In a Children’s Court at Welwyn on Friday, Bertie Carter, aged 8 years, the son of Augustus J. Carter, of Digswell House Lodge, was charged with setting fire to a stack of hay, the property of Mr. William Lyle, farmer, at Digswell, on August 19. The boy, through his parent, pleaded guilty. The prosecutor said he had a stack of hay standing by the side of the road, which contained about 22 tons, and he valued it at £100. He did not see it set alight, but saw some smoke coming from it and then went to it. The stack was entirely destroyed. Frederick Howe, a boy of 11 years of age, living at Digswell Cottages, said that on August 19 at 3.30 p.m. he was going to take dinner to the soldiers at the viaduct with Bertie Carter and Will Brunton. Carter said he would wait near the haystack till the witness came back. When the witness got a little way from the haystack he saw the stack on fire. He didn’t know how it was set alight, but Carter was coming from the stack, and had a box of matches with him. Some rubbish had been lit a little way from the stack, but he did not see Carter light it. The Chairman recalled Mr. Lyle and asked: ‘Did you see any fire near the stack?’ Mr. Lyle: ‘No, here was no loose straw or hay near the stack, but somebody night have pulled some out of the rick.’
P.c. Baker, of Welwyn, said on Thursday, August 19, at 4 p.m. he received a telephone message that a haystack was on fire at Digswell, and he gave the alarm to the Fire Brigade and also accompanied them to the scene. The stack was then in full flame. About 15 yards from the stack in the road he found the box of matches now produced. After making inquiries he proceeded to Digswell House Lodge, and saw Carter in the presence of his mother. The witness told her he was making inquiries about the haystack. The boy replied: ‘I lit the fire with a box of matches I found, and then threw the box away. Fred Howe told me to set light to the stack. Howe had a box of matches as well, but the boy Brunton had not got any.’ The witness then asked him if he had told his parents, and he replied that he did not think anything more about it. The witness did not see where a fire had been lit near the stack. The stack was intact when he got there, but it was alight all around it. The Chairman said the Bench were unanimously agreed that the boy Carter did not set the stack on fire maliciously. They therefore dismissed the case against him, but at the same time warned him, and informed him that he had had a very narrow escape.