Preston's mystery of the missing stockings

During the Second World War, to own a pair of fully fashioned silk stockings was quite a luxury for any lady.

Thursday, 26th January 2017, 10:20 am
Updated Thursday, 26th January 2017, 11:27 am
Judge Fraser Harrison

The scarcity of them in the days of food and clothing ration books added to their value. This was highlighted in mid June 1942 when two women and three men appeared before a special sitting of the Preston Borough magistrates, charged with conspiring to steal parcels and goods in transit on the London, Midland & Scottish Railway.

It was alleged that they were concerned in substituting labels on parcels and cartons, which resulted in silk stockings and shirts, valued at over £160, being delivered to wrong addresses in Preston. The magistrates heard that besides the conspiracy charge, the two women, Violet Ellen Parr, 28, and Susannah Slater, 51, were both accused of receiving. Whilst Jeremiah Collins, 52, employed as a checker by the LMS railway, was charged with five thefts; George Lang, 48, an aircraft worker, was charged with three counts of receiving and Arthur Parr, 35, a temporary railway porter, was accused of being an accessory to theft.

Parcels in January, February and March that should have gone to leading Preston retailers British Home Stores, Middlebrooks, Lingards and Bleazards were instead redirected. Amongst the witnesses was Thomas Coupe, who stated that he had been visited by George Lang at his draper’s shop in Orchard Street in January, saying he could put some goods his way if he was interested.

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He had declined the offer, but agreed to receive some parcels for him which arrived in the following weeks and which Lang collected. Eventually, Coupe grew suspicious of the parcels and refused to receive any more.

Another witness testified as to having visited Lang’s home in Lea and having purchased stockings and shirts from him. A couple of LMS railway carters then testified as to delivering parcels to Percy Street where Susannah Slater signed for them, and witnesses stated that Violet Ellen Parr had sold them silk stockings claiming they were from Marks & Spencer.

A search of the home of Mr & Mrs Parr unearthed some of the missing items and wrappings from the parcels delivered there. The combined investigations of the Preston Borough Police, Lancashire Constabulary and LMS railway police had delivered enough evidence for the magistrates to send all five accused for trial at the next Preston Sessions in mid-July 1942. The Preston Sessions were held before His Honour Judge Fraser Harrison, and Susannah Slater and her daughter Violet Ellen Parr pleaded guilty to charges of receiving and Jeremiah Collins pleaded guilty to five charges of theft and one of conspiracy.

During the trial, George Lang’s defence was that Collins had re-labelled parcels to him against his wishes and it became apparent that the only evidence against Arthur Parr was accusations from Collins. After lengthy submissions, during which it was suggested the women had been under the influence of others, the jury retired.

They returned with guilty verdicts against Lang and he was sent to prison for 15 months; Arthur Parr was found not guilty and discharged; the two women were found not guilty of conspiracy and were bound over for two years for receiving. Having pleaded guilty earlier, Jeremiah Collins was then informed he would be imprisoned for nine months with hard labour.