1917 court: Snookered - soldier pockets billiard balls

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Harold Smith, a soldier, was at the Scarborough Police Court, charged with having stolen three ivory billiard balls from the YMCA.

Prisoner, a youth of 18, admitted the offence.

The facts, as stated by the Chief Constable (Mr H Windsor), were that Mr H Ferguson, the manager of the billiard hall in Huntriss Row was at the billiard hall at 7.35pm on the evening of June, 19th, and he saw the prisoner seated on a chair. Prisoner went to him and asked: “Will you buy a set of ivory billiard balls for a shilling?” Prisoner took two from his pocket, and on Ferguson asking him where the other ball was, and where he had got them he took the third ball from his pocket and said: “They are all right. I have had them in my kit bag a week or two and they are no good to me now. My father is manager of a billiard hall.”

Mr Ferguson asked him to leave the halls and go back in half an hour. He thought a shilling was small price for three billiard balls. Their value was £1. He gave information to the police, and PC Tilburn made enquiries and saw prisoner at the billiard hall. He asked him where he had got the balls, and he replied: “I got them from home when I was on leave a fortnight ago. They belonged to my father, who is the manager of a billiard saloon.”

Asked his name, he told the constable it was John Victor Smith, and that he belonged to the 5th Lancashire Regiment. Asked for an identification disc he said he hadn’t one. He was taken to the police station, and PC Tilburn made enquiries at the YMCA premises in St Nicholas Street, and saw the Rev JA Middleton, who is the acting superintendent of the Yorkshire Union of YMCAs. The YMCA authorities were managing the rooms at St Nicholas Hall entirely.

Mr Middleton as spoken to, and he looked round, and found that three ivory billiard balls were missing from a bag. Two tablets of soap, said the chief, were also missing. The Rev JA Middleton was pained to have to go there, said the Chief, but it was really a despicable and mean thing to steal things from rooms run for his (prisoner’s) own benefit.

Asked if he had anything to say, prisoner said he took the balls because he was hard up - he had just come out of “detention”. He did not think he would get himself into trouble. He did it on the spur of the moment. He did not know where to take the balls - he was passing the billiard hall and went in, and offered them for a shilling.

An officer said prisoner’s army character was not good - it was awful. He (prisoner) had only just finished 28 days’ detention. Prisoner was not originally in the 5th battalion, he was in a provisional battalion, and was transferred when it went to France. He had not been in fault for theft before - chiefly for breaking out of camp.

Replying to the clerk the prisoner said he came from Liverpool, where his parents resided. He was a labourer at some match works.

The chairman: (Mr SP Turnbull) told prisoner it was a serious offence he had committed and he was liable to three months’ imprisonment.

Taking into consideration his age, and that, so far as the magistrates knew he had not been in trouble for theft before he would be sent to prison for 14 days in the second division. The magistrates hoped it would be a warning to him not to get into trouble again.

The Rev JA Middleton said he had been working amongst soldiers for three years, and that was the first case of the kind he had had under his notice. It was a very painful thing to him to have to take any action at all against any soldier. Everything at the YMCA was at the same men’s disposal.

The chairman: We quite recognise it is public duty on your part, Mr Middleton. Mr Middleton said he did not want the work amongst the soldiers to be prejudiced.