Are we less well-informed than our 19th century counterparts?

Like Most journalists nowadays, I pride myself on being armed with the latest technology — mobile phones and laptops able to download facts and figures from the four corners of the world, or send information in an instant.

But when I delved through dusty old newspapers to research my book on Victorian criminals, I was surprised at how our professional predecessors were able to find out so much, so quickly.

Five years ago, I wrote a feature for Press Gazette revealing dozens of serious crimes, ranging from armed robberies, rapes and even fatal road accidents that had either not been released, or had been released days or even weeks later.

Recent examples have included an escaped prisoner being shot by police with a taser gun near a market place in Blyth on a Saturday morning. The story was not released to the media, although the Newcastle Evening Chronicle picked up on it three days later.

Recently, police were appealing for witnesses to a sex attack on an 11-year-old girl in the Metro Centre in Gateshead. That had happened a month and a half earlier.

Police nowadays are often terrified to give out details, in case they breach the Data Protection Act or the latest Home Office directive concerning "the fear of crime".

I've been a journalist for 21 years. As a trainee on the Sheffield Star, I worked alongside hacks who drank with coppers and had dozens of contacts on both sides of the law.

We had a city centre office and, first thing each morning, we would walk over to see the police, who would give us a print-out of every crime from the previous evening. Only particularly sensitive information — such as the victim's identity — would be blanked out.

My next job was that of crime reporter on the Sunderland Echo, where I worked throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Like many newspapers nowadays, the head office was out on an industrial estate, but it was still rare that a serious crime or incident from the previous night was not reported in that day's paper.

Nowadays, there are more and more examples of newspapers carrying stories about serious crimes that happened weeks, or even months ago.

Sadly, too many of us are content to sit in an office and call a robotic machine called a police "voicebank".

Once that has informed us that everything is quiet, we can be assured that all is well in the world.

Perhaps 19th century journalists were blessed by not having such technology.

Speedy reporting In 1888, the crimes of Jack the Ripper brought terror to the whole country. On the morning of Sunday 23 September, a young woman was found stabbed to death near a railway line in Gateshead. Her body was so badly mutilated that it immediately led to fears that the Ripper had ventured out of London.

By the Monday morning, the region's newspapers printed every gruesome detail. Three weeks later, on Monday 15 October, the Evening Chronicle even carried a story detailing how a Ripper suspect had sailed from the Tyne on the Saturday.

Another example appears in the Sunderland Echo in 1883 and involves a woman called Elizabeth Burton, who was found bludgeoned to death in a country lane.

The body was found at 9pm on Tuesday 8 May. On the Wednesday, the Echo had every last detail of her injuries and her clothing, as well as the fact that three large stones were found near the victim's head.

By the Thursday, the reporter had the fact that her husband had been arrested and that he was a laudanum addict who had wed his victim while still married to another woman.

The journalist also told how Burton had tried to hang himself in the police cell, but had been saved by another prisoner.

Obviously, our Victorian counterpart would not have worried about contempt of court and other laws that now limit what we can write. But the amount of information he was able to pick up — separate to what was given out in court — is still impressive.

But it wasn't just the major stories that 19th century journalists seemed to get really stuck into.

On 17 October 1898, the Chronicle carried an incredibly detailed story about a daring burglary at a jeweller's store in Newcastle.

The police told journalists that up to £1,500 worth of property had been stolen (the equivalent of £120,000 today). Nowadays, the best we can hope for are the words "a substantial sum". In fact, up here on Tyneside, we'd be lucky to be told about the burglary at all.

During my research, I was able to access a fascinating collection of police photographs from the 1890s.

Not only are the mugshots of incredibly high quality (ironically better than those taken by police today), but they also included the names, dates and offences of those arrested.

With the use of old newspapers, I was able to uncover a wicked world of married women forced to make money by prostitution, children sent out to steal by their parents and even paedophiles who preyed on young girls.

But, while combing through these tragic tales, there was one case that made me laugh.

William Pugh appeared before North Shields Magistrates in 1897. The court heard how the 14- year-old had a passion for pinching horses and carts and treating his friends to days out in the country.

I couldn't help looking at William's face and thinking: "Was this Britain's first joyrider?"

Magistrates told William he would receive "just" nine strokes of the birch.

And, while the subject of paedophiles receiving soft sentences may cause hysterical headlines today, the problem existed in Victorian times.

On 5 July 1893, James Basham appeared before North Shields Police Court, accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl called Margaret Russell (one noticeable aspect of Victorian court reporting was the cruel habit of naming sex assault victims, no matter how young).

Basham, who was 73, had been "harbouring" young girls in his shop for some time. He received a one-month prison sentence, with the chairman of the magistrates "advising him to have less to do with little girls in future".

Prostitution was another major problem. A report from 1883 revealed there were at least 100 brothels in Newcastle. One man walking from the central station to Grey's Monument at 11am was accosted by no fewer than 32 women of ill repute.

Binge drinking was also alive and kicking in Victorian times. On Saturday 23 August 1873, 500 holidaymakers were returning to Newcastle after a train trip to Edinburgh. The train stopped at Galashiels for 15 minutes for the engine to take on water.

The Journal told how: "As soon as the train drew up, the excursionists jumped out of the carriages and crowded the refreshment room, where only one young woman was in attendance.

"At first, what they took was paid for, but, shortly after, a general scramble took place and everything that could be readily lifted was carried off without acknowledgement, including teapots, bottles and glasses.

"The tap on the whisky barrel was turned on and each helped himself as opportunity offered. The whole party escaped with their booty and the train started before steps could be taken to arrest them."

More than 130 years later, here in the Northeast, we still have drunken mobs roaming the streets.

It's just a shame that we modern day journalists have lost our thirst for information.

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