Local historian Keith Johnson recalls a railway station theft from yesteryear...
In the last week of January 1867, Craven Sutcliffe, a detective with the London & North Western Railway, was on duty at Preston station.
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On the Wednesday evening he was on the platform when the train from Warrington arrived at 9.15pm. The guard of the train was John Neil, aged 24, and the detective observed that as he left the break van he appeared to put something into his pocket.
He watched him leave the station on to Butler Street before approaching him and asking him to accompany him to the Superintendent’s office. Neil showed an inclination to get away and the detective seized him by the waistcoat, attempting to pull him towards the office.
Whilst he was doing so Neil put his hand in his pocket and threw something away on to the nearby waste land.
Once inside the Superintendent’s office, Neil was searched and two Albert chains were found upon him. After charging Neil with theft the detective went to search the waste land where he found a silver watch.
These events were related at the Preston Police Court two days later when John Neil was charged with stealing all three items. Amongst the witnesses was John Robert Masters, clockmaker, from Over Darwen.
He stated that he had made up a parcel containing the three items addressed to a customer in Birmingham and taken it to the railway station at Over Darwen. He identified the watch and the two chains, one gold and one silver, all of which had his mark upon them and were valued altogether at £8.
Railway officials then confirmed receipt of the parcel and its eventually passage to Warrington for the Birmingham train. It was also confirmed by a porter that the accused had been on the station when the parcel had been placed in a van.
The Warrington station master then confirmed that Neil had been on duty and would have had the opportunity of entering the van. He stated that Neil had been working under his supervision for four years and that he had received no complaints regarding missing parcels connected to Neil.
When asked if he had anything to say, Neil responded by saying: “I think I will leave it alone, sir; I am all of a shake, and I will reserve my defence.” He was then committed to the next Preston Sessions for trial.
An application for bail was then submitted but was refused. The prisoner’s wife, who had travelled from Warrington, wept bitterly and appealed to the magistrates but without success as he was taken into custody.
At the Preston Sessions in mid-February 1867, Neil was found guilty as charged by the jury before the chairman Mr. T. B. Addison and the magistrates. It was seen as a serious breach of trust and he was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment.