Preston councillor caught crook red-handed and locked him in shed
Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the sentencing of a prolififc burglar from yesteryear who targeted homes around Preston...
John Thomas Smith, aged 26, described as a powerfully built fellow, appeared at the Preston Police Court in the second week of February 1901 accused of three cases of housebreaking in the Deepdale area during the previous fortnight.
Amongst the witnesses was Coun. William Worden who lived on Deepdale Road and he testified that two days earlier he had gone downstairs early in the morning and discovered the dining room window wide open.
Looking through the window he spotted the accused in the yard trying to open the gate and then going into an outhouse.
Acting swiftly Coun. Worden rushed into the yard and bolted the door before sending for the police. When P.C. Worden arrived he found the accused within and in possession of a brooch and bag of cakes both taken from the house.
Another witness was widow Jane Clarkson, also of Deepdale Road, who stated that a fortnight earlier her house was broken into overnight and a watch valued at £8 had gone missing along with a handkerchief.
Drawers in the kitchen had been ransacked and a window had been broken to gain entry.
Thomas Harrison, a brewer, told the court that the day after that theft he had been in the vault of the Rosebud Inn on New Hall Lane when the accused offered him the watch and he paid him £4 in return.
Albert Dodgson, who lived in St. Cuthbert’s Road, told the court that a week earlier he had come downstairs to discover that a kitchen window had been broken, drawers ransacked and the yard gate unfastened.
A watch, a pipe, a few shillings in cash and some food had gone missing.
All the alleged crimes were confirmed by P.C. Worden who had charged the accused,Smith, accordingly.
The constable also stated that Smith who hailed from Lancaster, had only recently been released from prison, and that it was believed he had been committing three or four robberies a night in recent weeks.
In reply to the charges the prisoner had nothing to say and he was committed to take his trial at the Preston Intermediate Sessions a few days later.
At the Session, aware of the evidence stacked against him, Smith pleaded guilty as charged.
Mr. McKeand, who led the prosecution, called Detective Parkinson, who informed the court that since Smith’s liberation from Preston Prison a month earlier he had proved to be a terror to the neighbourhood of Deepdale and further afield with similar offences being committed.
The officer told the court that at one house in London Road he had been discovered fast asleep on a sofa in front of the fire by two women before absconding into the night.
Mr. McKeand told the court that extra police officers had been drafted in to secure the arrest of the prisoner, but unfortunately none of them had been as fortunate as Coun. Worden in detaining him.
The chairman Mr. R. B. Walmsley then addressed the prisoner remarking that his behaviour had been very bad and that he was sentenced to five years penal servitude.
Regarding the other potential charges against him they would not be proceeded with due to his guilty plea.
It would be the last appearance at the Preston Sessions for Mr. McKeand who had been a familiar figure for over two decades and was regarded as a fine barrister on the Northern Circuit.
Failing health would force him into premature retire.