1915 court: Boys charged with theft of fish and fowl

144919'1915 paper copy 'Picture by Neil Silk'05/12/14
144919'1915 paper copy 'Picture by Neil Silk'05/12/14

At the Scarborough Children’s Court, before the mayor (Mr CC Graham), Alderman Ascough, Cllr Hopwood, Mr AJ Tugwell, and Mr George Rowntree.

William AE Potts (14), and William Mollon (12), a sea scout, were each charged with stealing and carrying away a codling of the value of 3s, the property of Mr Neville Clarke, on 28th November.

Both the boys pleaded not guilty.

Charles Oxley, 25, Franklin Street, manager to Mr Neville Clarke, fish buyer, Scarborough, said he was on the West Pier on the day in question, and noticed the fishing boat Thalia, which was then all in order. He walked down to the pier end, and on returning he noticed the fish-room hatch off. Shortly afterwards he saw these two boys go on board the vessel. The small boy, Potts, went down into the fish-room, and Mollan stayed on top and lowered what they called the garth handle, with which he hauled up the codling, which Potts hooked down below. Witness walked further along from where he stood and watched their movements. Later he went up to the boys and asked them what they were going to do with the codling. One of the boys – he could not say now which one – said they were going to put it back. They did so. He took their names and addresses, went and saw their parents, and reported the matter to the police. The present market value of codling was between 3s and 4s.

By Potts: He did not see two little boys on board the vessel before Potts and Mollan went on. The hatches were not off when he noticed the Thalia the first time.

Detective-Sergeant Yeoman said he received information of the case, and saw the two boys on the Monday morning. He asked Mollan where he had been all night and he replied, “Potts and I slept on a fishing boat.” Witness cautioned them both and told them he was making enquiries respecting a codling which had been stolen. Mollan said, “Potts went down the hold, and got the fish, and I stayed on top.” He charged them with the offence, and they both said “Yes”. They said the hatches were off when they went on board.

Potts: When we went on board we lowered the garth handle, but neither of us went below.

Mollan: Potts lowered the garth handle down, and pulled the fish up, but neither of us went down the hold.

The mayor reminded Mollan that what he had said was contrary to what he said to Detective Yeoman. Mollan said he didn’t mean to say what he did to Detective Yeoman.

Replying to Cllr Hopwood, the witness Oxley said he concealed himself behind a pillar and watched the boys’ movements. Potts went down into the fish room and Mollan remained on top.

The magistrates said as far as this case was concerned both Potts and Mollan would be discharged. The magistrates thought the circumstances were decidedly suspicious while there was not sufficient evidence to show that they intended taking the fish away.

Potts and Mollan were also charged with stealing and carrying away a fowl of the value of 1s 6d, the property of George Elwick, between the 26th and 29th November.

Both pleaded guilty.

The Chief Constable said Mrs Elwick residing at 118, Longwestgate, had some hens in her henhouse at the rear of her dwelling. About five o’clock on November 27th she saw the hens, ten in number had gone to roost. About ten o’clock next morning she noticed that one of the birds, a white leghorn, was missing. She gave information to the police. She valued the hen at 1s 6d. About 6 o’clock on the 27th, the same day upon which the hen was missed, John William Dent, 93, Westborough, a fowl dealer, bought a hen from these two boys. The boy Potts went to him and said, “Do you want to buy a chicken?” Mr Davison, who was in charge of the business at the time, examined the bird, and said to him “it is not a chicken; it’s a hen.” Potts said to him, “Will you give me 1s 3d for it?” Mr Davison refused.

Both the boys were subsequently cautioned.

Complying with the request of the magistrates as to the boys’ characters, the chief constable and the boy Potts was before the bench last Friday and was convicted for stealing two tobacco boxes and a number of other articles. He was bound over in the sum of £5 for twelve months. He promised the justices then he would never do anything of the kind again. Despite that he went straightaway and committed these other thefts. Having regard to the serious state which had arisen with regard to pilfering by juveniles, of which Potts was undoubtedly the leader, he must ask the magistrates to take steps to put an efficient stop to this game.

With regard to Mollon, he had not been in the court before, and he (the chief) was very sorry indeed for him. Here he was engaging with this boy Potts in felonious acts. These offences by juveniles were on a line with those of grown-up professional fowl-stealers.

The magistrates considered their decision in private. Subsequently the mayor addressing Potts and Mollon said they were both guilty of a very serious and grave offence indeed. The magistrates did not consider the value of the hen, that was a minor matter - but for them to deliberately go into other people’s premises with the fixed intention of stealing property which did not belong to them was a very serious thing.

Potts would be committed to a reformatory school until he attained the age of 19 years, and Mollan would go to an industrial school until he was 16.