Farmer’s got bottle for stealing cans of milk

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1918 Police Court

Harry Smith, 6, St John’s Road, was summoned at the Scarborough Police Court with stealing a quantity of milk of the value of 2s 8d of the goods and chattels of Robert Plaxton, on the 24th of June.

Defendant, who was represented by Mr John Whitfield, pleaded not guilty.

Inspector R Arrowsmith, NER, said on the 26th of June, Mr John Atkinson, farmer, near Knapton, sent two cans of milk to Mr Plaxton by train. Mr Plaxton went to the station about 9 o’clock in the morning and examined the milk. He found that one can contained 13 gallons and the other 11 gallons. Mr Plaxton employed a man who had a round in the town, and about 11 o’clock he returned to the station to take a supply up to the Racecourse camp. Mr Plaxton came to the station about 11 o’clock and examined the milk and found there were two gallons missing from one of the cans. It happened that a military officer, Lt Stephenson, who had no connection with either party, whilst standing on No.1 platform, saw the defendant take some milk out of one of the cans containing Mr Plaxton’s milk. Mr Plaxton came up a short time afterwards and got excited. The officer made a communication to Mr Plaxton and afterwards identified defendant in the presence of PC Berryman. When charged with the offence defendant denied it. This milk had been standing for two hours and a quantity of cream would have arisen and if the discovery had not been made Mr Plaxton might have been treated by the military as a dishonest tradesman and he might have been subject to prosecution by the food inspector. Mr Plaxton gave evidence in support of this statement.

Cross-examined by Mr Whitfield, witness denied that there had been any dispute between himself and Smith with regard to the supply of milk. It might be true that witness’s man had borrowed milk from Smith but if that were so, Smith ought to have sent the account and it would have been paid. About three weeks or a month ago Smith called on him and said he was owing him an account. He (Plaxton) said to Smith: If you send me a statement I will give attention to the bills.” There had been no dispute.

After evidence by Lt Stephenson and PC Berrymen, in support of Inspector Arrowsmith’s statement, Mr Whitfield outlined the case for the defence. He said that in April two lots of milk were supplied by Smith to Mr Plaxton’s man by way of loan. Milk dealers sometimes lent each other milk and sometimes they bought it. Smith sent an account to Mr Plaxton, who told defendant he had not known he owed it. Matters in that way were at a deadlock. Smith then said to Plaxton “If you do not pay for the milk or return it I shall take some of your milk for it.” Consequently when Mr Smith took two gallons out of the can it was in pursuance of this threat or statement. Defendant might have acted foolishly, but there was no fraudulent intent.

Defendant went into the box and substantiated his solicitor’s statement, and evidence was also called to prove that certain milk had been supplied to Mr Plaxton’s man which had not been paid for.

The magistrates retired, and on returning the Mayor said in this case a good deal had been said about an alleged transaction over a certain amount of milk between the two parties. There was no direct evidence to prove what amount of milk was exchanged but they were disposed to accept the explanation of the defendant that he did take this milk away with a view of recuperating himself for the milk having been borrowed. No doubt he thought he was exercising what he considered to be a claim of right. In the magistrates’ opinion that claim was unjustified and erroneous and in taking the action he did he took a very risky action and came very near to felony. At the same time, under the circumstances, and with that explanation, the magistrates dismissed the case.