Preston thief was jailed after trying to sell watch to former PNE player

The Moorbrook Inn in recent years
The Moorbrook Inn in recent years
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Local historian Keith Johnson looks at how a man's desperate attempts to sell a stolen watch ended badly for him...

On the third Friday of August in 1931 a stranger entered the Moorbrook Inn on North Road, Preston.

After ordering a pint of beer from the landlord George Harrison, the former PNE and Everton player, he struck up a conversation with him. After a few minutes the man produced a lady’s gold wristlet watch from his pocket and asked the landlord if he would give him 15 shillings for it.

After examining it Harrison gave the watch back to the man saying he had no use for it. The man then pleading with him to purchase it at a lesser price as he was desperate for cash, a request the landlord refused. The man then quickly finished his beer and left the inn.

Detective Constable Duckett who was told of the conversation in the public bar traced the man along North Road into Frank Street and then to the nearby skating rink. The detective was aware that two watches had been stolen that very afternoon from a jeweller’s shop in Morecambe. One of them matching the description of the ladies watch the man had been trying to off load and the other a gent’s gold hunter watch that someone had sold at Preston pawn broker Walter Thompson’s shop a couple of hours earlier.

Confronting the man at the skating rink D.C. Duckett told him he had reason to believe he had committed the robbery at Morecambe, an accusation the man denied. Nonetheless he was taken to the Earl Street police station where both the pawn broker and the landlord picked the man out in identification parades that night.

On the Saturday morning it was revealed that the accused was Ernest Neilson, aged 28, a seaman from Liverpool, appearing before the Preston magistrates he was remanded in custody.

Days later he appeared before the Morecambe magistrates who had requested they deal with the matter. Neilson pleaded not guilty, claiming he had never visited Morecambe in his life, nor been in the Moorbrook Inn. At the time of his arrest he had £2 in his pockets, but there was no sign of the wristlet watch.

The owner of the Morecambe jeweller’s shop James Rouse explained how the two watches had been taken from a display board in the shop whilst staff were distracted. After considering all the evidence the Bench decided to convict, and the prisoner responded by yelling that it was not justice.

The court then heard that he had Swedish parents and had gone to sea in 1922 being of a roaming disposition. Since that time he had been deported from the USA for a misdemeanour and convicted on 15 occasions for stealing and larceny. Most recently in February 1931 he had been sentenced to six months imprisonment in Gloucester for stealing a dog. In conclusion, the magistrates imposed a sentence of six months hard labour as Neilson shook his head in denial of the crime.

The Moorbrook Inn has been on North Road since 1860 and survives to this day despite closing briefly in 2013 when its future looked bleak. George Harrison had only retired from PNE in May 1931 after seven years as a regular in the North End side, he remained as landlord for five more years.