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Derby Mercury, August 1, 1883

CHARGE OF ARSON AT SHIRLEY — John George Williams, a young man, the son of a farmer, at Shirley, surrendered to bail on a charge of feloniously firing a stack of barley straw, the property of Thomas Wheeldon, at Shirley, on Feb. 6th.— Mr. Grahame Lees prosecuted, and Mr. Buzzard and Mr. A. K. Lloyd were for the defence. — [This was the case which his Lordship commented to the grand jury upon the lack of direct evidence connecting the prisoner with the arson, and with regard to which the grand jury had returned a true bill.]— In opening the case, Mr. LEES said that the prosecutor and the prisoner's father lived near to each other, on the opposite sides of Derby-lane, in the village of Shirley. About six o'clock on the night of February 6 last, the prosecutor's son noticed a glimmer of light in the stackyard, and discovered that a stack of straw was on fire. An alarm was raised, and the fire was put out, amongst those present at it being the prisoner, who arrived a few minutes after young Wheeldon got there. A few minutes after six a man named George Sharratt, in the employ of Mr. Creswell, of Shirley-lane, was working in a brickyard adjoining a field of Mr. Wheeldon's, and saw a figure cross it from the corner of the orchard. The figure was about 140 yards from Sharratt, and his dog flew after the figure. A boy named Oldfield also saw the figure crossing the field. About seven o'clock Police-constable O'Neil arrived, and with a candle and lantern and some men went down the lane in search of tracks. They met the prisoner, and some conversation took place as to the boots prisoner had on, some elastic side ones. Prisoner said he had just changed his boots, because someone had thrown a bucket of water on them. The constable asked to see them, and prisoner then gave him a pair of heavy boots, the upper leather recently upon examination did not appear to have been recently wetted, although the sole was wet. The constable and the other men noticed that the nails in the boots were peculiar, and they traced the footmarks down the lane to an oak tree, up the bank on which it stood, over the pailings, across a field to the orchard gate, and from there in the direction of the stackyard. They also traced the tracks by some thorns the scratches made by which were still to he observed on the boots. About half-past nine the constable returned to the prisoner's house. His mother and sister were present at the interview. Prisoner, on being asked if he had been down Derby lane, at first said he had not, but afterwards admitted he had been there to water some cows but it would be proved that prisoner had no cows in Mr. Wheeldon's field, through which his footmarks bad been traced. Mr. J. Lingard, surveyors having proved certain plans which were handed to the court, Charles Wheeldon, son of the prosecutor, deposed to the outbreak of the fire. In cross-examination he said that nine or ten stack fires had occurred in Shirley daring the past few years. Four had taken place at Mr. Philip Lemon's, two at Mr. Wheeldon's, one at prisoner's father's, and others at Twiggs' Bonsall's, and Cooks'. The last fire took place (on March 26th last in Mr. Phillip Lemon's yard, and his brother, Marcus Lemon, was caught in the act of setting it on fire, and was tried and sentenced to five years penal servitude at the last Derby assizes.His LORDSHIP said it was as well the jury should know that the warrant was out against Williams on the previous 12th Feb. In reply to Mr. BUSZARD witness said that he saw Marcus Lemon near the fire that night. George Sharratt was the next witness called, but the JUDGE said he did not see what good the witness could do, for he could only say that he saw somebody but he did not know who. Sharratt, however, was called, and deposed that the man he saw was a less man than prisoner, whereupon his LORDSHIP said tbat he told Mr. Lees the witness was of no value and now the prosecution had got something more. William Creswell, the next witness, was called to speak to the alleged tracks made by prisoner in the direction of the stackyard. He deposed to the search for tracks being made by candle-light between eight and nine o'clock. In cross-examination the witness spoke very positively as to the marks corresponding with the prisoner's boots and to the mark of the thorns. He admitted quarrelling with prisoner at the fire. Prisoner was helping to put the fire out; witness was not. Witness was not drunk he never had been drunk, he told the magistrates that he was full, but he did not mean of beer (Laughter). He was excited because there had been another fire in the place; there had been nine fires already, and there might have been 10 more before he should have interfered. He did not know, he was sure. whether he hit a Mrs. Cook in the eye; he did hit one or two. but they laid hold of him, and then he stood on his own defence. Mrs. Cook might have told him to be quiet, because he was creating a disturbance and preventing the fire from being put out. He admitted assaulting a man named Gelsthorpe, and also quarrelling with the prisoner. Police-constable O'Neil was also examined with regard to the examination of footmarks. In cross-examination he denied the statement made by the witness Wheeldon with regard to the covering up of a footmark by his orders was true. He said the mark was covered up by prisoner at his own suggestion. Prisoner was not indignant when asked for his boots. Witness made a memorandum of his conversation with the prisoner but he objected to produce it at the magisterial hearing because he was not forced to do so. He objected to fetch the memorandum for the sanme reason. In reply to further questions both by the Counsel and the Judge, witness admitted that he did try to entrap the prisoner a little bit by conversation.-Mr. BUSZARD: That will do. You can stand down.-Tbe JUDGE (to the jury): Do you want any more ?-The Jury: We don't.-Tbe JUDGE: Neither do I. Prisoner, you are discharged.

"DERBYSHIRE SUMMER ASSIZES." Derby Mercury 1 Aug. 1883. 19th Century British Newspapers. Web. 7 May 2016. URL Gale Document Number: GALE|BA3202786736

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