1917 court: Man marched to court for buying army boots

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James Jackson Busby, hotel proprietor, Victoria Hotel, Westborough, was summoned for having purchased a pair of military boots from a soldier, and further with being in possession of the boots. Defendant was represented by Mr GE Royle, solicitor.

Defendant pleaded not guilty in both cases. The Chief Constable quoted sub-sections of section 156 of the Army Act, setting forth that it was an offence to purchase such goods unless he could prove he acted in ignorance, or that the person was authorised to sell, or that the property was not military property. In the same way defendant had to prove similar facts if he were found in possession of military clothing. The defendant had admitted that he bought this pair from a soldier - a sergeant who was in uniform.

Detective Sergeant Yeoman spoke as to interviewing the defendant, and the latter candidly said he had bought a pair of boots from a soldier, about a month ago; the soldier had told him they were his own property and that being too big for him (the soldier) he wanted to get rid of them. Defendant said the soldier was a sergeant he thought, and he (defendant) had told him to take them down to the hotel, and he would look at them. The soldier, defendant said, had taken them down, put them on the table quite openly, and he (defendant) thinking they would be a pair of strong boots for him for cellar work, asked the soldier what he required for them. The reply was 10s, and he gave him that sum. He (the detective) pointed out to the defendant that the boots (new ones) were apparently Government stamped. Busby said, “I am certain I did not know that they were military boots, or I would not have bought off the man, and enquiries had been made, but defendant had failed to recognise the man out of two sergeants selected as answering nearest Busby’s description.

By Mr Royle: From first to last defendant had been quite open, had given all information asked for, and had said that he did not know they were military boots.

Defendant, in the box, said that he had suggested there should be a roll call of all the men so that the (defendant) could attend and pick out the man. Proceeding, witness said he had had 70 soldiers billeted with him for a time. He bought the boots from a sergeant, and he could assure the bench, especially holding the position he did, that he would not have bought the boots had he known they were military boots.

Owing to the scarcity of labour witness did his own cellar work, and he thought the boots would be just the thing when he had to swill the cellar out. The mark on the boots he certainly did not take to be a broad arrow, and he had no idea that that mark on them indicated that they were government property.

By the Chief: Witness had had a fortnight to make enquiries about the man, but he had not found him. He had not yet used the boots for cellar work as he already had a pair.

By the Chairman: When soldiers were billeted with him many of the sergeants had private boots; some similar to the military ones.

Mr Royle, addressing the bench, said he admitted it was up to him to prove that Mr Busby bought the boots, as he thought, fairly and squarely. The fact that defendant bought them from a sergeant strengthened defendant’s case, as if he had bought them from a private it might have been said that the soldier, with only a shilling a day, had nothing to spare for a boot fund.

A sergeant however, had better pay, and the fact that he was a sergeant showed that he had earned the stripes by merit and honesty. It was not an unreasonable thing for Busby to think that a sergeant might have boots of his own. He, Mr Royle submitted that Busby had exercised the reasonable care of a reasonable man. A man like Mr Busby would not be such an ass as to risk his reputation for ten shillings.

However, the magistrates imposed a fine of £2.