Preston clerk enjoyed high life after stealing £748 from employer

Local historian Keith Johnson looks at high-value theft from nearly 100 years ago...

Wednesday, 9th June 2021, 3:45 pm
Lune Street where Ashcroft worked was a busy throughfare

William Ashcroft, aged 41, a solicitor’s clerk in the employ of Messrs. Ward & Dewhurst solicitors of Lune Street appeared before the Preston magistrates in late July 1925. He was accused of embezzlement, with three charges laid against involving a total of £748. The hearing heard that he had been working for the firm for 28 years entering as an office boy. For many years

Ashcroft had been a confidential clerk and entrusted with customers accounts relative to payments. He had been a familiar figure in the busy Lune Street of the period, always smartly dressed and courteous to all he met.

Detective Inspector Kellett had arrested Ashcroft days earlier at Fleetwood as he came off the RMS Viking as it berthed after he had been holidaying on the Isle Of Man. According to D.I. Kellet the accused had under questioning admitted the crime. The magistrates after a brief consultation committed Ashcroft to the next Preston Quarter Sessions to be held in mid August and he was remanded in custody.

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At the Preston Sessions the prosecution stated the prisoner had confessed that he had been embezzling money since 1914, and a list of his defalcations amounted to over £15,000. The specimen charges were all recently perpetrated according to the prosecution.

In late April he had received a mortgage interest payment of £48 from a Mr. Margerison and failed to record it. In early March he had persuaded a Mrs. Maudsley to invest £450 in a savings account brokered by him and although he gave her a receipt failed to bank the cash. The third charge related to £250 that he had received from a Mr. Seed to pay off a mortgage.

Once again he made a receipt out, but pocketed the money. These were typical of the many defalcations this trusted employee had carried out for over a decade.

His thieving had enabled him to gamble excessively, enjoy hotel and holiday breaks, buy motor cars, and shower his lady friend with jewellery. In fact the lady, whom he was due to marry later in the year, was so shocked at the prisoner’s dishonesty that she had returned over £1,500 of jewellery that he had given her.

The defence counsel speaking on Ashcroft’s behalf explained that the prisoner had become acquainted with clients of a higher social status, and in an attempt to live up to their expectations he had begun to take the money. Ashcroft who earned a salary of less than £4 per week had found it impossible to stop himself and rather than put any of the money away for the future he had squandered it on his lavish lifestyle.

In an attempt to make what restitution was possible his client had handed over all his possessions, so that when he was free again he would having nothing except the clothes that he stood up in.

Having pleaded guilty to the three specimen charges Ashcroft was then addressed by the chairman of the sessions Mr. James Openshaw who stated, “You were trusted and you broke all trust given to you.” He was then informed that he was sentenced to five years’ penal servitude.

He had without doubt squandered a considerable fortune, according to the Bank of England inflation calculator that £15,000 would be in excess of £900,000 in today’s money.

From the 1860s it was possible to take a ferry to the Isle of Man from Fleetwood a service that would exist for a century. Back in the 1920s you could hop on the RMS Viking at 10 o’clock in the morning and be in Douglas in less than four hours with a 15 shilling ticket courtesy of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.