The stolen child - Watford girl's remarkable escape

Hertfordshire Advertiser, 6th January 1917


Hilda Strange Southam, a tall, well-built girl respectably dressed, her age being given as eighteen, was placed upon her trial on a charge of taking away Maud Smith, a child of three years, from Watford on Oct 24th 1916, with intent to deprive Minnie Louisa Smith, the mother, of the possession of the child. She pleaded not guilty and asked for legal aid, and on instruction of the Court was defended by Mr Ronald Walker, Mr Tindal Atkinson appearing for the prosecution.

From the evidence adduced, it appeared that on Oct 24th 1916, the three children of Mrs Smith, aged seven, three and two, were sent out from their home at 18 Sandringham Road, Watford to play while their mother went to do some shopping. The father is in the Army. As the children were late in returning the mother went in search of them. At 1.10 two of the children, the eldest and the youngest, returned but Maud, aged three, was missing. From what the mother was told, she gave information to the police and it subsequently transpired that on Oct 27th a woman, alleged to be the prisoner, went to the house of Mrs Pooley, of Carlton Avenue, Stonebridge Park, Harlesden with the child, and they were given lodging by Mrs Pooley for the night. Prisoner said Mrs Pooley stated she had work at a munitions factory at Park Royal but wanted to find someone with whom she could leave the child, and on the following morning prisoner left stating she was going to work at Park Royal. She had no luggage with her, stating that she had left it at the station and that in a box with her luggage was £3. The prisoner left and had never returned.

Mrs Pooley had undertaken to bath the child and on undressing her she stated she found that she was terribly bruised from the left shoulder blade to the back of the left leg. She called Mrs Sparr to see the child and later took her to the police station at Harlesden. Mrs Pooley had identified the prisoner among eight other women at Watford Police Station but when asked in Court if she could see the prisoner she hesitated for some time and eventually pointed her out with a trembling hand. Asked by Mr Walker why she had hesitated, she attributed it to nervousness.

Mrs Rose Sparr, who occupies a flat at 39 Carlisle Avenue, Stonebridge Park, Harlesden who had shown some hesitation in the identification of the prisoner at Watford, said she was now convinced that the prisoner was the person whom she saw with the child at that address. She said the marks on the child’s arms were as if she had been hit with a cane.

The child’s mother told of the disappearance of the child on Oct 24th, of the steps that she took to recover her, and of the ultimate discovery of the child at Mrs Pooley’s house.

Mr Tindal Atkinson desired to ask a question as to the condition of the child, but Mr Ronald Walker objected to the question as irrelevant, but the Chairman ruled that the question might be asked.

The mother then stated the child had been badly bruised and was sent to Dr Smallwood.

Sgt Berry told of the enquiries that were made to trace the child and of the arrest of the prisoner on Nov 13th. When he read the warrant to her, she said “I know nothing about it. I have not been in Watford for two and a half months”

The prisoner, on oath, denied the allegations in toto stating that on Oct 24th she was actually in London, and had not been in Watford for 2 and a half months.

Mr Walker: It has been said that on Oct 27th you went to Carlisle Avenue, Stonebridge Park with this child. Is that so?- Prisoner: No: I know nothing about it.

Do you know Mrs Pooley? – No; I had never seen her until I saw her at the Police Station at Watford.

Does the same apply to Mrs Sparr? – I don’t know either of them and had not seen them until I saw them at King Street Police station.

Answering Mr Tindal Atkinson, prisoner said she had rented a room jointly with Diana Smith at 23 Howland Street, off Tottenham Court Road. During her stay at that address she had never been away from Friday till Tuesday. She had never been to Watford for 2 and a half months till the constable took her there on Nov 13th. Her home was at 46 Sandringham Road, Watford. She left there in August. She denied that she called on Mr Buckingham, jeweller of St Albans road, Watford for some goods she had left to be repaired.

A pair of brown suede shoes were produced to the prisoner by counsel, but she denied ever having seen them before and at the request of the defending counsel, she removed one of the shoes she was wearing in order that the jury might compare it with one of the brown suede shoes.

Prisoner said she had not seen the shoes until they were shown to her at Watford Police Station. They were not her shoes.

Mr Tindal Atkinson said Mr Walker’s objection to certain evidence had compelled him to put the shoes in in the eventuality of a certain line of defence being taken.

Mrs Sarah Bartlett, of Sandringham road, Watford, who said she knew the prisoner by sight for eight years, and also knew Mrs Smith and her children by sight, told the Court that on Oct 24th, the day on which a friend came to visit her from Ireland, she saw a woman, not the prisoner, following the three children up round by Buckingham road. She regarded this as a suspicious occurrence and recalled it when she heard that one of the children was missing. She sent for the police and told them all she knew.

Mrs Julia Lorent, landlord of 23 Howland Street, Tottenham Court Road, was called to prove that while the prisoner was joint tenant of a room at the address she was never away for a night between Oct 19th and Nov 13th. The witness had some difficulty in making herself understood – she is a French woman – and declaring “I speak bad English” she burst into tears.

Mrs Pooley recalled stating that when prisoner had left her house she missed certain articles of clothing which, it was stated, by Miriam Morris , a shopkeeper at Watford, were left at her shop by a woman of the form of the prisoner, but she could not swear to her as it was dark when she called.

Daniel William Buckingham, jeweller, St Albans road, Watford, spoke to prisoner calling at his shop about a month after Sept 23rd. The jury eventually found the prisoner guilty.

Dr Frederick Joseph Sam, Deputy Medical Officer at Holloway prison, said prisoner was very deficient in moral sense and extraordinarily ignorant but she was not sufficiently bad to be certified.

Mr W Mundin, police court missionary, told of the failure of his efforts to reform the girl.

Mrs Southam, her mother, said the girl was good when she was home and declared that she would have been at munition work now if the police had let her alone. She believed she would have been a thoroughly good girl and would have reformed if the police had let her work where she was going.

The chairman said it was perfectly evident that the prisoner was out of control. Mr Mundin, the Probation Officer, who they knew by their own experience to be a wonderful man and most hopeful in the cases he undertook, had done his utmost for her but had been obliged to give her up. She would therefore be sentenced to six months with hard labour.

Prisoner was removed from the dock swearing.


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