Stack firing at Hoddesdon - no smoke without fire

Hertfordshire Mercury, 9th November 1907


Arthur Edward Hawthorn, 36, painter, was indicted for setting fire to a stack of hay, the property of Mr J. A. Hunt, at Hoddesdon, on August 13th.

Prisoner pleaded not guilty. Mr E.H. Tindal-Atkinson appeared for the prosecution.

James Wisby, a gardener of Broxbourne, stated that he was working at Highfields on  August 13th when he saw some smoke coming from the direction of the reservoir. He went to see what it was, and met the prisoner who said “What’s up, Guv’nor?” Witness replied “Fire, can’t you see it?” Witness then saw that a stack near the reservoir was on fire, and went and gave the alarm to the owner, Mr Hunt. Prisoner was about 120 yards from the stack, and nobody else was there.

Prisoner: I never saw anybody until I was take into custody. I never spoke to a single person until I got to Ware police station.

P.C. Gillett, of Ware, stated that at 3.50 p.m. on the day in question prisoner rang the bell at the police station at Ware and asking for the Superintendent said “I give myself up for setting fire to a stack at Hoddesdon. I set the stack alight at 1 o’clock today.” When witness charged the prisoner later in the day he said “Have you found the owner?” and witness replied  “Yes, it is Mr Hunt”. He found a box of matches and a pipe in the prisoner’s  possession.

Prisoner : It happened through smoking, and I told the Constable so.

Witness denied that the prisoner said anything about smoking.

Harry Goddard, of Brocket Road, Hoddesdon, clerk in the employ of Mr J.A. Hunt, said he was called to the fire at one o’clock on August 13th. It was Mr Hunt’s stack and was totally destroyed. It was worth £100.

Prisoner said he was out of work at the time, and had walked to Bristol and back. He went to get some shade under the stack and had a pipe of tobacco. He laid down the pipe beside him and went to sleep, and suddenly woke up and found the stack alight. It was a pure accident.

The Judge, in addressing the jury, said that he thought they would have no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that the prisoner set fire to the stack.

The jury found the prisoner guilty, and a previous conviction was proved against him by Supt Duke.

His Lordship, addressing the prisoner, said it was a very bad case: for a man walking along the road to take it into his head to set alight to someone’s stack, as seemed very likely the case, was a very wicked thing to do. He had already had two or three similar cases to deal with at this Assize. Prisoner would be sentenced to three years’ penal servitude.

The learned judge added that he was glad the jury did not make the same mistake as the jury made the previous day. They were not as wise as this jury. (Laughter.)

It was pointed out to the Judge that some of the jurymen were the same as those of the previous day; and his lordship laughingly replied that he was not aware of that.



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