1916 court: Man steals tonic water not whisky from pub

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At the Borough Police Court before Mr J Sinfield and Alderman Rowntree, Owen Smith, labourer, 51, William Street, was charged with stealing four bottles of tonic water from the Durham Hotel, value 1s, on the 29th November.

The chief constable said about 2.30pm the previous day prisoner went to the bar of the Durham Hotel and ordered a glass of beer. The landlord served and then left him in the bar by himself.

After a few minutes the landlord heard a noise as of feet knocking against the counter. On going back he saw the prisoner off again. The landlord asked him what he was doing and he said “I was not on the counter,” and he immediately left the bar.

When he had gone the landlord looked at the fittings at the back of the bar but noticed nothing gone. The prisoner, continued the chief, was staying at the lodging house at William Street, and at 12 noon - some considerable time before the incident in the bar - the prisoner went into the kitchen of the lodging house and saw James Gilbert Ferguson, the kitchen man, and said: “Will you have a drink,” and showed him four bottles of tonic water (produced). Ferguson replied, “No, I don’t like that stuff.” The prisoner said they were bottles of bass, and said he got them from the Durham and “would he (Ferguson) put them away for him.” Ferguson did so.

The prisoner left the house and some time later he returned again and said: “I have been to the Durham again for a bottle of whisky, but the landlord caught me coming off the counter.”

The chief said prisoner evidently found out his mistake with regard to the nature of the drink, and went back to the hotel again to get something better, which he was not successful in doing. The landlord was subsequently seen and he again examined his shelves at the back of the counter and saw from the places where the bottles were standing three marks or circular rings showing that three bottles had been removed. Prisoner was arrested on the charge by Detective Nawton, and he made no reply to the charge.

Asked if he had anything to say, prisoner said: “No sir, it is all right, I was in drink at the time, else it wouldn’t have happened. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

The chief said there were 55 previous convictions against the prisoner, a very great majority of which were for drunkenness and two or three for larceny. There was no doubt, the chief added, that he was drunk the previous day.

Prisoner was committed to gaol for 21 days with hard labour.