Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at a "fair cop" when a railway station thief was nabbed by an officer...
On the Monday before Christmas in 1929 a stage carpenter, named as Joseph William Thornton, aged 37, from Portsmouth, appeared before the Preston magistrates accused of stealing three parcels from a mail-bag on Preston railway station.
P.C. James of the railway police told the court that early that morning he had seen the accused acting suspiciously on the station and followed him into Butler Street.
As he approached him three parcels fell from his grasp and as the officer stooped to pick them up the accused bolted.
Giving chase the officer caught him up in Falkland Street, and he told the court that Thornton had said: “It’s a fair cop, it was a sudden temptation and I took them under the impulse of the moment.”
A mail-bag, which had been slit across the top, had been discovered on the platform that had been taken from the Preston to Carlisle train.
Although Thornton applied for bail it was refused, with Mr. Ashton leading the prosecution remarking that the Postmaster General would have to be communicated with as there was no doubt it was a mail-bag robbery.
Mr. Blackhurst defending the accused told the court that Thornton was a naval pensioner who had never been in trouble before.
A week later Thornton was back in the dock of the Preston Borough police court where he pleaded guilty to a charge of stealing three parcels containing chocolates, Christmas cards and a dressing gown.
It was stated that the postal authorities were prepared to consent to the charges being dealt with by the magistrates despite the serious nature. According to the Preston police Thornton had claimed that the parcels were lying loose on the floor when the baggage was being loaded up.
Mr. Blackhurst, on behalf of the accused told the court that Thornton had joined the Navy as a boy and served until November 1925, when he was discharged on account of poor eyesight, being granted a pension of £30 per year for life.
There was not a mark against him, and he had never before been in court. He had got a job as a stage carpenter, coming to Preston with a travelling theatrical company.
On the day of the incident he had been suffering from internal pains caused by a gastric ulcer, taking some brandy to relieve his symptoms. He had gone to the station to collect his own truck and having seen the articles apparently discarded on the platform and not being quite sober he had picked them up.
Mr. Blackhurst then explained to the magistrates that the prisoner had a wife, child and elderly parents who relied on his support and that if he was sent to prison he would lose his pension for the rest of his life.
The magistrates chaired by Dr. Mooney left the court room for some considerable time and lengthy deliberations followed.
When they returned Dr. Mooney remarked that they could not overlook such a serious matter, but in view of his previous history they would not impose a prison sentence.
Thornton was then informed that he must pay a £10 penalty charge along with the cost of the court proceedings.