The Cato Street Conspiracy
NOT EVEN THE HORROR excited by the Ratcliffe Highway murders in 1812 could move the government to adopt a measure recommended alike by the Fieldings, by Colquhoun, the founder of the Thames River Police in 1798, and by the parliamentary committee which sat from 1816 to 1818. Samuel Romilly scarcely overstated the case when he said that the criminal law in England was written in blood. In 1810, Romilly, in advocating a reduction in the number of capital punishments, said:
If it were possible that punishment as a consequence of guilt, could be reduced to an absolute certainty, a very slight penalty would be sufficient to prevent every species of crime except those which arise from sudden gusts of ungovernable passion. If the restoration of the property stolen and only a few weeks' or even but a few days' imprisonment were the unavoidable consequence of theft, no theft would ever be committed. No man would steal what he was sure he could not keep.
Thefts of property worth more than one shilling could be punished, like murder, with death, and the saying that one might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb must have been on the lips of the young criminals reared in the stews of London where all the inhabitants were criminals. But at a moment when the statistics of crime had increased by 36 per cent, and the Solicitor-General had declared in the House of Commons that "no man could promise himself