A Nation Gripped

The senseless savagery of the beating; the lack of intervention by the onlookers; the innocence and respectability of the victim; and the fact that his criminal killers seemed to be part of a new type of gang, ‘The Cornermen’, all combined to keep the nation gripped to the proceedings.
There were three suspects in the dock, McCrave, Mullen and Campbell. At the trial, it was suggested that it was Campbell’s sister who had encouraged the beating by shouting “Give him it! Give him it!”
The men stood emotionless in the dock. Some have suggested they didn’t want to show weakness and undermine their reputations. If that was so, it was a suicidal strategy.
All three were convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged. The jury recommended mercy for Campbell. He came from a respectable family and they petitioned the Home Secretary to take account of his previous good behaviour. They also organised a petition asking for him to escape the death penalty. Campbell escaped the hangman. Instead, he was sentenced to 20 years jail.
There were petitions for McGrave and Mullen to also be reprieved. But at the same time there was a petition for them to be flogged to death.
In January 1875, McGrave and Mullen climbed the scaffolding at Kirkdale prison. McGrave, the alleged ringleader, is reported to have been reduced to a babbling wreck by the sight of the hangman’s noose. Mullen remained calm and indifferent.
For both men, there was no last minute reprieve. On a cold winter’s morning, the lives of a teenager and a young man ended at the end of a rope. In the same jail, Campbell continued his 20 years sentence.

The Tithebarn Outrage sparked a public debate about gangs and street violence that pinpointed unemployment, housing conditions, punishment, police inefficiency and lack of political will as possible causes. Newspapers stoked the fury, realising that crime sold more copies. And even the cheap magazines, ‘the penny dreadfuls’ that specialised in salacious stories were blamed for declining standards.
Concern extended to prostitutes and then to children playing in the street. Confectionary, and in particular lollipops were suggested as causes for moral decline. The police responded by arresting loiterers and people obstructing footpaths. So overzealous did the police become that as Dr Michael Macilwee notes, in one case, a judge had to tell police to calm down after they arrested four men waiting outside a church for their Bible class.