Preston police officer jailed for lying about sex crime allegations in 19th century case

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the consequences faced by a corrupt policeman...

Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 5:00 pm
Just beyond the Golden Cross on Crooked Lane was a public urinal

In early March 1871 Richard Myerscough, saddler, of Lancaster Road and local prostitute Mary Jane Byrnes appeared at the Preston police court accused of indecently exposing themselves on Crooked Lane the previous evening at about 11 o’clock.

P.C. Joseph Cross, aged 24, told the court that he had observed the accused having intercourse by the side of the public urinal next to the Golden Cross public house.

According to the constable he approached the couple accusing them of public indecency and grabbing Myerscough marched him to the nearby police station before returning to Lancaster Road to arrest Byrnes who was loitering there. Mr. Watson, who appeared on behalf of Myerscough, stated that the accused had been out of town that day and had just returned his horse and conveyance to the stables and was proceeding in a direct way home along Lancaster Road.

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He called into the urinal on Crooked Lane and as he came out was seized by the constable.

Witnesses testified that Myerscough was a honest tradesman who was sober on that night and Mr. Watson claimed the accused did not know the woman and that he would never commit such an act in public.

Mary Jane Byrnes was then sworn and testified that she had never seen the man before she was taken to the police station and that no improper intercourse took place between them.

Richard Myerscough was then called to testify and swore on oath that he was completely mystified by his arrest and the manner in which he was treated at the police station. He completed his testimony by saying what the constable had said about him was utterly, entirely and grossly false.

The magistrates then retired for their consultations and when they returned the chairman Miles Myres stated that “we have some doubts and we are disposed to give the defendants the benefit of those doubts” and the case was dismissed.

Mr. Watson then announced that he would be making a case for perjury by P.C. Cross and the case against the constable was listed for the following week.

It would be two years before that charge would be answered as Joseph Cross absconded in the following days and his location was only notified to police chief Supt. Oglethorpe in March 1873 when he was discovered to be working at Adlington waterworks.

In mid-March 1873 the case of perjury was brought against Joseph Cross before Miles Myres and it was claimed that he had falsely accused Richard Myerscough of having illegal intercourse with a lewd woman in Crooked Lane.

It was claimed by the prosecution that the constable had been drinking that evening even though he was on duty. The accused reserved his defence and the magistrates committed him for trial at the Liverpool Assizes in early April.

John Addison QC prosecuted and he called Myerscough who repeated his claims of innocence.

In his defence Cross called a railway porter named Hobson who had been a constable at the time of the Myerscough’s arrest.

He claimed that when charged by Cross that Myerscough had offered the constable a bribe.

But when cross examined by Mr. Addison his evidence lost all credibility as he had to admit he had been dismissed by the Preston police for drunkenness.

The jury returned a guilty verdict within minutes and Mr. Justice Archibald remarked that it was regrettable that such a person as the accused and the witness he called had got into the police force.

He then told Cross that in order to protect the public he was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.