Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look at the brutal robbery of a teenage soldier in war-time Preston...
On the third Tuesday of November 1943 Robbie Addison Banks, aged 18, a Canadian soldier on leave in the town spent the evening in Church Street visiting a number of public houses including the Blue Bell Inn popular with the servicemen staying in Preston.
Whilst there he was introduced to Amy Smith, aged 29, who lodged in Shepherd Street and according to him an attraction developed between the pair. As the evening drew to a close she suggested that he should return to her lodgings with her.
As the couple made their way down the cobbled St. John’s Place, by the side of the Parish Church, the soldier became aware that they were being followed by two men. Suddenly one of the men sent him crashing to the crowd with a thrusting blow and his attackers searched through his pockets. Under threat of being kicked Banks was eventually forced to hand over his money to Smith, which amounted to £7. Both assailants and the women then quickly fled the scene and Banks regaining his composure was eventually taken to the Preston Royal Infirmary for treatment.
The three culprits were quickly identified by the Preston police and within a week Amy Smith along with Fred Mason, aged 28, and a soldier named Thomas Clarkson, aged 27, who was based at Aldershot, stood in the dock before the Preston magistrates accused of the attack.
Det. Sgt Hakin was among the witnesses called and he stated that Amy Smith had admitted being there and getting £7 when a soldier and Mason, who she knew, attacked Banks.
In her voluntary statement she had claimed that both men had struck the victim and that she had given both men £1 after the attack. Mason in his statement denied taking part in the assault, although he admitted that he had received a £1 off Smith. Clarkson whilst being escorted back from Aldershot had also made a voluntary statement, in which he admitted following the couple, but he claimed it was Mason who attacked Banks.
Amy Smith pleaded guilty to taking the money, but not to violence and Mason and Clarkson chose not to speak. Consequently the magistrates committed them all to Manchester Assizes for trial.
The trial took place at Manchester Assizes in early December 1943 before Mr. Justice Cassels. Mr. H. Burton, appearing for the prosecution, described the attack as a dastardly one on a young Canadian soldier.
The jury found all three guilty of robbery with violence and His Lordship then informed Mason and Clarkson that they were sentenced to four years penal servitude and Amy Smith was given a sentence of five years penal servitude.
Amy Smith chose to appeal against the length of her sentence and it was reviewed in mid-February 1944 by the Court of Criminal Appeal. Mr. Justice Lewis took the view that Smith had acted as a decoy for her fellow culprits and decided that there was no reason she should have a greater sentence, reducing it accordingly.