Boy in Blue
- a new novel by Steph Henley
Boy in Blue is a fictional account of true events leading up to an 1897 West Riding Assizes trial of twelve ordinary men for indecency at a private party. The case hinged on the evidence of Police Constable John Higgins who was reported as having gained their trust and obtained an invite to the party.
These men didn’t entertain London society like Wilde, they didn’t crack codes to win the war like Turing—they were amongst the 49,000 ordinary men who counted for nothing. At their first hearing in Dewsbury, an angry mob of several thousands gathered and had to be held back by the police such was the public anger and disgust at the offences. Their punishment was heavy. The outcome was never in doubt. Even one of the defence lawyers, when appealing to the jury to view the case dispassionately acknowledged: “that in cases of a horrible nature such as this, it is almost impossible for any human being to escape having a strong feeling of repulsion and disgust towards anyone so charged.” The prisoners, undefended or badly defended, received sentences of up to six years penal servitude (Oscar Wilde had just finished a 2 year sentence, in a much less harsh regime). The judge praised the actions of PC Higgins and hoped to bring his conduct to the notice of his superiors. (He was promoted to sergeant soon after.)
But was Higgins was really a Victorian “pretty policeman” at all, or did he attend in a personal capacity? Did the police cover up what would have been a monumental scandal?