William Hurley admitted to being a thief. However, on this occasion, as he stood in the Bow Street dock on 21 November 1898 he strongly denied he had committed the crime for which he’d been charged. He brought in a lawyer to represent him but in the course of his examination he dismissed him and took over his own defense.
His accuser was a Miss Alice Bull who gave her address as Haverstock Hill in northwest London. She had traveled into central London on the train, stopping at Charing Cross where she deposited a black box at the cloakroom. As she was leaving the office a man came running up to her and said:
‘Excuse me; you have just left a black box in the cloak-room, and I have left a Gladstone bag. Unfortunately, you have taken my ticket, and I have got yours’.
He showed her his ticket and suggested they swap. Alice was wary:
‘How am I to know that your story is correct’, she asked.
‘’It’s all correct’, he assured her. ‘If you have any doubt about it, come back to the cloak-room with me’.
Reassured, Alice handed over the ticket and went off to spend the day in the capital. However, when she returned to the station in the evening and produced what she thought was her ticket she was given a brown paper parcel, which contained nothing other than a daily newspaper. Her box, and the watch and chain, three gold brooches, and clothing – valued at around £30 – was nowhere to be seen.
She reported the theft and the police investigated. The box turned up in a railway carriage at Action, lodged under a seat and devoid of its contents. The police did track down and arrest a suspect – William Hurley (23) and Alice picked him out in an identity parade at Old Kent Road police station.
Thomas Jones, the porter at the Charing Cross cloak room having at first failed to identify Hurley was more sure it was him when he saw him at Bow Street Police court. However, since he admitted that since 12,000 parcels were deposited each day at the station (a staggering amount when one thinks about it) there must have been some degree of doubt in his mind.
Alice went on the offensive in court, clearly annoyed that she had been robbed in this way. The only thing that had been found in her box was a ball of string.
‘Is that yours?’ she asked the man in the dock.
The magistrate (Mr Sydney) reminded her that she was not allowed to cross-examine the defendant, but she was not to be put off. When Hurley claimed it was a case of mistaken identity and that he knew who had stolen her property, and it wasn’t him, she said:
‘Why don’t you bring him here so that I might compare you? The more I look at you the more convinced I am that you are the man’.
Hurley, having dismissed his lawyer, again denied the charge, told the court he was a tailor and said he ‘had ten or eleven witnesses that he was at Gatwick Races on the day of the this occurrence, and did not return to London until 10 o’clock that night’.
The justice committed him to take his trial.
[from The Standard, Tuesday, November 22, 1898]