Theft of motor tyres at St Albans

Hertfordshire Mercury, 20th February 1915


At Hertfordshire Winter Assizes, Edgar Albert Gater (19), an electrical engineer in the Army Service Corps, was indicted for stealing eight motor tyres and three inner tubes, the property of Benjamin Swan, at St Albans, during December and January last, and Moss Emmanuel (29), salesman, a Jew employed in Long Acre, London, was charged with receiving four of the tyres and three of the tubes, well knowing them to have been stolen.  Gater pleaded guilty to the theft, but Emmanuel pleaded not guilty to the charge of receiving.

Mr E.H. Tindall-Atkinson said that the prosecutor, Mr Swan, was a motor-car dealer in a large way of business, with premises in Euston Road, London, and works, known as the Marlborough Motor Works, at St Albans.  On the outbreak of war St Albans became a busy military centre, and Mr Swan’s works were commandeered for the use of the Army Service Corps.  He let out on hire to the Corps a large number of motor-cars and lorries and guaranteed to keep them properly tyred for the purposes of military work.  Gater, who was a private, was engaged along with a number of other soldiers at the works.  In the early part of January Mr Swan discovered there was a shortage of tyres, and set about finding out how his stock had been depleted.  It was now known that Gater was the thief, because he admitted it.

What he did was to telephone to a firm in Long Acre, London, known as Maxims, of which the prisoner Emmanuel was manager, and asked them to buy the tyres, and after bargaining as to price they did so.  According to Emmanuel’s statement to the Police, when he had the telephone call on January 2, he asked Gater how much he wanted for the tyres, and he eventually bought them for £5 17s. 6d..  They were bought by Mr Swan for £20 7s. 6d. less 12½ per cent discount.  Three of the tyres were sold the same day by Emmanuel to the Elite Rubber Company, Vauxhall Bridge Road, for £12 13s. 6d., more than twice the amount he gave Gater for them, and the remaining one he sold at Aldridge’s for £4.

He thought the jury would agree that when a man like the prisoner Emmanuel bought new motor-car tyres from the other prisoner at a quarter of their value, without knowing who Gater was and how he came in possession of them, it was a transaction that should be looked upon with grave suspicion, to say the least.  Mr Benjamin Swan, the prosecutor, bore out counsel’s statement, and Mr George Herbert Griffiths, accountant in the employ of the Continental Tyre Company, gave evidence as to the value of the tyres and the price which Mr Swan paid for them.

Mr F.J. Davis, managing partner of the Elite Rubber Company, 26 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, said that the prisoner Emmanuel sold him three of the covers and three of the tubes for £12 13s. 6d. as new goods.  The proper price should have been £19 0s. 3d., but he got £6 6s. 9d. discount for cash.In cross-examination the witness said that the value now was less than before the war, because they were German-made tyres.

The Judge: ‘Would you be satisfied if the goods were sold to you at a quarter of their value?’.  ‘Yes’.  ‘Yes, I thought so; no inquiries would be made by your firm?’.    ‘I don’t understand you’.  ‘I think you ought to know.  I think it is time to stop you when you make statements like that’.

Emmanuel was called, and stated that he was formerly a porter in Billingsgate Market, and afterwards a repairer at a rubber works.  Eleven months ago he went into the employment of Maxims, and before that he had no experience of buying and selling rubber tyres.  In December he had a message over the phone from Gater at St Albans.  He said he had some tyres he had used and wanted to sell, as he had got rid of his car and the tyres were no more use to him.  He asked how much the witness would give him for them.   The witness replied: ‘You are the seller and I am the buyer, state your price’.  He then said he wanted £4, and the witness asked him to send them along.

Counsel: ‘What did you do with the goods?’.  ‘I entered them in the stock book in the ordinary way, and afterwards sold them’.  Proceeding, Emmanuel said that since the war broke out he was only paid 25 shillings a week, and he was paid commission on the sale of goods.  It made no difference as to what the goods were bought for.  Not a penny piece arising out of the purchase of the tyres from Gater went into his pocket.

Cross-examined, he said he was not the firm’s buyer: this being the first transaction in buying he had had during the 11 months he had been with the firm.  He bought the tyres as second-hand, but when they arrived he found they were new, and he came to the conclusion that they were ‘spares’.

Mr Tindall-Atkinson: ‘You say you have never bought tyres before, but at the police court you said you bought of Oylers?’.  ‘I said the firm had bought of Oylers, I hadn’t’.

‘Is it not a dishonest transaction to buy three tyres from Gater as second-hand, very cheap, and then sell them to the Elite Company as brand new at double the price?’  ‘I don’t think so, we have got to get a living’.   ‘If this was the only buying transaction why didn’t you refer Gater to the proper buyer?’.  ‘Because it was on the telephone and the buyer wasn’t there’.  Who is the proper buyer?’.   ‘Mr. Emmanuel’.  ‘Your brother?’.  ‘Yes’.  ‘You say the smooth tyre which was left was only worth 5 shillings ? ‘.  ‘Yes’.  ‘Wouldn’t you want to know where it came from if anyone asked 5 shillings for it when we have evidence that it was worth £4 ?’.  ‘I say it was damaged and not worth much’.

The Judge: ‘ Do you say that 5 shillings is the full value of the tyre?’.  ‘Yes’.  ‘Can I get tyres at that price at Maxim’s in Long Acre?’.  ‘No, my Lord, we have got to get a living.’   ‘Yes, a very good living.  If I could get tyres of that description at your shop for 5 shillings I should always be going there.  I never heard of such a thing in my life’.

Mr Tindall-Atkinson: ‘It was a pretty good transaction.  You buy the tyres on January 7 and sell them the same day at a profit of 200 per cent.  Pretty good deal was it not?’.  ‘Yes.’  ‘An honest deal?’.  ‘Yes’.

The jury wanted to know why the proprietors of Maxims were not present to say whether they got the benefit of this transaction or the prisoner, who was only their paid servant.  His Lordship said he would not go into that.  The jury must take the case as it was presented to them.

After consultation in private, the jury found Emmanuel not guilty, and he was discharged.

Gater was then brought forward for sentence.  Mr Tindall-Atkinson said he had already been charged at St Albans with stealing other tyres, and was bound over on account of his good character.  The Judge said it was really part of the same theft, but they were found out on different dates.  He asked who set this lad to work stealing these tyres.

Mr Tindall-Atkinson said that until he enlisted Gater led a very respectable life, but after that he got into bad company in the West End of London, and he had told counsel that there were several women in the case, and the cause of his stealing these tyres was to get money to go and see them.

Major Crispin, of the A.S.C., said he had nothing whatever to complain of in the lad’s conduct, and asked for his Lordship’s clemency, stating that he would take him back to his Regiment.  He was sure Gater would redeem his character if he had a chance.

His Lordship, after reading a statement by Gater, asked if he had anything further to say.

Gater replied that he saw an advertisement in a commercial paper stating that Maxims wanted to buy tyres and that they would send cash by return.

His Lordship said that whilst Gater was to blame, the people who were more to blame were those who bought the tyres.  As usual it was the receivers who caused the crime, and if they had not been willing to buy Gater could not have sold them.  Under these circumstances he should not send him to prison.  What Major Crispin had said had had a good deal of weight with him, and he should give the prisoner a chance to clear his character by binding him over.

Mr Tindall-Atkinson asked for restitution of the stolen tyres and his Lordship said:’ Yes, they must go back to the owner: and those who bought them must lose their money’.

This page was added on 02/10/2014.

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