The Argus at KellyGang 30/12/1878

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Without doubt, we presume, recent events will in due course lead to an inquiry into the organisation of the police force of Victoria, with a view to an improvement in its arrangements and a change in its duties. Everybody must recognise that it is both a disgrace and a danger that the Mansfield murderers should be at large. The escape of the man WIEBERG because the detectives' revolvers would not go off is another reflection upon the force, and assists to give strength to the feeling that there must be a change. We have mentioned the source of the evil before, namely, the general yielding to the tendency which always exists to employ the police for other than police purposes. They have been called upon to inspect nuisances, to collect statistics, and to see that children attend school, whereas their proper task, and one which demands all their energy and attention, is to protect life and property and to repress crime. The policeman of late years, it would seem, has developed more and more into a civic officer. If stationed in the country, he is a townsman still. For work among the fastnesses which have become the haunt of murderers and marauders we have evidently no adequate provision.

An inquiry would be impossible just now, when there is work for every officer in the field, but still Ministers and the police authorities are called upon to consider whether the ordinary official routine should not be departed from in the further pursuit of the Mansfield outlaws. Two suggestions have been made which commend themselves to the common sense of most men. One is the apprehension of the men and women who are suspected of giving aid to the criminals. The police must have spent their time badly if they have not a shrewd idea of where the food and information the outlaws receive come from, and a series of judicious arrests would be one means of breaking up the confederacy. The Greta district might be rendered untenable, and if the gang could once be dislodged from that neighbourhood, it is incredible to suppose that they could find a population to screen or countenance them elsewhere. Driven from their stronghold they must, as we should apprehend, soon be run to earth.

The Outlawry Act was passed with the express purpose of giving the police power to act in this way, for it was recognised at once that the most important step to be taken was to cut off the murderers from their supplies. But if this act cannot be worked, and if there is a difficulty in the way of suspending habeas corpus, other machinery exists. Under the Criminal Law and Practice Act, sec. 276, accessories after the fact to murder are punishable by imprisonment for any term not exceeding 15 years. The Kelly gang have been proclaimed as murderers, and whoever succours them becomes an accessory to their crime. Arrests could be made under this section, and remands could be obtained from time to time on the grounds that the principals were still at large, and that until their arrest the police were not prepared to go into evidence. Not only would there be a chance of rendering the district untenable if this course were adopted, but as nearly all criminals are cowards at heart, there would be a fair prospect of some of the confederates, when they found themselves in gaol, consenting to point out the KELLYS' haunts in order to save themselves.


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