Charles Smith, alias Sells, 24, greengrocer, and Horace Harrison, 25, labourer, both of Boxmoor, were indicted for night poaching, being armed with a gun, on land in the occupation of Lieut-Colonel Dudley G. Ryder, at Bovingdon, on December 17th, in company with Leonard Smith, who was not yet in custody:- Charles Smith pleaded guilty, and Harrison not guilty.
Mr Grubbe appeared for the prosecution, and Mr J.H. Murphy defended Harrison.
Mr Grubbe, in opening the case for the prosecution, said that on December 16th three men – the two prisoners and one other man who was not in custody – went at 11 p.m. to the house of a labouring man named Lee and asked him if he could let them have some cartridges. This was about a mile and a half from the scene of the affray. The man refused to give them any, but eventually sold a dozen cartridges to them. The gamekeeper of Colonel Ryder was Mr Stratton, and he was going into his house at one o’clock on the Sunday morning, December 17th, when he heard two gun shots in a wood two miles away. He went at once to the cottage of the under-keeper, Bunting, and arranged for him to find the policeman, Downing, who was in the neighbourhood, and the three men met at three o’clock at the top of Box Lane, which was near the wood from which the sound of shooting proceeded.
At four o’clock there came two more shots from the wood called Coleshill Wood. The three men went down to the wood and after waiting a little time they heard some men pushing through the wood towards them. They waited and saw three men come out of the wood, and two of them were the prisoners and the third was Smith’s brother. They followed the men, and overtook the prisoner Smith, who was armed with a stick and struck the policeman a severe blow across the chest. When the other two men came up they managed to secure Smith, who was handcuffed and searched. A pheasant was found upon the prisoner, and as they were moving off with the other two men returned and began throwing stones. One of them said ”I’ll shoot you, if you do not let that man go”. He did not suggest that Harrison was the man with the gun, but he was one of the men who insisted upon the keepers letting Smith go.
The keepers were struck again and again with sticks, and the man with the gun, whichever it was, levelled it at the policeman and the keepers and threatened to fire. The keepers the put Smith in front of them and they did not fire. Smith said ”Shoot the b_____s”. They did not shoot, but they continued to throw stones, one of which struck Smith a severe blow in the eye, and brought him down. Smith then said ”You have hit me, don’t fire, or you’ll shoot me”. Smith struggled and kicked and continued this threats, and the other men kept on throwing stones and using sticks.
Finding at length they were getting the worst of it they took the handcuffs off Smith and let him go and he rejoined the other two men. When Smith got back to his friends they heard him say ”Now shoot the b____s”, and as the men were going away both barrels of the gun were fired at the gamekeeper and the policeman, and the latter was hit, but fortunately not injured. Bunting, however, had been seriously injured by the stones, a severe wound having been inflicted on his head.
Early on Sunday morning Stratton went to the police, and in company with P.S. Wilcox and other policemen proceeded to the house were Smith lived, and found him in bed with a black eye and bruises on the wrists, showing that he had had handcuffs on recently. He was taken to the police station, and Harrison was afterwards arrested, but in answer to the charge made no reply. The other Smith had left the neighbourhood. Empty cartridges were that day picked up where the affray took place which corresponded with the cartridges in possession of Lee, who had sold similar ones to the prisoner Harrison.
Lee was called and deposed that the three men visited his house on Saturday night and that Harrison bought a dozen cartridges of him for a shilling.
The gamekeepers, William Stratton and John Bunting, bore out the statements of counsel, as also did the Constable, Downing, who produced his overcoat showing the shot marks.
P.S. Wilcox produced the gun and created considerable laughter by pointing it at the Judge, who quickly told him to put it down. In cross-examination he admitted that he did not find any signs of blood or feathers about Harrison.
During the cross-examination of this witness there was a sharp passage at arms between Mr Murphy and the Judge. Counsel became somewhat angry with the Sergeant because he did not mention in his evidence that he found a cartridge on Harrison which did not correspond with those found on the scene of the affray and those that were sold by Lee to Harrison, and he accused the witness of suppressing this information. The Judge objected to the use of this word and said that the witness was entitled to courtesy, and when he learned counsel used the word suppressed he was hardly courteous to the witness, who was only carrying out his duty. It was a phrase that might easily be misunderstood by the Jury. It might be thought that he kept back the information for an unfair reason.
The Sergeant afterwards explained that he produced the cartridge in question at the Police Court, but was told by the Magistrates’ Clerk that it had nothing to do with the case, and hence it was not mentioned in the depositions. It was not considered by the Magistrates to be material to the case.
Dr Herbert Love, assistant to Dr Russell Steele, stated that he attended to the gamekeeper Bunting, and described his wounds.
The prisoner Smith was called, and stated that Harrison was with him and his brother on the night in question, and said that Harrison bought and paid for the cartridges. They then all three went in the direction of Bourne End. His brother had a double-barrelled gun, not the one produced that day. They went into the woods and shot some pheasants.
Mr Grubbe: Did you shoot any ? Yes, six.
Did Harrison shoot any ? – I cannot say. I had had a drop of drink. When they were coming out they were met by the keepers and the policeman, and the handcuffs were put on him. The other two run away, but they came back to within about forty yards. He was hit with a stick not with a stone. He never heard the other man say anything. He was only handcuffed about three minutes. What the police said about his having been handcuffed a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes was not true. As soon as the keepers and the policeman saw his mates coming back, they let him go. When he rejoined the other two him brother had the gun.
Mr Grubbe: What did you do with the pheasants ?
Witness: Chucked them away.
Mr Murphy asked no questions of the witness.
This closed the case for the prosecution.
Mr Murphy called no witnesses, but spoke at length in defence of Harrison. He contended that there was not a word in evidence against his client, and pointed out that it was an unusual course to call one of the prisoners who had pleaded guilty to give evidence for the prosecution, and it showed a weakness in the case for the prosecution.
Whatever had been the inducement held out to Smith to give evidence against Harrison, it was clear that the prosecution had not got much in return. Smith was obviously anxious to shield his brother as well as himself by bringing Harrison into the case. He pointed out the significance of the fact that nothing was found on Harrison, and having spoken upon the seriousness of cases where the wrong person was convicted, he expressed the belief that the jury would give him the benefit of the doubt, and acquit him of any complicity in the crime.
The Judge having summed up the case at length, in the course of which he clearly pointed to the guilt of Harrison as well as the other prisoner, the jury found them guilty, and they were sentenced to nine months’ hard labour each.