Gang members jailed for Bamber Bridge heist
Local historian Keith Johnson looks back a high-value theft from yesteryear...
In mid-March 1954 a gang of thieves targetted the offices of the Milk Marketing Board in School Lane, Bamber Bridge, and stole a green safe containing cash and cheques valued at over £734 which they took away on a lorry.
The raid took place in the early hours of the third Thursday of March with the thieves having broken in by removing an asbestos sheet from a rear wall.
Just before midnight local constable P.C. Lucas had examined the premises and found everything in order. At three o’clock in the morning a police constable in Manchester saw a motor lorry with a green safe on the back partly covered by a tarpaulin and quizzed the driver Thomas Salisbury, aged 33, a baker from Manchester.
Having received a satisfactory explanation the constable allowed him to drive on.
A couple of hours later P.C. Lucas was doing his rounds and realised the MMB premises had been broken it. His suspicions were also aroused by a car that had been parked nearby on School Lane since his earlier patrol.
When John Patrick Foy, aged 34, a market trader of Manchester turned up to collect his car at 7 o’clock in the morning he denied any knowledge of the theft saying he had been married the previous day, but he was taken to the Bamber Bridge police station.
Following a wireless communication with the Manchester police a shooting brake being driven by James John Watmough, aged 30, a general dealer from Manchester, was stopped and along with his companion Raymond Booth Vickers, aged 28, a printer of Manchester, taken into custody.
By midday the three suspects had been joined in custody by Salisbury and within hours the motor lorry with the safe intact had been found abandoned on a Manchester Street.
Despite their pleas of innocence all four men were charged with office breaking and stealing a safe with the Bamber Bridge magistrates refusing all their pleas for bail and remanding them in custody.
In late April 1954 the accused Manchester men appeared at Manchester Assizes and amongst the witnesses was D.S. Wilson who recalled his conversation with Foy whilst in custody.
According to him when asked about his movements he had stated, ‘We had been drinking, I got married yesterday and it was also my birthday’. When the detective responded by saying that’s a queer way to spend your wedding night, Foy had replied, ‘ Yes, I will be in trouble over that’. A marriage certificate was then shown to the court, confirming he had been wed that day.
Although all four men maintained they were innocent the jury thought otherwise finding Salisbury, Foy and Vickers guilty as charged, with Watmough not guilty of the robbery but guilty of being an accessory after the theft.
It was then reported that all four men had previous convictions and Mr. Justice Jones had all four men brought up separately to hear their fate. Salisbury was sentenced to 10 years in prison, the newly wed Foy received a six-year sentence and Vickers was sent to prison for two years.
Watmough who had a string of previous convictions was gaoled for 21 months, despite maintaining he had no involvement and the fact that Salisbury after hearing his own sentence had told the His Lordship that Watmough was not guilty.
For Watmough the life of crime continued after his release and in July 1963 he once more appeared at the Manchester Assizes.
On that occasion he was convicted of robbery with violence, involving the theft of a safe containing jewellery and cash worth over £900. For his latest crime he received a sentence of seven years behind bars.