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Thieves at Saint Marys

The following report appeared in the Bedfordshire Times on the 23rd October 1860. "George Bennett alias Henry Simpson (23), a determined looking fellow, described as a butcher, and Henry Lee alias Leigh alias Hill (27), an engineer, were charged with being found in the parish church at Luton, with intent to commit a felony, and being armed with dangerous weapons, and having picklocks in their possession, on the 3rd of September".

"Both prisoners pleaded guilty".

"The prisoners were further charged with assaulting and beating John Dorrington, David Jaquest, George Armstrong and William Charles Neville, police-constables, with intent to resist their lawful apprehension by the said constables, at Luton, on the 3rd September".

To these charges the prisoners pleaded not guilty".

"The Court having held a short consultation".

"Dr. Abdy, addressing the jury, said, the prisoners having pleaded guilty to the first indictment, he was instructed to state on the part of the prosecution that no evidence would be offered on the second charge. This step was not adopted out of any tenderness towards the prisoners. They had pleaded guilty to a very serious charge, and the sentence was left in the hands of the court".

"The Chairman, in delivering the sentence, said that with regard to Bennett there was a fearful catalogue of his antecedents, showing his character to be of the blackest kind, and that he was ripe to commit any offence, however heinous, without any scruple. With regard to his companion Lee, he had been previously convicted of felony, and it was possible that both men were equally bad. The court, however, though proper to make a distinction as to the sentences. Bennett was fortunate enough in one respect that the court had no legal proof of a previous conviction of felony, although a long list of other offences stood against him. At his particular request, although his intercedence might not do any good, the court had concluded not to award the full punishment of his offence, and instead of going to prison for three years, the sentence was that he be committed for two years' hard labour. With respect to Lee, the court sentenced him to six years' penal servitude".

"When the prisoners appeared in the dock, Mr. Roberts immediately perceived that Bennett had donned the overcoat of his companion, and ordered him back to the cell to disrobe and resume his own garment. In a minute or two Bennett re-appeared in his fustian jacket and Lee put on his overcoat. Another little anecdote may be recorded as showing the audacity of the two thieves. Before being conducted to the dock a conversation was overheard, in which the burglars agreed to pitch into the officers in attendance, at the close of the trial. Immediately on the matter being communicated to the Governor he adopted measures for thwarting the fistic intentions of these professional thieves. The prisoners having pleaded guilty to the first indictment, and the prosecution having decided upon not offering any evidence on the second, several stalwart police officers were seen to take up their position behind the prisoners, apparently unobserved by them. Immediately on sentence being passed on Bennett, he was, as quick as thought, removed from the dock, and was safely lodged in one of the cells attached to the Court; his lugubrious companion followed shortly afterwards, having received, thanks to the photographic art, a far heavier sentence than he expected" [for the photograph see below]. It may also be mentioned that both prisoners were the week previous removed by habeas corpus to Watford, in Hertfordshire, on a charge of burglary committed in the neighbourhood of that town. Both prisoners were identified and committed for trial at the next Hertfordshire Assizes".

"The following additional particulars may not be considered out of place in concluding our notice of these two notorious characters: - As soon as Bennett and Lee became inmates of Bedford Prison, Mr. Roberts, the Governor, with his accustomed zeal in the discharge of his duty, took photographic likenesses of both. These he affixed to printed forms, supplying the necessary information as to the age, height, and general appearances of the men, and sent them to the governors of different gaols in the kingdom. The antecedents of Bennett have already been recorded in our columns, and it will therefore not be necessary to republish particulars. It may, however, be stated that he has been before the magistrates on 33 charges, and has undergone various terms of imprisonment, as well as having been sentenced to four years penal servitude for night poaching. The antecedents of Lee, alias Leigh, have also been traced. He was convicted in May 1858 at the Central Criminal Court, in the name of James Hill, and sentenced with a man named Isaac Walton to one year's imprisonment. The burglary was committed in the house of Mr. Hewitson, BlackheathPark [Kent]: another man was implicated, but he made his escape at the time of apprehension. Hill and Walton were remanded to Maidstone Gaol, and on their way from the prison to the police court, as the train was passing through a tunnel, they unfastened the door of the carriage and made their escape, while the train was going at full speed. They got the handcuffs off, and ran about ten miles across the country, when they were retaken. Hill, alias Lee, is well known in the neighbourhood of the New Cut as an associate of thieves. He lived with a woman named Francis, who had also been convicted of felony. Since Lee's lodgement in Bedford Gaol a woman presented herself to the Governor, representing that she was his sister, and requested an interview. The Governor suspected her story, and he did no tallow the visit to take place, and has since discovered that she was the identical Francis who had been cohabiting with Lee in London".

 Henry Lee [QGV10/4]
Henry Lee [QGV10/4]

The photographs and descriptions of both men, as well as Bennett's antecedents may be seen in the Bedford Gaol Register [QGV10/4] which may now be consulted on-line. The photographs, of course, are those taken at the governor of Bedford Prison's orders and despatched to gaols around the country as noted in the newspaper article. Lee's description showed him to by 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighing 128 pounds [58 kilograms] with dark brown hair, large dark eyes and a pallid complexion. He had small scars on his forehead, a scar on his right thumb and scars on the back of his forefinger on his right hand. His given profession was an engineer or engine driver, which must have been of help to him when escaping from the train as far as judging speed was concerned. Despite his intended offence in Saint Mary's he gave his religion as Church of England! He was born in Heywood in Lancashire but gave his residence as 27 Floodgate Street, Birmingham [despite the newspaper saying he lived in London - perhaps things had become too hot for him or the Birmingham address was simply false].

 George Bennett [QGV10/4]
George Bennett [QGV10/4]

George Bennett looks a devil-may-care character with, to modern eyes, a touch of Clark Gable about him, his physical description, however, belied this to some extent: he had lost his little finger of his right hand, had bad teeth in front and was ruptured and wore a truss. He also had a mole between his shoulder blades and tattoos of an anchor, a bird, a heart and the initials GTGBP on his left arm. He was tall at 5 feet 10 inches and weighed 154 pounds [70 kilograms], had dark brown hair, grey eyes and a sallow complexion. He was a single man and a Roman Catholic and had been born and lived in Bedmont [Hertfordshire]. He had been convicted nineteen times on various counts from 1845 to 1856, all in Hertfordshire. His convictions included wilful damage, breaching a pound [presumably either to steal from it or recover his own property without paying a fine], riot in a beerhouse, common assault, assaulting a policeman, highway robbery and two counts of night poaching and eleven counts of simply poaching. His sentences ranged from a fine of five shillings to four years imprisonment.