Preston ring thief jailed for six months with hard labour

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the case of a prolific jewellwery thief who was finally brought to justice.

Thursday, 6th January 2022, 9:06 pm
Updated Thursday, 6th January 2022, 9:08 pm
Bennetts on Lune Street had gold rings stolen
Bennetts on Lune Street had gold rings stolen

When Jane Frawley appeared at the Preston Intermediate Sessions in mid-February 1875 on three indictments charging her with stealing upwards of fifty gold rings she pleaded guilty.

All the thefts had taken place In Preston at the jewellery shops of Messrs. Bennett, Elliott and Yates. She was described by the court reporter as a middle aged woman, meanly clad, and of miserable appearance.

John Addison led the prosecution case and he related how the accused had visited each of the shops and asked to be shown some gold weddings rings, trying a number on, but did not buy any.

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Then she returned a few days later and chose one, asking that it be put aside for her to be paid by installments. Thereby she had by this means frequent access to each shop and managed to pilfer one or two rings on each visit. The rings afterwards being pawned by herself, or a woman named Odlam.

Unfortunately for her, one of the traders was more wide awake than the others and at the start of February when arrested she made a clean breast of the whole affair. The wonder was that for almost a year she had carried out her depredations without being discovered. Once they realised they had been duped and a number of rings had been recovered from local pawnbrokers it was estimated that Mr. Yates had lost 20 rings valued at £23, Mr. Bennett had lost 13 rings valued at £9 and Mr. Elliott had lost 18 rings valued at £8.

The chairman Mr. W.H. Higgins QC after referring to the material facts of the case said he had no doubt that the jury would have liked to have known how it was that a woman dressed in wretched rags, could have taken all those valuable rings to pawn without being questioned.

Remarking that it was those sort of people who held out temptations to unfortunates like the prisoner and that it would be in the public interest to delve further into the role of the pawnbrokers who were sat in silence in court observing the woman’s fate.

The jury after a short deliberation found the prisoner guilty and the Chairman proceeded to pass sentence.

After stating that he was appalled at the conduct of those who had received the valuable rings, who must have known they had not been obtained honestly, he informed Jane Frawley that she was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour.

Mr. Addison then made a formal application for the rings to be returned to the rightful owners.

A lively debate then took place and it was claimed that the jewellers had been negligent in displaying the rings in such a careless manner and that the pawnbrokers deserved some compensation for their losses.

However, the Chairman eventually issued an order that the whole of the property be returned to the rightful owners without any recompense to the pawnbrokers.

Nonetheless, the matter did not rest there and at the mid-April Preston Quarter Sessions two of the pawnbrokers involved, namely Thomas Howarth and Richard Marsden, stood in the dock charged with feloniously receiving a number of gold wedding rings knowing them to have been stolen. Howarth was the first to be tried and the prosecution remarked that it was hard to believe that a married woman he had known for fifteen years could have come by so many rings honestly without arousing suspicion.

In his defence it was stated that his books had been scrutinized by the police and the rings entered correctly, an indication that he had dealt in a lawful manner.

His barrister claiming that while his client may have acted recklessly, or carelessly, he had not committed any crime. It was a view shared by the jury who returned a not guilty verdict.

The chairman Mr. C. R. Jacson then ruled that considering the case against Marsden was of a similar nature and less substantiated there was no point in proceeding with it and both men were discharged.