HC Deb 22 March 1887 vol 312 cc1139-40
MR. LACAITA (Dundee)

asked the Lord Advocate, Whether his attention has been called to the case of James Bennett, before the Arbroath Police Court on the 27th of February last; whether it is true that Bennett was sentenced to 60 days, for having been in the High Street of Arbroath after 11 o'clock on a Saturday night; and, if so, under what clause of what Statute it is criminal to be in a public street after 11 o'clock; whether Bennett was ready to go home at once, had he been warned to do so by the constable who apprehended him; whether it is true that Mr. Selby, clothier, of Arbroath, deponed that, having employed Bennett for two months during 1886, he had found him regular in his attendance, and honest; and, whether any evidence was given to show that Bennett's conduct had boon other than honest whilst in Mr. Selby's employment, or at any other time during the last 18 months?

THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)

James Bennett was apprehended on the 26th of February, and on the 28th of February he was sentenced to 60 days' imprisonment in Arbroath Police Court. He was charged under the 15th section of the Prevention of Crimes Act, 1871, by which any suspected person or reputed thief, frequenting any street with intent to commit a theft, may be apprehended and committed to prison, with hard labour, for a period not exceeding three months. The presiding magistrate was satisfied that felonious intent was established. Bennett has all the characteristics of a suspect. Between 1863 and the present date he has been convicted more than 20 times—in the Criminal Courts in Dundee nine times of serious offences, and seven times of theft, one of these thefts being by housebreaking. He has also been frequently convicted in other places. He came to Arbroath from Dundee about a year ago. He worked for Mr. Selby in June and July last; but Mr. Selby gave no evidence, as stated in the Question. Except for those two months he has had no lawful means of subsistence, and he was notorious as associating with thieves and bad characters. On the night in question he was found going in a direction which led away from his residence. It was suspected that he was watching an opportunity to commit theft, and he was arrested. I cannot tell whether his frame of mind would have led him to go homo if told to do so. Evidence of Bennett's previous character was fully laid before the magistrate, and this evidence could not be in favour of his mode of life during the last 18 months; though, so far as I am aware, no absolute charge of dishonesty has been made against him during that period. He was twice recently suspected of assault and robbery, and in January last was apprehended on one of the charges. The report in the newspapers, which seemed to form the basis of the Question, was most inaccurate.