The now-closed Salford Docks on Trafford Road was in 1916 a hive of industry employing hundreds of men.
With huge quantities of goods coming in from all over the world it wasn’t unusual for some cargo to go ‘missing’ on occasion.
But two dockers in particular got greedy and fell foul of eagle-eyed dock officers; the Manchester Ship Canal Company had its own Dock Police which was established in 1893 and existed until January 1993.
Richard Jones, of Stone Street, Salford and Edward Monaghan, of Park Place, Salford were spotted by PC Farrington cutting strips of leather from a bale in one of the dock sheds.
The officer approached them to ask what they were doing and, hilariously, the quick-thinking Monaghan sprinted off and left Jones to face the music.
Jones, who was just moments slower in deciding to make his escape, also attempted to leg it but was caught by a passing police officer, whom he innocently asked, “Have you not made a mistake?”
A search was made of Jones’ house where a boot repairing kit and several lengths of leather were found.
Monaghan gave himself to the police the next day and both men were charged with stealing 7lbs of leather worth eight shillings from the docks: the property of the Manchester Ship Canal Company.
In court both men denied the offence and a robust defence was offered by Mr Flint, an enterprising local solicitor.
PC Farrington was asked by Mr Flint, ‘How many corners did Jones turn around when he was allegedly running away?’, to which he replied, ‘About three’.
Mr Flint then suggested that perhaps he was confused and it wasn’t Jones that he had seen running away on that day in question.
PC Farrington held firm and stated that he had seen the man several times and knew his face.
Inspector Farrell was the next to take the stand and was questioned by the doubting Mr Flint who asked him about the leather found in Stone’s house.
He said: “Would it surprise you to know that there is similar leather in many of the leather shops in Salford?” to which he replied, “It might be so.”
Things seemed to be going quite well for the defendants until Monaghan took the stand.
He was asked why he had not surrended to the police instead of running away?
Monaghan’s reply to that question sealed his fate.
He said: “I was in when the police officer came for me, but but I didn’t see the fun in giving myself up for the night and having to be put up in a cell all night, especially when I have a bed to sleep in at home, not likely.”
I should imagine Mr Flint also flinched when he heard that reply, however he wasn’t beaten yet.
He launched into a speech of which Clarence Darrow would have been proud.
“You will not blast these men’s character on the evidence laid before you, these men have irreproachable characters,” he intoned.
“It is a very common thing for a father to mend his children’s boots, there was nothing extraordinary in finding leather in his house, he had been repairing the children’s boots for years.
“My client purchased that leather from a shop on Ordsall Lane for that very purpose and there are grave concerns in this case and that they should be given the benefit of the doubt and save them from being stained by this alleged offence.
“These men are of good character, temperate men, and I think that the police are mistaken, unless they can see round corners, I suggest that they have made a mistake, a police officer is not infallible.”
If I had been in court that day I would have been tempted to stand up and applaud Mr Flint for his eloquence.
Sadly the Magistrate didn’t share my point of view.
He said that he had considered all of the evidence and had found both men guilty, and that people who pilfer deserve to be punished, and to make matters worse, he said he “intended to make an example of them”, harsh words indeed from a Magistrate in Salford.
Jones was sent to prison for six weeks with hard labour, Monaghan was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour, to be served at Strangeways prison.
These are harsh sentences indeed, but I can’t help wondering if their sentences would have been more lenient if Mr Flint hadn’t pleaded so eloquently in their defence.