14 May 1904

Further Police Court Proceedings — Extraordinary Evidence

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, Upton, 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 Prosecution
”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 error.

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 business.

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 Tom SOWERBY.

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, Stalybridge.”

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 for.

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 to buy.

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 fit.

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 further expense?

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.

The Evidence
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 authorities.

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 beerhouse.

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 to MUIR.

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 Committed for Trial
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’s Money
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.

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