1916 court: Boy behind bright idea to steal light bulbs

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Some remarkable disclosures were made in the Scarborough Children’s Court on Wednesday as to the artifices employed by a boy, living in William Street, attending St Mary’s School, to obtain from tradespeople electric batteries and filament bulbs.

The boy was charged with attempting to obtain by false pretences a quantity of electric batteries and filament bulbs from Mr Moore, cycle dealer, Nelson Street, on 5th October, to which charge he pleaded guilty.

The facts were outlined by the chief constable, who said that at 8.30 on the morning of 5th October, the boy went to the shop of Mr George Wm Moore, cycle dealer, 6, Nelson Street. He spoke to one of the apprentices, and subsequently to Cecil Thompson Robinson who was in charge of the garage, and said to him. “I have brought this note from Mr Swift for some batteries and filament bulbs.” He handed in the note, which read:

“Dear Mr Moore, Will you kindly give him (the boy) one dozen lamp batteries and one dozen filament bulbs. J.H. Swift. Send them immediately, please.”

The note purported to have come from Mr Swift, but seeing the manner in which it was sent and written, Robinson decided to do nothing further with it until Mr Moore himself came in. The boy went out of the shop and returned again at 12.15pm when Harry Muskin, Mr Moore’s representative, questioned him and told him that J.B. Swift was the cycle dealer and not J.H. Swift. To this the boy replied, “On my God’s honour I am speaking the truth.”

The boy then left the shop, saying he would return later in the day. The value of the goods, added the chief, was 14s. There was another boy with the defendant, but he was not involved. When spoken to later by Detective Nalton the boy admitted his guilt and said, “I wrote the note for a bit of sport, but I should have owned up in the end if I had got them” (meaning the goods). It was, said the chief, an abnormal sort of case for a boy of the defendant’s age to have acted as he had. He was a precocious sort of boy and he (the chief) did not think he had done what he had under the influence of an elder.

The boy’s mother said what he had done it for she really could not say, for he had got more than one flash lamp of his own as it was. The boy told her he was very sorry for what he had done, and said he did not know what made him do it. He was a good boy at home, and she had never had anything much to complain about him. His father was very ill with pneumonia in Sussex, through the war.

The chief said he should have mentioned this was not the only case in which the boy was concerned. “This is,” he added, “a scheme of this boy’s that he has got up from somewhere. It appears he 
tried the same trick on Mr Woodall, another cycle agent...but Mr Woodall, Mr Swift and Mr Moore all knew each other’s method as to the carrying on of the business, and knew that the one adopted by this boy was a deviation from those methods, and therefore they informed the police. He (the chief) looked on it as a most serious matter for if the boy’s energies were not directed into a better channel he would grow up to be a very expert thief.

The mayor also characterised the case and a very serious one, and soundly admonished the boy. The case would be adjourned for a fortnight, and the conduct shown by the boy in the meantime would depend largely as to what course the magistrates would take with him at the end of that time.