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Middlecliffe Case at Assizes

December 1959

South Yorkshire Times – Saturday 12 December 1959

Co-Op. Director First Defence Witness at Leeds Assizes

Barnsley Case Still Incomplete After Hearing Lasting Four Days

The President of the Barnsley British Co-operative Society, Mr. Herbert Wilde, yesterday (Thursday) went into the witness box at Leeds Assizes as the first defence witness in the case in which he and four of his colleagues faced a charge of conspiracy.

It was the fourth day of the trial.

In the preceding three days 15 witnesses were called by the prosecution to tell of events at the Society’s Middlewood branch at Darfield where a deficiency of £1,491 was discovered at a stocktaking, and later at the Society’s central offices in Barnsley on December 13th of last year, when four Darfield residents are alleged by the prosecution to have appeared before a “private court” and agreed to pay sums totalling £258 in connection with offences alleged to have been committed by an 18-years-old assistant at the Middlewood branch. Wilde told the court that he regarded Margery Ann Woodcock as being an “instrument . . .  a tool of older people.”

Legal Argument

Before the accused were asked to plead. Mr Price made an attempt to have the Indictment against them quashed because he said It did not lead a commission of offences.

After 85 minutes of legal submissions and arguments, Mr Justice Slade ruled against Mr Price and the trial opened with all the five men pleading “not guilty.

Mr Price said when one came, the allegation was one of concealing knowledge of, and refraining from informing the police of criminal offences which they knew had been committed. It was alleged that they committed the offence, not by doing two things, but by two acts of omission or not doing; by concealing their knowledge and refraining from informing the police authorities.

There was no allegation that they had done anything positive, no allegation of any agreement at all and no allegation of benefit. Mr Price submitted that a citizen or collection of citizens were fully entitled to conceal their knowledge or refrain from informing the police. Knowing and not acting was not in his submission an offence.

A Distinction

Mr Lyons said first it was necessary to draw a distinction between compounding and misprision and he did not allege compounding.

Mr Justice Slade said a subject was under a public duty not to conceal knowledge of offences, and when one or more persons combined to agree to conceal their respective knowledge of an offence than they were guilty of a criminal act. He upheld the indictment, as worded did disclose a criminal offence.

Outlining the case, Mr Lyons said all five accused held high positions in the Barnsley British Co-operative Society, one of the largest societies in the country, and two of them, Mr Wilde and Mr Morrey were Justices of the Peace for the Borough of Barnsley.

“Archaic Word”

The charge was one of conspiracy, a somewhat archaic word, which meant no more than that they agreed to do an unlawful act. The particular type of conspiracy which was alleged was conspiracy to prevent or defeat the course of public justice. The nature of the particular offence went rather beyond the mere question of just hushing up a crime or concealing it from the police, he claimed.

The essence of the case was that, knowing that an employee of the Society, an 18-years-old girl had committed certain criminal offences, including stealing, in the course of her employment, the five defendants agreed to refrain front informing the police and hush the matter up. Further, they traded in their knowledge of the offences by successfully bringing pressure to bear on certain relatives of the girl to pay sums totalling £258. Their public duty, and certainly the two defendants who were Justices of the Peace must have known, was to report the matter to the police so that it might be dealt with in open court and public justice done. Instead they conducted something in the nature of a private hearing behind closed doors.

At Darfield Shop

The branch which the girl worked at was the Middlewood branch at Darfield, a groceries and provision shop, where the manager Mr Charlesworth and seven assistants were employed. Mr. Charlesworth had been employed by the Society all his working life, for 42 years, and had been manager of the shop mince 1947.

On November 11th. Mr. Charlesworth took stock at the branch and discovered a deficiency of £1,421 14s. 7d. Because of the system which applied, there was always a deficiency to be expected, but that was exceptional. He decided to keep watch and on November 21st, he saw Margery Ann Woodcock serving one of her aunts, Mrs. Maud Dainty.

Mr. Charlesworth decided to check the order and found that it’s value was £5 15s. 3d. At that time In the credit ledger there was an amount of 9s. 11d outstanding to Mrs. Dainty’s account, which meant that to settle her account she should bays paid £6 5s. 14. He left the girl to make out the check, but later when he looked at the check book he found that she had made out the check for only £ 4 15s. 9d. and what was more had also made an entry in the credit ledger showing the 9s. 11d. as being paid off.

The Difference

What had happened, said Mr. Lyons, was that the difference had been stolen by the girl. Mr Charlesworth a few days later found that an account owing by Mrs. Vann had been shown as being paid. There should have been a check for that day showing that amount, but when Mr. Charlesworth looked at the girl’s check book, he found that while there was a check appearing under Mrs. Vann’s number, no amount appeared on the top carbon copy, while the other carbon copy was completely blank.

Obviously said Mr. Lyons, it there was no supervision, an unscrupulous assistant could play ducks and drakes with the little checks . Mr. Charlesworth had a word With Mr. Copley by telephone and on his advice he looked at the cheque again and found that it showed a sum of 3d.

On November 28th, at Mr. Copley’s request, Mr. Charlesworth sent Miss Woodcock to him and she was either dismissed or suspended. During the next fortnight. Mr. Charlesworth spent three days the Ist, 8th and 11th December at Mr. Copley’s going through the books and accounts of the shop with the various headquarters records, and found that in the six months ended November 1958, Miss Woodcock and not accounted for £7 15s 6d in the case of her mother, £41 10s 7d in the case of Mrs dainty and £32 14s 2d in the case of Mrs Vann. The money which according to all the records Margery Woodcock had stolen in the preceding six months, totalled £82 0s 3d.

In the course of their investigations, they also came across cases where Margery will cop and not only stolen money and falsified a man, but had also done some falsification of forgery by signing the initials in the credit ledger.

On December 11, Mr Copley interviewed the girl in the presence of Mr Charlesworth. Mr Lyons outlined how she admitted her guilt and said should take money from gramophone records and stockings and had been “helping herself to a few pounds each week.”

Mr Copley had a document in the nature of a confession type which she signed and an employee named Guest was called in to act as witness.

“In that statement which she signed she did not merely incriminate herself also very clearly incriminate her aunts. Whether she incriminate her mother is not so clear.” Mr Lyons told the jury.

The three women have always vigorously denied having had the slightest idea what Margery Woodcock was doing. Margery Woodcock will tell you her mother and her aunts were completely ignorant of the offences on the part of the same which imply that they knew was going on wasn’t true.”

During the interview, Mr Copley asked Mr Charles and Miss will cop to leave the room saying that he wanted to telephone Mr Wilde. Immediately Mr Charlesworth and the girls were readmitted to the room, Mr. Copley told the ‘girl he wanted £100 from her mother, £94 from Mrs. Dainty and £64 from Mrs. Vann, and said It had to be paid to Mr. Charlesworth at the shop by 9 a.m. next day, If it was not, then the matter would be reported to the police. Margery Woodcock said her father could not pay because he had not got any money.

Saturday the 13th

On Saturday, December 13th, said Mr. Lyons, Mr. and Mrs. Woodcock. Mrs Dainty and Mr. Vann went to Mr. Copley at his office. Mr. Copley immediately asked “Have you got it?” and when someone asked what he meant he replied “The money of course. What do you think you are here tor?” He pointed an accusing finger at the faces of one or more of the party and accused them of hiding behind the girl, which they all denied. In the end he accompanied them in his car and when one of the party asked where they were going he said “We are not going to the police yet.”

If he did say that suggested Mr. Lyons. It might be thought it was a clear Indication that Mr. Copley considered it a very serious matter. He took them to the central offices of the Society where the other four defendants were sitting apparently as a board of directors, with Mr. Wilde in the chair.

Mrs. Woodcock, Mrs Dainty and Mr. Vann on behalf or his wife, all denied the allegations made aglow., them, but it would seem that very scant notice was taken of that and they were found “guilty.” Mr Wilde told them that they would have to pay the sums of money or court proceedings would follow. He said he did not want to spoil the girl’s life and if the money was found it would be kept out of ‘court. They all asked for time to pay but all the directors were prepared to concede was a period of fire days. It was made quite clear that If the whole of the £258 was not paid by the following Thursday, proceedings would follow.

Agreed to Pay

“After some discussion, these distressed people, facing that alternative, to save the girl and the family name agreed to pay, and pay they did on December 18th, at considerable sacrifice, all of them having to borrow the whole of the money” added Mr. Lyons.

They were given receipts and on December 19th. Mr. Morrey instructed Mr. Charlesworth to make out the usual checks for the amounts so they could obtain dividend on the figures. Mr. Charlesworth had a conversation with Mr . Morrey which the jury : might consider somewhat revealing, expressing the opinion that the proper way to have dealt with the matter would have been to have prosecuted Margery Woodcock. Mr Charlesworth was particularly anxious because he wanted the whole truth to come out because no doubt he himself was the object of some suspicion. Mr. Morrey replied “We learn by our mistakes.” – . Mr. Charlesworth persisted in asking whether It was the right thing to have done and Mr. Morrey replied that he was right In thinking the girl should have been prosecuted. He pointed out, however, that they would all have to go to Court and the proceedings would probably have finished up with the girl being placed on probation.

“A Debt”

The matter eventually came to the notice of the police and the fine accused were interviewed and all said they regarded the missing money purely as a debt to the Society. They denied that there had been any mention of prosecution and no pressure had been used to persuade the relatives to part with sums of money.

It was the – submission of the prosecution that that was just not true. They all must have known that criminal offences had been committed. No one knew better that the girl ought to have been prosecution and that If they their public duty information will be given to the police, but they also appreciated that if they took that course certain results would follow. It was almost certain that the girl would have been placed on probation and that would not have put any money into the coffers of the Society and it was possible that they thought the publication of the discrepancies and the way the books have been kept would not be a very good advertisement for the Barnsley British Cooperative Society.

“Mercy” Comment

“Appreciating these matters,” went on Mr Lyons, “the prosecutions suggests that they deliberately decided to hush the matter of, not out of kindness of heart, but in return for £258 for the Society – a greater sum of money than they could possibly have hoped for to get from civil proceedings. They substituted a private for a public court. You may think mercy should be shown, not sold.”

Lionel Heap Charlesworth (56) of Little Moor Lane, Balby, Doncaster said he had worked for the society of 42 years – all his working life. As Mr Morrey was leaving the branch on December 19 after the discussion about the prosecution of the girl, he asked him to “keep it quiet.”

Mr Charlesworth said in February of this year he was interviewed by the five defendants and told he was to be demoted to be first assistant at another shop. The reason given was that they had lost confidence in his abilities. He still insisted that Margery Woodcock should be prosecuted and was told by the defendants “Let’s forget about that and get on with the sales.” He said that he gave his notice was now in business on his own account.

Mr. Price: Would it be right to say it produced in your mind a great deal of resentment?

“Rough Deal”

Mr Chalmers: “I thought I had had a rough deal. I still thought the girl should have been prosecuted.

In answer to further questions by Mr. Price. Mr Charlesworth agreed that matters of complaint against him went further than the deficiency. There were complaints that he had served himself, that he had not opened the shop personally and that the ledgers were not maintained properly.

Mr. Price: Wasn’t the real complaint that, although your branch was in an expanding district, you had a decreasing trade?

Mr. Charlesworth: Yes, but that was wrong. I pointed out that the local ‘bus service had now bypassed the shop.

Mr. Price: Was It you who managed to interest a national newspaper in this case?

Mr. Chariesworth: No, not me.

In answer to further questions by Mr. Price he said be ascribed the £1,491 deficiency at the branch largely to Margery Woodcock.

Second Day

The second – day’s hearing opened with Mr. Price continuing his cross-examination of Mr. Charlesworth. He said Margery Woodcock was stubborn when interviewed by Mr. Copley, but he was satisfied that the admission she made was true.

Re-examined by Mr. Lyons, Mr. Charlesworth said Mr. Copley got her to admit what she had done.  They both asked her questions. Mr. Charlesworth said he told her that she had done a wicked thing and had let him down very badly.

Asked if there had been any other cases of dishonesty in the branch. Mr. Charlesworth said a month after the case came to light he caught another girl stealing marked cigarettes. That matter was not reported to the Police and she had not been prosecuted. On another occasion he had caught a customer shop-lifting .

Janet Wormald, of Bly Road, Darfield, was given the credit ledger to examine. She confirmed that a signature pointed out to her was not hers. Some Initials J.W. appeared to have been written over M.W. They were not her initials.

Another assistant at the branch, Josephine Scargill, of Ridgeway Avenue, Darfield gave similar evidence that Initials J.S. which appeared in the credit ledger had not been written by her,

Deficit of £1,491

George Reuben Ridley of North Place, Vernon Way, Gawber, described having taken stock at the Middlewood branch on November 18th, 1958, and a deficit of 11.191 14s. 7d. being discovered.

Jack Guest, of Broadway, Barnsley, a chief clerk in the grocery department, said when he was called into Mr. Copley’s office on December 11th he found Mr. Charlesworth and Miss Woodcock there. She was asked to repeat something she had said earlier to Mr. Copley. She said she had supplied goods to her two aunts and shared the money with them and had supplied her mother with goods . She agreed to sign a statement to that effect. She signed it quite voluntarily and no pressure was exerted on her. He did not hear any kind of threats being used. He said he took stock at the Middlewood branch for the period November 18th to February 2lth, and found a deficiency of £173 17s, 6d, It was beyond the normal limits. He thought £60 would have been nearer the mark.

Benjamin Royston, of High Ridge Ward Green, manager of the ‘Society’s Check Office, said he had prepared some statistics. In the half year ended November 1958, Mrs Vann had been given checks total. totalling £49 and out of that £33 had been issued by Miss Woodcck. Mrs. Dainty had had checks totalling £78, of which Miss Woodcock issued £74, while Mrs Woodcock had had checks valued at £69 and her daughter had issued £13 of that total.

Ronald Knowles, of Nanny Marr Road, Darfield said he became manager of the Middlewood branch In February and burned a lot of old credit ledgers. Those for the November 1957 to May 1988 could bays been Included.

Judge Intervenes

As Margery Ann Woodcock entered the witness box. Mr. Justice Wade intervened to raise of point of procedure with Mr. Lyons. He asked him if it was necessary to warn the girl, because something had been mentioned by Mr. Lyons in his opening statement shout the girl not having been prosecuted. If there was any possibility of there being a prosecution, it was his duty to warn her.

Mr. Lyons replied that he could on the authority of the Director of Public Prosecutions, state that It had been decided not to prosecute her.

Mr. Price ruse to ask if that did preserve her from any possible proceedings. He pointed out that the girl could be prosecuted by his clients, her former employers the Barnsley Co-operative Society.

Mr. Justice Slade said that in fairness to the girl he would warn her. ”’You have heard counsel for the prosecution say he is in a position to give an undertaking that you will not be prosecuted officially by the Director of Public Prosecutions, but it is, in theory, possible by your former employers to launch a prosecution,” he told Miss Woodcock, ”it is now for you to say whether, in the circumstances, you are prepared to answer any questions which may tend to incriminate you in the unlikely course that a prosecution may be made.”

Miss Woodcock indicated that she was prepared to answer questions. She gave her address as 23. Clarney Avenue, Darfield, and said her age was 19. She said that sometimes she had not given proper checks to her aunts and to her mother. She used to give them a check for the correct amount, but put a smaller amount on the second and third copies of the check and keep the difference. She spent it on herself. She told Mr. Lyons that she used to go dancing a lot and smoke.

Kept the Money

She said her mother used to have a delivery of groceries each week amounting to £2 10s and £3, which she used to tell her (Margery) to pay out of her wages. She said she told her mother the bill was paid and kept the money.

“I know It was very wrong.” she replied when Mr. Lyons asked her if she realised that that amounted to stealing. Asked why she wrote the initials of other assistants in the credit ledger, she said. “I was trying to hide my guilt.”

Mr Lyons: “How much a week were you making out of your dishonesty when you were carrying It out?”

Miss Woodcock: About £5—6 a week. It happened in the last half year. Referring to her interview with Mr. Copley and Mr. Charlesworth I on December 11th, she said. “Copley ‘ kept rambling on. I could not get a word in edgeways. I remember him bringing a paper for me to sign and saying it was a statement. He did all the talking and I agreed with everything, not because it was true but because I was frightened. It was not true that I had shared the money with my aunts. I have never done so. I didn’t want to take all the blame so I tried to blame someone else.” she went on.  My mother had no idea what I was doing”‘ Miss Woodcock, cross-examined by Mr. Price, said she did not read the statement in Mr. Copley’s office but simply signed her name at the bottom of it. It was Mr. Copley who had suggested that she had shared the money with her aunts.

Her mother, Nellie Woodcock, of the same address, described how she was told her daughter had made a statement to the effect that she had had goods from the Middlecliffe branch which she had not paid for.

Mr. Scott: Have you ever done anything dishonest as far as the Barnsley Co-operative Society Is concerned?

Mrs. Woodcock: No. never.

Mr. Scott: Has anybody in your family except your daughter ?—No.

Mrs. Woodcock said that Wilde told her husband and her that if they paid £100, Margery would have a fresh start, they would treat the matter as an outstanding account and everything would be a closed book. If the money was not paid, they were told that the matter would have to go to court, but they did not say which court.

Witness told Mr. Price that she had later called to see Mr. Wilde to ask why her daughter was being pursued by a newspaper reporter causing a great deal of nuisance. They had thought they would hear nothing more about the matter.

Mr. Price: Mr. Wilde told you that he had the same sort of trouble, being telephoned all the time and being hounded down at his home ? —Yes.

Mr. Price: Before you left you said you were quite satisfied about the way in which the Society had dealt with you and shook hands with Mr. Wilde ?

Mrs. Woodcock said that was correct. She agreed her complaint was about being pursued by a reporter.

The Third Day

Mrs Woodcock, questioned further by Mr Price, said she did not doubt the society’s word that Marjorie had falsified checks.

After Mr Boocock and completed her evidence, Mr Justice Slade told the council for both sides that he could not help thinking that they were going into matters which were quite irrelevant.

“I don’t mind how long this case’ lasts”, he went on. “lf l am not trying this case it will be some other, but I merely don’t want to protract the ordeal for the defendants, or waste time with something which is irrelevant.”

The judge said that at the moment he was not prepared to direct the jury that there was any unlawful act in concealing knowledge of the alleged commission of a misdemeanor, and one of the three offences alleged on the Indictment was only a misdemeanor. He proposed to tell the jury to ignore the section of the Indictment dealing with falsification of accounts, because it was a misdemeanor.

Fred Woodcock, the girl’s father. said when he and his wife, with Mrs. Dainty and Mr. Vann visited Mr. Copley’s office, they were shown into a waiting room and when they tried to get out the door was locked?”

Mr. Price: Are you seriously wanting to say the door was locked ” .

Woodcock: Tee. I tried to open the door and could not do it.”

No Lock on Door

Mr Price then produced photographs which show there to be no lock on the door. Mr Woodcock said he could not say that the door shown on the photograph was the one he was referring to.

Mr Price: you don’t think it’s a little hard under cooperative Society to say that you were locked in?

Mr Woodcock: I am telling the truth.

Mrs. Maud Dainty, of 10, Church View, Darfield said of the statement which Mr. Wilde read out and which he said Margery had signed. “As far as I am concerned there was not a word of truth in it.”

Margery had never shared a sum of £94 with her.

Mr. Scott: Why did you decide to raise the money to pay the Society?

Mrs Dainty: We had never been in trouble before and we were In a flat spin.

Jack Vann, husband of Mrs. Betty Vann, of 23. Church View, Darfield (who also gave evidence) said he told the directors, with Messrs. Morrey and Copley that he did not believe his wife would share any money with her niece. “I flatly denied it on her behalf.” he said. They agreed to pay the money to hush the matter up.

Poilce Inspector Leslie Powell, stationed at Wombwell, said attention was drawn to the matter following publication of an article in a daily newspaper and he began enquiries on March 13th. Until then he had heard nothing about the matter. No report had been made to the police.

He described his visits to interview the defendants and outlined their replies to his questions. Hs agreed with Mr. Price that all accused were men of high character and were held in the greatest respect In Barnsley.

Detective Inspector Harold James Riley, of the Barnsley Borough Police, said he accompanied Insp, Powell In his enquiries. He told Mr. Price he had looked at the door in Copley’s rating room. It had no lock, but a spring catch.

That concluded the third day’s hearing and the ease for the prosecution.

“In Friendly Way”

Opening his evidence on Thursday, Mr. Wilde said the interview which he and his colleagues had with Mr. and Mrs. Woodcock: Dainty and Mr. Vann went on in friendly way.

He told the visitors that under the circumstances he would hold them responsible for the amount mentioned in Margery Woodcock’s statement, until they provided evidence of payment or paid the sums referred to.

If they did not do that, the Board of Directors would have to consider asking the police to investigate the circumstances. Witness said he came to the conclusion from the behaviour and demeanour of the visitors that Margery Woodcock was just a tool. .He was still of the opinion, after the interview, that the women hid had the goods and had not paid for them.

Cross-examined by Mr. Lyons. Mr, Wilde said he believed the girl had knowingly supplied her mother Intl aunts with goods without payment.

Mr. Lyons: Do you believe she was a thief ?

Mr. Wilde: Not directly. But I thought there was complicity supplying the goods without payment and that there was improbability that there would be any payment.

Mr. Wilde said he had sat on the Bench for 12 years and had tried many cases of stealing. He knew Margery was a party with her mother and two aunts in stealing the Society’s goods.

Mr. Justice Slade pointed out that if a person was charged with complicity he or she was Just as much a thief.

Mr. Wilde said he would accept that.