What motivates someone to commit a crime? It is one of the key questions that criminologists ask themselves and its often quite a hard one to answer. Policemen, probation officers and social workers can all question a culprit and try to see what underlies their offending but even then the cause can be complex and hard to pinpoint exactly. So imagine how hard it is for historians of crime to understand the causal factors behind individual acts of criminality in the past. After all, we can hardly ask the perpetrators, can we?
I really want to know what brought Thomas Hughes to decide to steal from his employer, the Bank of England. Thomas was 35 years of age when he stole £65 from the bank. He had joined when he was just 17 and so he had worked for the ‘old lady of Threadneedle Street’ for 17 years.
Perhaps he was frustrated at a lack of opportunities. As a lowly clerk he may not have seen a career path opening up in front of him. Maybe he resented his better paid colleagues, or thought the bank’s systems so lax it would be easy to steal and get away with it? Or he might have reached a pinch point in his life – another child to feed, or a daughter’s marriage perhaps? We can’t rule out the possibility of course that he was a gambler or had otherwise run up debts he could no longer sustain.
Maybe Thomas had been stealing from the bank for years, embezzling small but ever increasing sums that led him to grow bolder and attempt to take the significant sum of £65 (or £4,000 in today’s money) all in one go?
This time he was caught and brought before the Lord Mayor at Mansion House Police court in early October 1875. The City’s chief magistrate committed him for trial at the Old Bailey and on 25 October he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in prison. It was the end of his career and quite possibly the end of gainful employment for some time. He would lost is good reputation along with his job and the means to support himself and his family (if he had one).
I would really like to know why he took that risk at all?
[from The Morning Post, Friday, October 08, 1875]