‘Am I not entitled to be believed as well as he?’ An ingenious defence from the dock

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Peter Chambers was determined to prove his innocence although his method suggested that perhaps he did ‘protest too much’. He’d been arrested on a charge of picking pockets at the Albert Hall at the end of November 1889.

In court at Westminster he described himself as an artificial florist and vehemently denied the charge. The police constable that arrested him said that several ladies had complained him that their purses had been stolen and he saw Chambers ducking under a horse and cart to escape the throng of lady choristers that surrounded the entrance to the convert hall.

Chambers took the stand in his only defense and, with a flourish, produced a piece of paper and called the constable to come and examine it.

‘Now, constable, I wish to introduce to your notice a little sketch or plan which I have prepared, because if you could see me from where you stood you must have had one of those double magnifying glasses we read about’.

As the laughter in court subsided the officer peered at the sketch but made little of it.

‘You will observe the dotted line on the plan?’ Chambers continued, but the policeman declared he didn’t quite follow his line of argument.

‘I am not surprised at you making nothing of it’, the defendant huffed. ‘Does you Worship see the dotted line?’ he asked Mr D’Eyncourt. ‘The cross’, he said pointing it out, ‘ is where the constable stood, and how could he see me – unless he can see round a corner!’

‘but what is your defence’, the magistrate asked him.

‘I am innocent’, Chambers intoned, melodramatically. ‘Am I not entitled to be believed as well as he?’ he demanded, pointing at the policeman. ‘It is blasting my reputation to be here on such a charge’.

There were doubts as to the evidence or at least the lack of it presented by the police but they asked for a remand and Mr D’Eyncourt granted it.

After all Chambers asserted that he could bring his brother in to testify that he was at the Hall on legitimate purposes, to assist him in his role as a linkman (showing people to their carriages).  The magistrate doubted this would prove anything, one way or the other, and the gaoler took him away.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, December 03, 1889]

A sharp eyed passer-by foils a burglary

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Mrs Isabel James was on her way home wither husband one Sunday night in November 1886. It was late, around midnight, and she was passing a warehouse on Bethnal Green Road when she noticed something that didn’t seem right.

A pony and cart was parked outside the warehouse, partly obscuring the door to the premises. As she looked she saw a man standing between the cart and the door and another, stopped over, who seemed to be fiddling with the lock. The standing man started straight at her, so she got a good look at him. He looked like he was trying to hide ‘as much as possible the movements of his companion’ so she told her husband that they should report it to the police.

As soon as they found a constable they explained what they’d seen and he, with another officer, went off to investigate. On reaching the warehouse they saw a man in the cart, who, seeing two policemen arriving raised the alarm and the pair of would-be burglars raced off as fast as the pony and cart could carry them, with the policemen in hot pursuit.

The chase continued through several back streets but by the time the officers caught up with the vehicle the men had escaped. However, Mrs James was able to give such a clear description of the man she’d eyeballed that it led to the arrest and charging of John Bloxham on suspicion.

His name had come up when the owner of the cart had come to claim it from the police. He explained he lent it to Bloxham (although he had no idea he was going to use it was such a nefarious purpose) and the police had their lead. They arranged an identity parade and Mrs James picked Bloxham out.

At the Worship Police court Bloxham, a 32 year old general dealer from Shoreditch, denied the crime. Mr Bushby was told that when the police investigated the warehouse (which was owned by a boot and shore manufacturer named Samuel Lyon) they had discovered that a ‘very determined effort had been made to force the door with a jemmy’. The lock had been broken although it wasn’t clear if the thieves had gained access of taken anything. At this stage Mr Bushby simply agreed to the police’s request to remand Bloxham while further enquiries were made.

The enquiries were made and Bloxham was formally charged with housebreaking and tried at the Middlesex quarter sessions on 6 December. There was insufficient evidence however, and he was cleared of the crime.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, November 17, 1886]

A drunken musician suffers has an embarrassing day in court

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It was probably quite an embarrassing appearance in court for Mr Chamberlain. On Saturday, November 13 1858 he was out late in Bridgewater Gardens  in the City, and on his way home. He’d had a lot to drink but thought he was in control of himself (don’t we all!)

Two women approached him on the street and asked him if they’d like to ‘treat them to some gin’.  This was a common enough solicitation by prostitutes and there is little doubt that Chamberlain, a musician by trade, understood this.  He took them up on the offer and the trio headed for Spurgeon’s public house where they drank together.

Some time afterwards they all left the pub and the women (he says) dragged him reluctantly across the square. Having got him into a dark corner of the gardens two men rushed up and robbed him while the women held him and unbuttoned his clothes. He tried to resist but one of the women hit him in the face and knocked him down. He lost a fob watch in the process.

At least this is the story he told the Guildhall Police court magistrate Alderman Lawrence. Only one defendant was in court to hear the charge. Mary Blake had been picked up by police at a pub in Goswell Street the following day, but denied any knowledge of the crime. She had been in Bridgewater Gardens that evening but hadn’t met with the prosecutor.

Her lawyer said it was a case of mistaken identity and Chamberlain, who was by his admission drunk at the time, was an unreliable witness. The alderman was inclined to agree but Blake was a ‘bad character’ and reportedly ran a brothel so he decided to remand her in custody to see him more evidence could be found in the meantime.

It doesn’t look like any more evidence was forthcoming because there’s no record of a trial or prosecution for Mary. This is hardly surprising; this sort of encounter was common and very hard to prosecute successfully. Without the watch being found on Mary, with the victim effectively admitting he’d chosen to go for a drink with known prostitutes,  and his drunken state (which impaired both his judgment and his ability to make a clear identification of the culprits), no jury would have convicted her.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, November 16, 1858]

A paedophile walks free, despite the evidence against him

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On 27 October 1863 a ‘well-dressed’ man, who gave his name as Thomas Martin, appeared in the dock at Southwark Police court accused of molesting a child. Well that is how I think we would see the case today but in 1863 the law was a little different.

For a start the age of consent was 13. It was not raised to 16 until 1885 following a long campaign and a sensational intervention by the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, William Stead. Stead had run a weeklong exposé of the trafficking of underage girls for prostitution under the headline ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’. While Stead ended up going to prison for his part in the ‘kidnapping’ of Eliza Armstrong the scandal of the case helped force Parliament to pass legislation which has existed to this day.

The complaint against Thomas Martin was brought by a spirited young girl called Martha Wells. Martha was aged between 12 and 13 and described by the newspaper writer as ‘rather precocious looking’. This was probably an attempt to undermine her testimony; the hack was perhaps suggesting that she was bringing a spurious complaint against a social superior. The girl could certainly expect to be closely examined by the magistrate, Mr Combe, no concessions being made to her age or her gender.

Martha said that she had left her father’s house in Southwark to visit her uncle in Greenwich. A man had ‘annoyed’ her on the train to Greenwich but she did her best to ignore him. In court she wasn’t sure that it was Martin but he looked familiar.

After she arrived at her uncle’s shop (he was a fruiterer) she noticed a man outside peering in through the window. He was looking directly at her and indicted she should come out to talk to him. That man was Martin and she ignored his request.

At eight in the evening she left her uncle’s and made her way back to the station for the train home. As she walked Martin accosted her. She told him to go away but he followed her. She boarded the train and he entered the same carriage and sat next to her. Martha again tried ignoring him and steadfastly looked out of the window as the train made its way to London.

Now Martin had her close to him he made his assault. He put his hand on her leg and then slipped it up her skirts. The magistrate wanted to know if anyone else was in the carriage who might be able to confirm this.

‘Yes, sir’, Martha told him. ‘I think a lady and a gentleman. I was, however, ashamed to speak to them’.

She had at least one ally in court who was able to testify to Martin’s behavior. PC Alfred White (427P) was on duty on Southwark High Street that evening. When Martha left the train Martin again pursued her and the policeman saw him tap the girl on the back and then lift her skirts.

That was enough evidence for Mr Combe. He committed Martin for trial but agreed to bail, taking two sureties of £100 and one from Martin (for £200). The battle would now be to actually bring the man before a jury when the girl’s father might have preferred to take a cash settlement and avoid his daughter’s reputation being dragged through the courts.

Martin was brought to the Surrey sessions of the peace in mid November, surrendering to his bail. The case against him was outlined and his brief did his best to undermine Martha and the policeman’s evidence. The jury was told that Martin could not have been the man that hassled and insulted Martha on the train to Greenwich or outside her uncle’s shop as he was at work in the City until 5 o’clock. Moreover if he had assaulted her on the rain as she’d suggested why hadn’t she alerted the other passengers or the guard?

PC White reiterated the evidence he’d given at the Police Court hearing adding that when he had arrested Martin the man had attempted to bribe him. ‘For God’s sake let us compromise this affair’, he said; ‘if £50 will do it?’. The officer had been in plain clothes having been on duty at the Crystal palace during the day. Whether this hurt his credibility or not is unclear but the jury close not to believe him.

In the end the jurors acquitted Thomas Martin of the charge of indecent assault and he walked free from court with the applause of his friends being hurriedly suppressed by the court’s officers. It was a victory for middle-class respectability over a ‘precocious’ working-class girl who travelled third class on the railway. The jurors saw themselves in Martin’s situation rather than seeing their daughter in Martha’s.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, October 28, 1863; The Standard, Tuesday, November 17, 1863]

An old hand plays to the gallery

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Samuel Owen was (like Norman Stanley Fletcher) an ‘old hand’ in terms of the law. The 56 year-old Owen had a string of convictions reaching back to his first in 1863 (when he must have been 24 or younger), its quite likely he had brushes with the police before then as well. Owen had served ‘a total of 26 years imprisonment’; almost half his life had therefore been spent ‘inside’.

It doesn’t seem to have have taught him anything much and certainly didn’t deter him from further offending.

In October 18995 he was up before the magistrate at Marylebone charged with stealing a pair of trousers and trying to pawn them back at the very shop he stole them from. His victim, John Davis, kept a pawnbrokers’ shop on Hampstead Road and he brought the prosecution against Owen for goods valued at 4s and 6d.

It was an ordinary case but Owen decided to make it newsworthy but behaving ‘in an outrageous manner’ in court. The Standard’s court reporter wrote that he ‘flung his arms about in the air and shouted ‘at the top of his voice’. He demanded the gaoler bring him his glasses: “I want my glasses.. and I won’t be quite till I have them”, he exclaimed. “How can I see the prosecutor, or how can I read my Bible or Prayer-Book” (this provoked much laughter in the public court).

The gaoler stepped forward to restrain him but Owen shrugged him off declaring: “Don’t touch me, don’t touch me. I’m a crack-pot and won’t stand being played with!”

Eventually Owen was reunited with his spectacles and he turned to survey the court. Identifying the pawnbroker in the witness stand Owen said:

” Ah yes, he’s the bloke. Now I am ready, come on!”

The case against him now preceded and the evidence, such as it was, was read. Owen had been suspected and was followed by a police constable who arrested him. The copper was crossed examined (with Owen adding:

“Ain’t he innocent? I told him I got the trousers from the New Cut and he said ‘Do you mean the canal?’ (laughter) He don’t know the New Cut…is he from the country? It makes me roar” (more laughter).

Owen was alluding to the reality that many of the Met’s finest hailed from outside the capital; former agricultural labourers who had swapped the fields for the streets and a uniform. They were not often credited with great intelligence but were good at following orders; a rather unfair stereotyping it has to be said.

Finally the prisoner added that he had actually been ‘caught’ by a little girl (who had presumably seen what he had done) who he described as a ‘mite of a girl, alleluiah, alleluiah!’

Owen had little to say in his defence and pleaded guilty but at the same time demanded a jury trial, and the magistrate duly obliged him.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, October 02, 1895]

‘A most mischievous piece of fun’: a lawyer gets his comeuppence.

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Richard Thursgill and his family were awakened by someone ringing violently on their doorbell.  It was about a quarter past one in then morning of the 18 September 1878 and, in that respectable part of Ludgate Hill alarms like this usually meant one thing: fire! Despite being ill the whole family rose from their beds and rushed downstairs.

There was no fire however, and no one to be seen in the street outside either. Then, around five minutes later PC Martin of the City force appeared at the door with a young man. He’d caught him hiding near by after watching him ringing on the bell pull. The pull itself was almost wrenched clean off, so violent had the man’s actions been. The PC wanted to see if Mr Thursgill wanted to press charges.

He did and so the case ended up before Sir Andrew Lusk at the Guildhall Police court. There the young man gave his name as Arthur Stapleton, a solicitor of 62 Bishopsgate Street-without. He denied the charge and his lawyer assured the magistrate that his client was a respectable young law graduate and not the sort of person to do such a thing.

Really, the magistrate asked? In his experience this sort of ‘abominable’ behavior – ringing people’s doorbells and worrying them into thinking a fire had broken out – was exactlythe sort of thing ‘young solicitors and students did for a “lark”.

He had no doubt Stapleton was ‘respectable’ (and did not need him to produce the character witnesses he promised to prove it), but the only question he was concerned with was identification. Could PC Martin be sure that it was this person that had caused the annoyance?

Quite sure the policeman replied, there was no one else in the vicinity at that time and he’d seen him do it. In that case Sir Andrew said, he had no choice. For his ‘most mischievous piece of fun’ young Stapleton would have to pay the princely sum of 20s. He would have charged him less had been less ‘respectable’, merely 10s, but under the circumstances he could well afford 20s.

Let’s pause for a moment to share our collective sorrow for a solicitor being overcharged…

[from The Standard, Wednesday, September 18, 1878]

All’s well that ends well?: love and abduction in 1850s London

 

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Mr Pass, like many fathers, wanted the best for his daughter. He was part of the large immigrant population of London, a boot maker by trade, he lived in Hoxton, East London. His sister had married and was living in Regent’s Park, well away from some of the bad influences Pass feared his daughter might be exposed to. So at an early age he opted to send her to live there.

It must have been a wrench but then again, with his wife dead Pass was hardly in a position to bring up his child and educate her to be the respectable Jewish woman he hoped she would become. Moreover, his sister, Louisa Salomens, was a ‘lady of property’, who had a house in Northumberland Terrace, and young Rebecca Pass would do well there.

So off she was sent as an infant to live and learn from her aunt. All was going well until one day in early July 1857 when Rebecca, accompanied by a servant bearing a note, turned up at Pass’ home in Hoxton. The message was worrying: according to Mrs Salomens Rebecca had ‘formed some improper connection’ with an unsuitable young man and Louisa felt it best that her brother now take ‘exclusive control’ of his daughter.

Pass must have been shocked and then angry but of course he took Rebecca in and made her as comfortable as possible. She lived there under strict supervision (probably never being allowed out, unless it was with her father) until the last week or so of the month when the Pass household had another unexpected visitor at their home in Pitfield Street, Hoxton.

This time it was a young man named John Aarons, a ‘swarthy, sun burnt’ fellow who gave his address as the Continental Hotel in Leadenhall Street. Aarons explained that there had been a terrible misunderstanding ‘arising from a trifling misconception’, and there really was no ‘unsuitable connection’ at all, Louisa had got it all wrong. He had come to accompany Rebecca back to Northumberland Terrace where her uncle was waiting to take a trip to the country. He was very keen to see Rebecca before he went.

Perhaps experiencing a mix of emotions the boot maker agreed to let Aarons take her away, but insisted he had her back by six that evening. With that his daughter walked off with the young man, supposedly on her way back to Regent’s Park, albeit temporarily.

Of course, she never arrived. Pass travelled to his sister’s when she failed to appear and the police were immediately informed. A description of Aarons was circulated and he was soon picked up by a City of London constable in Houndsditch. On Monday morning (27 July) Aarions was brought before Mr Hammill at Worship Street, charged with abduction.

Both Pass and his sister were in court to set the scene. Louisa Salomens (a ‘very lady-like person’), explained that her niece had become involved with a ‘man of loose morals and inferior station’ (I’m not sure which was worse really). In this she had been aided and abetted by one of  Mrs Salomens servants, who had since been dismissed. Aarons had then turned up at her door and said he represented the young man that Rebecca had fallen for. He pleased for his friend and for Mrs Salomens to allow him to see Rebecca. The couple were in love he insisted, and it would ‘be a shame’ to part them.

Clearly Louisa wanted nothing to do with him and sent him away with a flea in his ear. So she was shocked to discover that he ‘had beguiled the girl from her father’s protection’ claiming he’d been sent by her. She’d sent no such message at all.

Aarons, demonstrating ‘an air of confident bravado’,  tried gamely to cross-examine Mrs Salomens and her brother to undermine her testimony but both were steadfast and he failed.  Mr Hammill said the charge of abduction had been clearly established and he would remand him in custody for a week while he decided what to do with him.

‘You don’t mean that!’ cried the prisoner from the dock. ‘Why I have paid my passage-money for America, and the ship sails tomorrow. But you’ll take bail, of course’.

No, Mr Hammill told him, he would not. Not at present, at least. This blow landed on Aarons but he soon recovered his ‘audacious demeanor’, and ‘swaggered out with the gaoler’.

Unusually for these little vignettes from the Police Courts this story has a happy ending.

Three days later a representative from a firm of London solicitors, Solomens, appeared in court to make a statement to Mr Hammill. They came to say that the young man who was at the heart of this love triangle had been found. He was not at all unsuitable or a person of ‘loose morals’ but instead was ‘respectably connected, and altogether unexceptionable in his character and circumstances’. Moreover, he had pledged to marry Rebecca immediately and thus, her ‘fair name remains unsullied’. As the family socilitor he was asking the court to discharge John Aarons forthwith.

The defendant was then brought over from the house of correction and the happy news was relayed to him. He was then released and Mr Hammill commented that he was delighted that all had ended as well as it had. Aarons had presumably still missed his boat though, but perhaps a grateful family might now be prepared to fund a ticket for a later one.

So, what do we think really happened here?  Had Rebecca and her unnamed admirer become lovers? Was that why the aunt had become so concerned? Or had they simply been discovered together (in her room perhaps) without a chaperone? Who knows, at least all’s well that ends well as the bard would say.

[from The Standard, Monday, July 27, 1857; The Standard, Thursday, July 31, 1857]