Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at a crime against the police from yesteryear...
At the Preston Quarter Sessions in January 1903, brickmaker James
Myerscough, 45, and labourer Herbert Sorton, 25, who had been committed for trial by the Kirkham magistrates, appeared accused of threatening policemen with a gun and with stealing six tame hens, both men pleading not guilty.
The prosecution stated that the hens had been stolen overnight from the property of Robert Charnley, at Clifton-with-Salwick, a week before Christmas.
That night, P.S Burrows and P.C. Wilson, stationed at Lea, had been on duty in the area. The police officers told the court they observed the accused walking along the railway line towards Cottam. They were each carrying a sack, and the older man was carrying a gun. According to P.C. Wilson, when the two men spotted the police officers, in a field beside the line, the older man raised the gun to his shoulder and shouted that he would shoot them if they came closer. After a stand-off, the men threw down the sacks and made off along the railway line. The officers examined the sacks and found they contained rabbits and six hens.
Shortly before dawn that morning, Myerscough and Sorton turned up at the Key Stone Inn on Brook Street in Preston and a little later, according to the landlady Mrs. Sankey, the police called in. Both men being arrested by Detective Parkinson of the Preston Borough Police and taken to the Earl Street police station. A subsequent examination of their boots led the police to believe that the footprints matched those found outside the hen cote from where the poultry was taken. A search of Myerscough’s home in Raglan Street leading to the finding of a gun that appeared similar to the one the police officers had been threatened with.
Mr. Mellor, who conducted the defence, argued that the police had been mistaken and that no great importance should be attached to the claims regarding the resemblance of matching footprints.
Sorton claimed that he had been asleep at home all night, waking shortly before he went to the Key Stone Inn, a neighbour testifying she had seen him.
Myerscough’s son James also testified, saying his father had been in bed until six o’clock that morning.
Mr. Overend Evans, addressing the jury for the prosecution, pointed out that a strong moonlight night had assisted the officers in positive identification of the pair and all the circumstances suggested they were the guilty parties.
The summing up was performed by chairman Sir William Edward Tomlinson, a Preston MP from 1882, and a skilled lawyer who told the jury to consider the evidence carefully.
The jury then retired and returned within a few minutes, bringing a guilty verdict against both accused.
Sir William then informed the pair that they would each go to prison for two months with hard
Sir William remained as a Preston MP until January 1906 when both Conservative candidates were beaten in the General Election by the Labour and Liberal candidates. A deputy lieutenant of Lancashire, his official residence was in Richmond. A life-long bachelor he died in 1912, aged 74.