1917 court: man hired to protect store is caught stealing

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On Thursday at a sitting of the North Riding Police Court, before Mr F Baker, presiding, and Messrs AH Robinson, C Leadley, H Dennis, and Dr Candler Hope, Robert Henry Wilson, canteen attendant, 45, Scarborough, was charged with stealing goods valued at £1 6s, the property of the Navy and Army canteen Board, in the township of Seamer.

Mr Whitfield appeared for the defendant, who pleaded not guilty.

Inspector Boynton said prisoner assisted in a canteen tent during the day and it had been arranged for him to sleep there at night with a view to protecting the stores.

For a considerable period goods were missed and inquiries were made, as a result of which persons went to the canteen tent at night time and asked in disguised voices for certain goods, to be passed out. Practically everything asked for was received. The matter was put in the hands of the police, and when prisoner was cautioned and charged he admitted having given the things out, and said that he was afraid of the persons to whom they had been given, and whom he took to be soldiers. He was afraid they would do something at him as some of them had threatened to do. Evidence would show that soldier policemen were sleeping in the vicinity and assistance would have been forthcoming.

George Henry Sutor, canteen manager, said that a stocktaking, taken when prisoner had been employed there a fortnight, had shown that the canteen was slowly losing money.

Mr Whitfield objected, remarking that probably from 20 to 30 people were employed, any of whom might have been dishonest. It was an attempt to blacken his client’s character at the outset.

Witness continuing said, disguised as soldiers, Mr Frank Mann, inspector of canteens, and himself went to the outside of the canteen where Wilson was sleeping on the night of October 4th and asked for cigarettes. He gave them packets of Woodbines, Gold Flake cigarettes, matches, and six and a half bars of chocolates, and a pork pie. They then asked for a box of chocolates and he replied, “I can’t, they are marked.” Witness said, “Never mind you won’t miss one.” He then handed out a box valued at 12s. On the 5th they both went in civilian clothes at midnight, and Mr Mann asked for a box of Woodbines.

The clerk: How did you begin to ask?

Witness: In a stage whisper, “Bob. Bob, hello! Anything doing?” - “I am in bed” - and then started a conversation: “Give us some fags, give us chocolates.”

Proceeding, he said they then asked for another, and prisoner asked, “Are you satisfied?” and Mann replied, “We shall have to be.” He then said: “Come again tomorrow night.” On the previous visit (October 4th) By Mr Whitfield: Witness denied that any threat was used. The only motive he could suggest was that he thought defendant was afraid of the soldiers. It was fear all along. Witness denied that they had threatened to “do in” prisoner and that he had said he could not give them anything.

Corroborative evidence was given by Frank Mann.

Sergeant Daykin spoke as to apprehending prisoner, when he said: “I was afraid if I did not pass them what they asked for they would do as they said and soon be in and do it on me.” I have been a fool. I ought to have reported it to the boss and left the job when I got nervous.”

By Mr Whitfield: There was no promise of money or anything else whatever, nor was it a case of handling stuff to friends of his. He had got very nervous.

Evidence as to prisoner’s excellent character was given by Mr JD Hunter, builder who said if ever he required a bondsman he would stand for him.

No doubt prisoner stole the goods, but taking many things, including his good character, into consideration, the bench would deal leniently with him. A fine of £4 would be imposed.