclusion they decided that not only had the complainant not proven his complaint, they found that the officers had shown a great deal of forbearance towards him in his 'hindrance, obstruction, and molesting, of a watchman', amounting to an assault whilst trying to rescue a Mr. M'Kenzie from the officers of the law. (Nothing changes down the span of years!) The conduct of M'Gibbon was so violent that other members of the public had to intervene and the twitches were applied as a means of restraint, following that violent conduct.

The next twitch reference appears in news reports where on Tuesday 20th November 1827, at the Rev. Jones's house, Raddon Bridge, near High Wycomb, was entered via a ladder. The coachman armed himself with a twitch, due to the robber's violent conduct in trying to vacate the house and grounds, on discovery; another three did get away. This instrument was described as, '.... an instrument for the purpose of securing horses, the loop of this was dexterously passed over the wrist of the robber, and, twisting it round, effectually secured him.' Clearly the description was one of a horse twitch, although I did wonder if the word 'twitch' could itself be used for slang for handcuffs, but there was only a few references to a plural 'twitches', like 'handcuffs'. 

A case appeared in The Carlisle Patriot on 5th January 1833 where a Henry Thorn appeared for 'shoplifting' from the premises of Joseph Railton, on the second hiring day of 17th November 1832. Constable John Wright arrested him and put 'a twitch on his hands' as he tried to put them in his pockets. When searched, found in his pocket were three rolls of ribbon. It sounds as if the singular twitch was used to secure both hands together, as a restraining technique.

On Saturday 7th December 1833, two watchmen and an inspector of the watch, were before Salford Intermediate Sessions on an allegation of assaulting Special Constable Higgins. It had came about after a dispute of one of the watchmen, being known by Higgins to have earlier searched with his lamp, a dye-house for a suspected person; no lighted candles had been allowed on the premise and Higgins questioned this conduct. The inspector told Higgins to go about his business but he refused as it was 'not past hours' and until then he could do as he pleased. The inspector then knocked Higgins to the ground with his stick, placed a twitch, described as a 'kind of handcuff'; another watchman placed a second twitch on the other wrist, and he was dragged down the street on his back. Higgins was so badly injured that he was taken to the hospital when inspected by the police doctor at the cells due to his insensibility. Despite being defended, two by the watch committee lawyers, and one by subscription of local shopkeepers, all three were found guilty and sentenced to 4 months imprisonment. This is an instance that shows the twitch was likely carried as normal issue, and not a personal decision by an individual. The distinction was also brought between the twitch being 'a kind of handcuff' and not a set of handcuffs in their own right. 

On Thursday 1st November 1838, a John Sherrard was brought before the Thames Office, charged with several assaults on members of the public and falsely representing himself to be a police surveyor and Custom-House officer. He had falsely accused a number of people of crimes, dragged one towards the station having also impersonated himself to another officer for assistance. He had grossly abused his 'prisoner' and 'twitched' his hands harshly behind his back, causing great pain. His ruse was only discover by the inspector and sergeant at the police station house. He was found guilty at the court who fined him £5 and imprisoned for 2 months. 

On Saturday 3rd December 1842, at Exeter Guildhall, three men stood accused of assaulting and wounding Inspector Fulford, of the night watch, which led to him being confined in hospital. There had been a large disturbance and the Inspector had been assisted by a watchman called Damerel to try and take one suspect to the station house while more fighting was going on between other officers and suspects. Watchman Damerel had the prisoner secured with a twitch, but in the disturbance the prisoner called on others to help. They did by bringing a knife and the twitch was cut, allowing the detainee to escape. A group were later captured and tried at the court. The interest here is the twitch being cut, reference, clearly not handcuffs; it would be the leather section of the twitch itself. 

Similar to the above, the next reference is on Monday 7th September 1846 again at Exeter, a man was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and managed to cut the twitch on his wrist with a knife, allowing him to escape temporarily. This is another indication of a leather restraint. 

Exeter seems a popular location for the use of the twitch; On Thursday 18th November 1847, a Robert Sanders was at court for an assault on Police Inspector Ellicombe. Another officer had assisted in the arrest, and Sanders was secured, again with a twitch.

Shortly after the above, on Saturday night, 24th November, again at Exeter, Constable Guppy had arrested a violent prisoner using a twitch for a restraint. That device was either broken or cut, leading to his prisoner temporarily escaping. Eventually three men stood trial for the disturbance, which had commenced outside of the Jolly Sailor Inn. 

Again, at Exeter, on Sunday 6th February 1848 an intoxicated married couple had been violently resisting their arrest by a constable who had to be further assisted by a colleague. The news article stated that 'they were quickly got to cuffs, (i.e. to the twitch).'  

As policing began to change from the rural Parish Constable to a desire for a Professional police service, this sea-change caused great debate within local communities, with on the one hand a body of local businessmen and the magistrates largely in favour, but a population still resistant to the idea. The Carlisle Journal edition of 29th April 1850 carried a letter whereby an anonymous member of the public was critical of the officious  parish constable and did not want a new rural officer to replace them, fearing worse to come. Speaking of the parish constable, he wrote; '..... His perpetual talk of how many 'cases' he was going to have for the next sitting, never of the prevention of crime and its disturbance. He recovered the debts of his patrons by a most summary process, not of law, but according to, 'the good old rule, the simple plan,' - cut out a deal of his own work, - imposed and exacted fines, apprehended and liberated, according to his own sovereign will and pleasure and without the intervention of any magistrate, - made use of twitches and other strange instruments of torture, - rode a high-stepping horse, and dragged his captives strapped to his saddle-bow. ........' Clearly here the twitch was in constant use historically by those rural parish constables, certainly in the rural area of the northern city of Carlisle.

On Saturday 8th April 1854, a inebriated soldier was 'twitched' outside of Sunderland Theatre, in the North East. Clearly it can be seen that the twitch use is extensive across the country.

On Thursday 3rd September 1857, two constables arrested a sailor and a ship's butcher at Liverpool and both were before the court the next day. They had violently interfered in the arrest of others. A twitch was used and here, perhaps gives as good an explanation of it. When one of the officers was asked by the the lawyer

Q - "What is that? I have heard of twitches for a horses nose."

A - It is a leather thong, fastened through a piece of wood. It is more convenient than handcuffs."

Back in my local city of Carlisle, a major case of murder of a Water Watcher called Edward Atkinson, who was killed on 14th January 1862, took place in February. Three men stood trial for the murder, which occurred at Brocklewath, which is just east of the city, and on the River Eden. Atkinson was with a Water Bailiff, a labourer, and a Constable, when Atkinson and the bailiff went to arrest a man called Robinson who was poaching salmon. Atkinson told the bailiff to put a twitch on the offender. The bailiff showed the court the twitch, described by him as a looped piece of string, fastened to a stick, and he demonstrated its use to the court which was held in February. Whist the twitch was being applied the other two men came out of the nearby willows and beat both men senseless with sticks.   The three men were eventually found guilty of manslaughter after Atkinson had been knocked into the river during an attempt by all to free the man caught poaching; he was later found on the bank but dead. Clearly, the description of the twitch is much the same as other accounts and not any slang for handcuffs. 

July 1867 sees a return to Exeter Guildhall. Alongside Carlisle, these two areas seem to be the most popular users, or at least reporters, of the use of the twitch by police officers. Sergeants Fulford and Fouracres had gone to arrest a man on warrant, but Fouracres was knocked to the ground as he tried to apply a twitch.

On Monday 28th September 1868, at Dunfermline, John Galloway, a carter destroyed a twitch, by which he was secured by a constable who was escorting him to the lock-up. He was sentenced to sixty days imprisonment, or a fine of £3; he took the imprisonment.

On Thursday 30th September, an apprentice who had illegally left the service of a blacksmith of Combe Street, Nicholas, near Chard, was before the court and committed to 14 days hard labour. The next case was one where a Samuel Larcombe had interfered with the arrest of the apprentice, and was himself arrested and a twitch applied as a restraint. 

Since writing the article I was informed that references to similar articles were referred to as 'snitchers'. (Also see the 1879 and 1907 comments below). The Manchester Evening News edition of 30th July 1874 reports on a case of Glasgow Police 'Brutality'. It took 6 officers to take a soldier to the station, carrying him with the whole of his weight being on the 'snitchers'. When they all arrived at the station both hands of the prisoner were 'quite dead'. At court the Bailie merely admonished and discharged him. 

Another reference to similar devices that has come to light is 'nippers'. The person who informed me had seen a picture of a metal device that was a short chain, with a form of 'T' metal section at each end that would slip through the fingers of one hand; the other end could come back through the same fingers and lock into the others section, like a male and female interconnection. As in the case above of the use of 'snitchers', the use of nippers, just as any modern handcuff/wrist restraint could be used illegally to deliberately inflict pain on an arrested person. On Monday 16th November 1874, a constable Grassie, of Crook, County Durham, was before Bishop Aukland Police Court, and was sentenced to one month's imprisonment for placing two nippers on the wrists of a Henry Ross. He had apparently burst open his door when Ross was in bed, asked him for a light of his pipe, and then placed the nippers on, struck him with his baton, and dragged him to the police station! There is also a reference to 'handcuffs', so they are either a separate device, a slang reference to the cuffs themselves. When Ross appeared at the court as the complainant against Grassie, clearly the magistrates were disgusted with a police officer's treatment of a member of the public, and gave voice to that in open court. 

On Monday and Tuesday 30th and 31st July 1877, at Carlisle Town Hall, a case of perjury was heard against two defendants, namely Detective Joseph Norman and Constable Christopher Fortune. Near midnight on Saturday 23rd December 1876, a John Conkey had interfered in the arrest of a notorious criminal who was eventually sentenced. The twitch had been used on him in the course of his arrest. Conkey was charged on 29th December, found Guilty, served 3 months imprisonment, but on release began a legal action against Detective Norman, and also Pc Fortune who corroborated Norman's evidence. The case was eventually thrown out after two days evidence. This appears to be the last twitch reference for that city, the earliest of which had been 43 years earlier. (Constable Christopher Norman was involved in a nationally famous case in October 1885 following a 'burglary' at Netherby Hall by four men who were disturbed. Later that night, on the outskirts of Carlisle, three were seeen and shot Sergeant Roche in the arm, and Constable Johnson in the chest, both serious injuries, though did not prove fatal. Fortune later came across them on the rail system in Carlisle and was beaten within an inch of his life, later having to leave the city police due to his injuries. At Plumpton, between Carlisle and Penrith, they shot Constable Joseph Byrnes through the eye, and he died later that night. The three were caught, tried, and hung in the city by the hangman James Berry.)

The Glasgow Herald edition of 16th June 1879 reports on an inquest of a John Currie, who had been sentenced on 4th of the month for 7 days. He had died in the prison on 10th. A post mortem showed he died of the effects of 'intemperance', although his brother said that he had been 'ill-used' at the time of his arrest. The doctor had examined the body and found little marks of violence, but there were marks on his right wrist from the application of the 'snitchers' by the police officers.

On 25th February 1880, William Isaac was brought up on remand for assaulting Supt. Quick on 21st. He had struck him with a belt and his own father applied the twitch before the son was taken to the lock-up.

On Tuesday 13th July 1880, there is a case in the Hamilton Times, in Ontario, where a constable Spence was charged to a higher court for assaulting a member of the public by the use of a twitch as a restraint. The detained person's fingers were so discoloured that the public had remonstrated with the officer. The case shows the international use of such a device for restraint, most likely in the British Colonies. 

In October 1881 there was a case against a Perth City County Police officer Cruikshank. He had used a twitch on a mason called Robert Reid, of South Street, Perth. He had seen Reid, but was on the look-out for a notorious criminal called Kenneth Bethune and Reid unfortunately resembled Bethune. A twitch was placed on Reid by the officer. Despite Reid's protests he was taken to the station, where the Superintendent realised the mistake and set Reid free.

At a court case in May of 1890 Henry Govier was charged with wounding Sergeant Hall on 5th May, at the Albert Inn, Somerton, Somerset. Govier had been disorderly in the Inn but refused to vacate it and the police were called. He threatened to use a knife against the sergeant who restrained him with a twitch as Govier cut him across the hand. At court Govier claimed he was trying to cut the twitch. Eventually Govier was remanded for a higher court for trial.

This appears the last case I can come across, through certain search criteria, though there are probably later ones, although I believe they would filter out in the 1890's and the twitch as a method of restraint would be no longer used. For all that, I was never aware of the use of such a device, until I began that earlier research into Constable James Armstrong, who began my involvement with the Roll of Honour research. If this device was previously unknown as a common means of restraint, then it adds to policing history. If it was, well, it was interesting looking it up. I believe there will be other references but will now leave it to any local researchers/museums, to try and discover such for their own interests and local knowledge. I hope I have started a discussion and moved police history up a, 'notch of knowledge'.

*Update (1) Having researched the snitcher reference, as at the 1879 comment above, there is also a much later one for the 11th April Edition of The Bristol Times and Mirror, reporting on the Glasgow Chief Constable's report to The Police Commission of the city. Part of that report was his comment on arrests for drunkenness that occurred some distance from the station and a cab was sometimes employed. He had instructed his officers to humour the prisoner and went on to say, '.... Handcuffs were not carried, but what were called 'snitchers were available, but were very rarely used.' This puts the use of twitches/snitchers well into the start of the twentieth century, so not merely a Victorian implement. 

**Update (2) - Having posted this, an image was shown to me, of similar devices in the Lanarkshire Police Historical Society Collection. I have asked for and kindly been granted permission to display those images on the blog, to assist others to visualise these type of restraints. Please see below:

Twitches - reproduced with the kind permission of the 'Lanarkshire Police Historical Society Collection'. Not for copying to any other source. 

***Further update: I found this article on the internet: