A servant's downfall

Hertfordshire Mercury, 2nd October 1915


At Ware Petty Sessions, on the Tuesday, Elsie Elizabeth Emily Cockman (17), of 41 Byde Street, Bengeo, was summoned for stealing clothing of the value of £1 2s. the property of Nellie Forbes.  Mr H. W. Lathom, of Luton, defended.

Susannah Maria Tomlin, housekeeper to Mr Forbes, of New Road, Ware, said that the defendant had been a general servant there.  On September 10th, the witness went into the room which had been occupied by her and picked up certain clothing, which she took downstairs.  Amongst the clothing was a shawl, a skirt, and a brown blouse.

Miss Nellie Forbes said that on September 10 she saw the last witness bringing the clothing downstairs, and she identified it as her property.  The shawl and skirt were kept in a tin trunk in a cupboard under the stairs.  They were placed there about April last, and the witness had not seen them since until she saw the housekeeper with them.

No one but the witness and her sister had a right to go to the box.  The blouse was kept in a cardboard box in an attic, and the witness last saw it there early in August.  The witness could not remember where the petticoat produced was placed, as she had not seen it for twelve months.  The shawl was valued at 10s. 6d., the dress at 5s., the petticoat at 4s., and the blouse at 2s. 6d..

PS Herring said that on Saturday, September 11th, at about 3. 50 p.m., he visited Mr Forbes’ house and saw Mr Forbes, Miss Forbes, and Miss Tomlin together with the defendant.  On a table were spread out the four articles of clothing mentioned.  After some conversation, the witness cautioned the defendant who then replied that she knew nothing about the shawl, skirt, and blouse, but had taken the petticoat from ‘Miss Kitty’s’ bedroom.

In cross-examination, the witness said the defendant did not say what she had taken the petticoat for.  The witness only knew that the items of clothing were found in the defendant’s bedroom, from what the prosecutor had said.  The defendant had left the house a fortnight before.

The defendant elected to be dealt with summarily and pleaded not guilty.

Mr Lathom said that, until the Sergeant’s evidence had been given, there was no evidence against the girl at all.  On August 16th, the defendant had gone into the service of Mr Forbes, but on August 24th she had been scalded whilst carrying out her work.  On August 30th, she had had to go home, by order from the doctor.  She wrote to her employer asking for her wages and compensation money but got no reply whatever except that she was to go back to work.  On September 11th, she went back to take up her work as well as she could, but she was met at once with a charge of felony.

The girl had some excellent character references from ladies of the district with whom she had been employed, and also from her schoolmistress.  The shawl and skirt had not been seen by Miss Forbes since April, the blouse since early in August, and the petticoat she had not seen for twelve months, yet the defendant had not gone to the house until August 16th.  The goods had never been taken out of Mr Forbes’ house, and there was an utter absence of proof that the girl was a thief.  She was entitled to an acquittal.

The Bench acquitted the defendant on this charge.

A second charge was then preferred against the defendant of stealing money and jewellery valued at £4.

Miss Forbes said that the watch and ring produced were her sister Kathleen’s property, and had formerly belonged to her late mother.

Charles Forbes said that on Saturday, September 11th, he had seen the defendant at his house at the time when PS Herring came there in connection with the last case.  He had said to the defendant: “You have a ring on your finger.  Will you let me see it?” and she replied: “It is mine”.  When it was handed to the witness he recognized it at once as being his late wife’s ring.

The defendant then admitted that she had taken it off the dressing table in ‘Miss Kitty’s’ bedroom.  Believing it to have been put away in a small wooden box, the witness asked the girl what she had done with the box and the other contents.  She at first said she had not seen the box, but on the witness saying that it contained other trinkets and two half-crowns, she said at once: “No, not two half-crowns, one half-crown, two shillings and sixpence”.

When the witness pressed her to tell the truth in the matter she said that she had thrown the wooden box on the fire, with the other contents.  To the best of the witness’s belief the watch was one of his wife’s and had been given to one of his children.  The witness added that he did not at all wish to do the defendant out of her wages or anything that was due to her.  He was simply leaving that until this case was decided.

PS Herring said that on September 11th, when he was at Mr Forbes’ house, he saw the ring on the defendant’s finger and he corroborated what the previous witness had said concerning it.  The defendant made a statement that she took it out of a small wooden box in a drawer, also a watch which was at home, and a half-crown, two shilling piece, and a sixpence.

On visiting the defendant’s home, she had handed to the witness the silver watch produced, and stated: “I can’t think why I did it.  I want for nothing.  If anything comes of it I shall throw myself into the river.  It would kill my mother if she knew anything about it”.

The defendant elected to be dealt with summarily, and pleaded not guilty.

Mr Lathom said this looked on the face of it a more serious case, but they must be sure the defendant had a felonious intent.  At this time, the whole of the family were away holiday-making, and that both the housekeeper and the defendant had been left in the house alone.  Through curiosity, the defendant had a look into the chest of drawers in ‘Miss Kitty’s’ bedroom.  She saw the black box which had been alluded to, which she examined, and in doing so she dropped and broke it.

She took it away with a view to getting it mended, and she received her scald whilst she was in possession of the box and these things were in it.  He had told the mother of the defendant to subpoena the man who lives in Hertford who had mended the box, as he would be an important witness, but she had not done so.

The man had, however, sent a note giving particulars about the box, which could not of course be used as evidence.  The fact that the girl had the ring on when she went to Mr Forbes’ house did not look like the act of anyone with a felonious intent.  He contended that the defendant’s explanation was a plausible and reasonable one.

After some minutes’ retirement the Chairman said they had given careful consideration to the defence so ably put forward by the defendant’s counsel, but they found her guilty and convicted her of stealing these things.  She would be bound over under the Probation Act for 12 months.

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