1916 court: Policeman’s bicycle ‘missing’ a red rear light

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A case of unusual interest came before the Mayor (Mr CC Graham), and Aldermen V Fowler, Ascough and JW Rowntree, at the Borough Police Court.

It was that in which Robin Shepherd, a police constable in the Scarborough Police Force, and who resides at the Lodge, Westbourne Road, was summoned for riding a bicycle without a red rear light on August 11th. The information in the case was laid by Police Inspector Thompson of the Borough Force.

Shepherd, who pleaded not guilty, was presented by Mr J Whitfield, solicitor.

Inspector Thompson said at 10.35pm he was on duty at the top of Holbeck Hill, just above Holbeck Road. Witness saw the defendant riding a cycle down the right-hand side of Holbeck Road, there being no rear light attached. Witness did not see defendant and not a rear light until he passed him, and he (witness) shouted after him, “Where’s your light?”.

There was no reply. The defendant rode on without taking any notice. Witness followed him, but he lost sight of him owing to the darkness. Witness next saw Shepherd at 6pm on August 13th. He then admitted it was he who was riding a bicycle down Holbeck Hill, but he said he had a rear light, adding, “I got off in Belvedere Road to look.” He heard someone shouting at him at Holbeck Hill, but he did not know it was him (Inspector Thompson).

Mr Whitfield: You did not make any effort to see Shepherd after the night of the August 11th until the Sunday at six o’clock at night? - No.

Did you use these words to Shepherd in the corridor at the police station when nobody else was there: “There was a tall man with a straw hat riding a bicycle on Holbeck Hill on Saturday night. He had no rear light?” - Inspector Thompson: No, I said a tall policeman.

Did Shepherd immediately say he had a rear light? The reply was in the affirmative.

Mr Whitfield, cross-examined the witness further asking Shepherd on that particular night he was on police duty or private business.

Inspector Thompson said he simply asked Shepherd the question to know whether he was on police duty or private business. Shepherd’s reply was that he was off duty and that he was on private business.

Mr Whitfield: He protested against you being officious and wanting to know what his private business was? - I didn’t ask him what his private business was.

Were you vexed? - No. You had no reason to be vexed? - No.

It was just a police interview? - So far as I was concerned, yes.

And so far as he was concerned? - No, he was excited. He said: “If you want to know my business go and find out. I will neither tell you nor the Chief Constable. Mr Whitfield: Yes, he was protecting against your referring to his private affairs. Had you a right to ask him his private business? - No: I didn’t ask him.

Inspector Thompson said it was a matter of discipline.

Mr Whitfield: I can put the matter in a nutshell.

You were not sure it was Shepherd, you were not sure he had a rear light, and you only decided to report him when you had this difference, brought on by your own officious questions.

Inspector Thompson: No, I was not officious.

Cyril Ansell said he saw PC Shepherd riding his bicycle in Holbeck Hill. He did not see a red rear light. Mr Whitfield, for the defence, described the case as extraordinary inasmuch as it was brought by one police officer against another who had been in the force with him for some 15 or 16 years. He (Mr Whitfield) quite understood that a police officer who made such a report as this might pride himself, saying, “I act without fear or favour. This man is a man well-known to me, but I will do my duty and make a report against him.” That was quite right so far, and that was a high standard to take. There were, however, other points of view which he suggested a reasonable and upright officer would take. Thompson must have known Shepherd’s word was to be believed and have graciously said he had made a mistake.

He did not suggest Thompson came there to say there was no rear light when there was, but what he suggested was that Thompson had a serious doubt or he would have dealt more promptly in the matter.

Yet all this stink had been caused in the Police Force for a thing of this kind. He (Mr Whitfield) contended that Thompson had acted in an indiscreet manner in thinking that, as Shepherd’s superior officer, he had a right to pry and poke into his affairs.

The magistrates retired, and on returning into court after a very brief absence, the Mayor announced the case would be dismissed. They were, he added, of opinion the evidence showed there was a light, it may have been a very dim one, on the police constable’s rear lamp. They also thought that at the time Shepherd passed Inspector Thompson and the direction in which he was riding it would have been difficult for the inspector to see the lamp, and consequently he might have been mistaken as to whether there was or was not a light. They, however, considered Inspector Thompson was perfectly within his rights in calling attention to the fact.

On the application of Mr Whitfield the magistrates agreed to costs, amounting to £2 5s.