14 May 1904
THE ALLEGED WHOSLESALE
FRAUDS AT STALYBRIDGE
Further Police Court Proceedings — Extraordinary
On Wednesday, at Stalybridge Police Court, the renewed
hearing of the various charges against John Tinpenny BECKETT,
alias John MUIR, took place. Prisoner, it will be remembered,
was remanded last week on a charge of having obtained
a large number of turkeys and geese under false pretences.
Now these charges had been multiplied and read as follows:
Obtaining by false pretences from David
LIGGETT, farmer, Corboe, Clogher
(Co. Tyrone), Ireland, on December 17th 1903, 132 turkeys
and 30 geese, value £71; 12 geese, value £4
15s, on the 15th December, from Thomas AITCHISON, 67
High-street, Dalbeattie; and 13 cocks, 34 hens, and
15 rabbits on the 22nd December 1903, from Tom SOWERBY,
Caldbeck, near Wigton.
Mr J SIMISTER, solicitor, again appeared
on behalf of the director of public prosecutions, and
the justices on the Bench were Thos. WILLIAMSON (in the
chair) and Colonel SIDEBOTTOM.
Case for the
”A Bare-faced Fraud from Beginning to End”
Mr SIMISTER, addressing the magistrates, said this was
a serious case, and the more carefully it was enquired
into the more evident it became that the prisoner had
been guilty of carefully planned and somewhat ingeniously
carried out series of frauds. Business men had been imposed
upon in England, Scotland, and Wales to an astonishing
extent, and the success the prisoner had achieved in this
direction appeared to be due chiefly to the cool, impudent
manner in which he worked his scheme.
The prisoner, whose proper name was John
Tinpenny BECKETT, hailed from Bolton, and about the 24th
October last he took a shop in High-street, Stalybridge,
under the pretence of carrying on a business of a poultry
dealer. The rent of these premises was 5s 6d per week.
Losing no time the prisoner caused a telegraph address
to be registered at the post office, and he had billheads
printed such as a tradesman in an excellent way of business
might be expected to possess.
The bills read as follows:— Bankers:
Lancashire and Yorkshire Banking Co. (Shudehill Branch)
Manchester. Registered telegraphic address, “Turkeys,”
Stalybridge. — 23
High-street, Stalybridge. John MUIR, general produce
merchant and commission agent. Fruits, vegetables, potatoes,
rabbits and poultry. Please advise when sending to prevent
The prisoner then inserted advertisements
in various newspapers, but he appeared to have chosen
those circulating at some considerable distance from Stalybridge.
These advertisements naturally brought replies, correspondence
followed, and on receipt of letters from the prisoner,
headed as he (Mr SIMISTER) had stated, naturally confidence
was inspired, and traders came to the conclusion that
they were dealing with a respectable man in a large of
Large consignments of geese, turkeys, poultry,
and other goods followed in from all parts of the British
Isles, and during the three months he (prisoner) remained
in the town his fraudulent business was very brisk indeed.
The goods were signed for at the railway station by the
prisoner, or by his wife, and then in many instances immediately
carried to the neighbouring borough of Ashton-under-Lyne
and disposed of.
In letter after letter to the persons to
the persons whom he had defrauded the prisoner stated
that a cheque would be forwarded every Monday,, but it
was very evident, and would be conclusively proved, that
the prisoner never intended to pay for the goods he was
obtaining, and that the whole scheme was a bare-faced
fraud from the beginning to end. He (Mr SIMISTER) intended
that morning to bring three cases against prisoner —
those of Mr David LIGGETT, Mr Thomas AITCHISON, and Mr
In November last the prisoner inserted an
advertisement in the “Impartial Reporter,”
a newspaper circulating in County Tyrone, Ireland, which
read as follows:— “Wanted consignments of
rabbits, chickens, ducks, and turkeys, to sell on commission:
excellent prices guaranteed, - John MUIR, produce merchant,
High-street, Stalybridge. Bankers, the Lancashire and
Yorkshire Banking Company. Telegraphic address: “Turkeys,
Mr LIGGETT, who was an egg and fowl merchant,
residing in Clogher, in the county of Tyrone, noticed
the advertisement, and thinking it was perfectly bona
fide wrote to the prisoner as to prices. There was no
necessity to do this, and it was obvious that prisoner’s
sole object was to inspire confidence, and thus enable
him to get possession of goods he never intended to pay
In November and December last the prisoner
inserted an advertisement in the “West Cumberland
Times” as follows:— “Consignments of
rabbits, ducks, fowls, game wanted. Highest prices given.
Write John MUIR, poultry dealer, Stalybridge, Cheshire.”
Mr SOWERBY communicated with prisoner and in reply received
a letter asking for consignments, and promising to send
cheque on the following Monday.
Mr SOWERBY, like Mr LIGGETT, came to the
conclusion that prisoner was conducting a bona fide business
and forwarded a consignment of fowls to be sold on commission.
The goods were disposed of, and prisoner very cunningly
sent a bank draft instead of a cheque in payment. After
this, Mr SOWERBY forwarded two consignments, one on the
15th and the other on 22nd December to the value of £15
16s, but Mr SOWERBY had not received one penny in payment.
In October last, prisoner wrote to Mr AITCHISON
stating that he was open to receive from 200 to 250 couple
of good, clean, trapped rabbits. Mr AITCHISON did not
reply to this letter. On November 25th, however, prisoner
wrote again to Mr AITCHISON, asking him if he could supply
him with good, trapped rabbits. Mr AITCHISON then wrote
stating that he had twelve geese, and that he was prepared
to dispose of them at 7½d per pound. The prisoner
then wired the to Mr AITCHISON to send on the goods, and
the latter did so.
Mr AITCHISON was under the impression that
prisoner was a respectable man of good standing, otherwise
these goods would never have left Mr AITCHISON’s
hands. Their value was £4 15s and it was almost
needless to say that prisoner never paid for them. Prisoner
had for some time past been stabling his horse at the
Eagle Hotel, Stalybridge, and on December 22nd last the
prisoner went to Mr John LEES, the landlord, and offered
to him a quantity of fowls, at the same time saying he
could have them at his own price. Mr LEES purchased 20
at 1s 9d each.
About Christmas last inquiries began to
pour in to Captain BATES, and he at once went to MUIR’s
place in High-street and warned him that there were numerous
complaints about him, and cautioned him as to the way
he was conducting his business. The following day the
prisoner called at the Eagle Inn, Stalybridge. He had
over 100 fowls in a cart which was standing in the road.
Mr LEES’ suspicions were aroused, and he refused
Later in the evening, prisoner again entered
the Eagle Hotel and told Mr LEES that he had disposed
of the goods, and that he (Mr LEES) had missed a bargain.
The prisoner then coolly admitted to Mr LEES that the
goods he had been receiving had “come over the left,”
a slang term which meant — so he (Mr SIMISTER) took
it — that the goods had not been honestly obtained.
The prisoner further stated that since the
visit of Captain BATES his (prisoner’s) “pitch
had been queered,” another slang term meaning, he
(Mr SIMISTER) supposed, that “the game was up,”
and that he was “off.” With the prisoner at
the time was a man who appears to have worked for him.
Prisoner took five sovereigns out of a bag, offered the
same to the man, saying at the same time that he could
either go back to his wife or the workhouse, as he thought
Which course would have been the best, he
(Mr SIMISTER) could not say — (Laughter) —
but the man refused to take the gold. From Mr LEES’
own observation the bag contained at least one hundred
sovereigns. Prisoner decamped, and was arrested in Church-street,
Blackpool, and on the 2nd inst, by Detective LEE, whom
he told “he had never been in Stalybridge, never
in his natural.”
There could (Mr SIMISTER submitted) be no
question about the prisoner’s guilt, and everything
connected with the case, so far as the prisoner was concerned,
pointed to one gigantic fraud. Mr SIMISTER, proceeding,
said he would like to call attention to one or two important
points which would require considerable explanation by
the prisoner. The shop that he took in High-street, Stalybridge,
was an insignificant one, the rent being merely that of
a cottage — 5s 6d a week.
What necessity was there for the prisoner
to register a telegraphic address, and to have such a
striking bill head printed containing a notice that a
Lancashire and Yorkshire Shudehill Branch were his bankers?
Why should the prisoner state in his letters to the persons
whom he had defrauded that a cheque would be sent every
Monday if unless his sole object was to inspire confidence,
and thus enable prisoner to obtain goods for which he
never intended to pay?
If his intentions were honest, why did he
offer to take from 400 to 500 turkeys and from 400 to
500 geese during Christmas week, and further say that
he was open to receive 200 to 250 rabbits weekly, knowing
at the time that he had not the trade, and could not obtain
an honest market price for them? Why should he so cunningly
take precaution to deal only with traders living at distance
unless he knew that by so doing he would have greater
latitude in carrying out his thieving practice, as many
persons would prefer to lose their money rather than incur
Again, why should the man who was with the
prisoner in the Eagle Inn refuse to take the £5
offered unless he was doubtful about its being honest
obtained? The prisoner’s business was a bogus one;
of that there could be no doubt. His acts had been deliberate
and premeditated, and Mr SIMISTER asked the Bench to come
to the conclusion that there was a prima facie case against
the prisoner, and to commit him to trial to the Sessions.
David LIGGETT: I reside at Corboe, Clogher, co. Tyrone
and am an egg and fowl merchant. On the 26th November
last I saw prisoner’s advertisement in the “Imperial
Reporter and Farmers’ Journal,” and in reply
I wrote to prisoner, whose address was High-street, Stalybridge.
I asked him what prices he would guarantee, and I told
him what quality of turkeys and game I could let him have.
Prisoner replied, and I sent s a consignment
on, having come to the conclusion, after seeing the advertisements
and prisoner’s billheads, that he was a respectable
tradesman and doing a good business. — Colonel SIDEBOTTOM:
Have you been in business long? — Witness: Five
years. — Mr SIMISTER explained that there would
be a difficulty in procuring evidence of respectability
from the bankers.
Colonel SIDEBOTTOM: Will you be surprised
to know that I have got it? — Mr SIMISTER: Well,
I am surprised to hear that. It is certainly not the custom
of the bankers to do it. — Colonel SIDEBOTTOM: What
we want to do, of course, is to let people know of cases
of this sort, and so put them on their guard.
Mr SIMISTER: Quite so, but it does not matter
how foolish a man might have been, that does not alter
the fact of prisoner’s intentions. One of the prosecutors
did take MUIR’s circular round to different tradesmen.
Continuing his evidence, LIGGETT said he
sent 138 turkeys and 50 geese of the value of £71,
and in acknowledgment received a promise to send on a
cheque, but none had yet arrived. Later on, witness wrote
to prisoner, but the letter was returned by the postal
authorities marked “gone away.”
Thomas AITCHISON, fish, poultry and produce
merchant, of 62 High-street, Dalbeattie, gave evidence
bearing out Mr SIMISTER’s opening statement in so
far as witness’s business relations with prisoner.
He sent a dozen geese, but never received any money.
Colonel SIDEBOTTOM: How long have you been
in business? — Witness: Four years. — Did
it not strike you to make enquiries? I wired back, and
paid a reply, but none came.
Tom SOWERBY, of Upton, near Wigton, Cumberland,
spoke as to having seen an advertisement in a Cumberland
paper, in consequence of which he wrote to John MUIR,
Stalybridge, asking him about prices. Prisoner duly replied,
and added “cheques every Monday.” Witness
sent on two lots of poultry to the total value of £15
15s 11d, prisoner’s agreement being to buy them
out and out, not to sell them on commission. Prisoner
sent in return a banker’s draft for the amount due.
Witness fully thought MUIR was genuine and in a good way
of business from the fact that he had a telegraphic address,
and the “get up” of his note paper.
In reply to Colonel SIDEBOTTOM, witness
said he had never consigned poultry before. By trade he
was a woollen manufacturer, but he dealt a little in poultry.
He was lured by the prices which MUIR offered. Captain
BATES: It will be a warning to you. — Witness: It
will that. — Prisoner: Didn’t you send the
stuff on commission? Witness: No. — Did I guarantee
any price in the first letter? — No, you put the
price up first.
Charles DANSON, of Great Clewes-street,
Salford, clerk in the employ of Mr W H ROBINSON, estate
agent, Blackfriars-street, Manchester, said he knew prisoner.
Mr ROBINSON was agent for property in High-street, Stalybridge,
and on the 24th October last MUIR became tenant of 23
High-street. The shop is a very small one, and it was
let on a week’s tenancy of 5s 6d per week. Prisoner
had not given notice to quit and the last rent received
from him was on the 5th December. The rent was not collected
weekly, but on the 2nd January witness found that prisoner
had vanished. MUIR had left some furniture, and this was
distrained upon on the 8th January after a formal notice
had been sent to the address and returned by the postal
Captain BATES, Chief Constable of Stalybridge,
said he received one complaint and innumerable inquiries
about MUIR in November and the beginning of December last
concerning his bona fides as a tradesman. Witness went
to High-street, and upon knocking at No 23 prisoner came,
and admitted that his name was John MUIR. Witness asked
him why he could not pay £1 8s which he was owing
to a woman named MALONEY, of Ennis, Ireland. He replied
that he did not own any money at all.
Witness told him that he held strong suspicions
that the whole business was a swindle, and witness warned
him as to the future conduct of his business. Witness
further told him that he knew that prisoner had been dodging
a writ for a large sum of money for several weeks. Prisoner
used a lot of bluster, and witness left the shop.
This interview would take place about the
20th December. The shop had been under his observation
for a while before that, and he never at any time saw
more than a few rabbits and a few “kippers”
in the place. At that time prisoner was a stranger in
the borough, and was staying at the Hunter’s Lodge
Prisoner: Did you say I was dodging a writ?
Yes, those are the exact words I used. — Didn’t
you say there was a writ for me? Yes, I did say there
was one. — Didn’t you want to serve it? No,
I am not a writ server. — But you are a deputy for
one? — (Laughter.) No, I am not.
John LEES, of the Eagle Hotel, Stalybridge,
said he knew prisoner, who stabled a horse at his place
some time ago. In the beginning of November last prisoner
came to the hotel, having at that time a cart outside
containing some hampers of poultry. Prisoner asked witness
to purchase the poultry, saying he could have them at
his own price. Witness bought a dozen and gave MUIR 1s
9d a head.
On the 22nd December prisoner came into
the hotel, he again having a cart outside with a number
of fowls in hampers, and said that the consignment had
come from the north. He asked witness to buy the lot at
a shilling a head, and this arousing his suspicion he
refused to have anything to do with them. Prisoner went
away, but returned in the evening, and said he had got
without the fowls, and he (LEES) had missed a good bargain.
During the conversation which followed MUIR
said, “Everything I’ve got since I came to
Stalybridge has come ‘over the left,’”
meaning (in witness’s opinion) that he had not paid
for them. Prisoner said he could dispose more goods in
Ashton than Stalybridge. He further told witness that
Captain BATES had been up to his shop, and told him as
to how he was carrying on his business. “His pitch
was now queered a bit, and he would have to clear,”
added MUIR. Some of the goods had come from either Cumberland
or Northumberland and Ireland.
A man was in company with MUIR, and the
latter pulled out a bag of gold, saying, “Will you
take £5 and go back to your wife or the workhouse;
which you think fit?” The man, whom prisoner called
Harry, did not take the money. The bag in MUIR’s
possession would contain at least £100. He never
called for a drink at any time unless he pulled out a
bag of gold.
Prisoner: Did you say I offered you fowls
at a shilling a piece? Yes; you told me I had missed a
bargain. — Yes, I should think so. — The Clerk:
Don’t make any remarks, ask questions. — Prisoner:
I am allowed to speak, surely. — The Clerk: You
must only ask questions. — Prisoner: Do you say
I offered Harry five pounds? Yes. — What did I say?
You said the job was up, - Haven’t you been standing
there telling all these lies? What I have told the Bench
is the truth.
Prisoner: You have told nothing but -----
lies; you have not told a word of truth since you stood
there. Do you think I should tell you where I got them?
— The Clerk: Never mind that, have you got any questions
to ask? — Prisoner: He has told nothing but lies.
— Colonel SIDEBOTTOM: You have told us that already.
John WORTHINGTON, Lancashire and Yorkshire
stationmaster, Stalybridge, said that in December a consignment
of poultry from County Tyrone arrived at Stalybridge addressed
to MUIR. The same day saw Mrs MUIR signed for the goods.
A consignment of dead poultry arrived later from Dalbeattie
and MUIR’s man signed the invoice “H HARCOURT.”
James Fenton MOSS, booking clerk at the
Lancashire and Yorkshire Station, Stalybridge, gave similar
testimony in respect to other consignments of fowls addressed
Detective LEE gave evidence of the arrest
of the prisoner in Church-street,
Blackpool. When charged, MUIR replied, “I never
was in Stalybridge, never in my natural”
Prisoner was asked if he had anything to say, and he replied
in the negative. He was committed for trial at Knutsford
Sessions to be held on the 29th June.
Prisoner asked the Bench to make an order for his money
to be refunded. The police had nearly two pounds of his
in cash, and a cheque-book. The money in the bank belonged
to his mother-in-law, and he wanted to defend himself
as well as he could.
Mr SIMISTER said he strongly objected on
behalf of the Crown to any money being returned. If the
bank account belonged to prisoner’s mother-in-law
then she could sign the cheque. — The Clerk: It
is most unlikely that his mother-in-law would let him
have her account in his name.
Mr SIMISTER pointed out that claims were
coming in from South Wales and other parts of the country
against “Messrs J T BECKETT and Co.” —
The Chairman: No money will be allowed. — Prisoner:
Cannot I have the £1 16s? — The Clerk: No
order will be made. — Prisoner, showing temper,
was then removed.