Five young rascals tried to steal some rabbits from a frightened lad - and then lied about it on oath. They almost got away with it.
|Copyright Janet Cameron|
Walter Chatters, Charles Moore, Charles Warren (yes, Warren!), Sucker Gough and Joseph Brown were accused of assaulting a boy, George Merrit and stealing three rabbits on 31 December 1869. The offence took place on the Rochester to Maidstone Road.
The pilfered bunnies belonged to Mr. E.R. Coles, who was, according to the Chatham News dated 7 January, one of the magistrates on duty that day. Mr. Coles retired from the Bench for the duration of the hearing.
A Cunning Subterfuge
Young George Merrit described how, the previous Friday, he was taking eighteen dead rabbits along the high road, leading to Maidstone. They had been left in his care by some gentlemen, who were still out shooting small animals, as men of that period liked to do.
On reaching the second milestone, seven men approached George, asking him the way to Chatham. But that was a subterfuge. Instead, they surrounded him.
"Who do these rabbits belong to?" they demanded. George informed them they belonged to gentlemen who were out shooting in the woods.
"Let's have some," said the men, but George explained, with great patience, that the dead rabbits were not his to give away. The men ignored him. Several of them picked up rabbits from the ground. George began to shout for help, then Walter Chatters struck him violently on the back with a stick.
Frightened, George ran away, and when he returned, he found the men had disappeared - and so had five of the rabbits although later he found two on the ground nearby.
George Merritt confirmed that he recognised the prisoners as five of the seven men who had accosted him. All the men, he said, had sticks and this was confirmed by an eye-witness. The assistance of Sergeant Hinds ensured the eventual apprehension of the five men. The newspaper noted that six nets and a rabbit were recovered from Charles Warren at the police station.
We Never Touched No Rabbits, Sir!
Walter Chatters insisted that the boy, George Merrit, had spoken falsely on oath, while Moore declared he had never touched a rabbit, and had told the others not to touch them or they would get into trouble. Charles Warren said he picked up a rabbit, but put it down again quickly after Moore's warning. Gough and Brown also denied touching the rabbits.
The Bench retired and when they returned, the mayor said the charge of a felony against the prisoners was withdrawn, but they would be "proceeded against" on a charge of assault of a boy. The prisoners pleaded not guilty, and again, the evidence given by George Merrit was read out by the clerk. Chatters repeated that the boy spoke falsely because he had never, would not even think of, striking him!
The mayor considered the evidence and decided that there was a violent assault on the young boy. Chatters was fined 30s. including costs, or one calendar month's hard labour. The other men were fined 1s or, in default, fourteen days' hard labour.