Some Lothian crimes from the 1920's

Walking through the Park in Bonnyrigg, we heard someone say crime is on the rise and things are getting worse. Are they really?  Here are some excerpts from a Local newspaper.

Trouble on the Buses.

31st February 1921. A miner Alexander Burnett of Newtongrange was charged with assaulting a bus conductor named James Allen.

On a Saturday morning Alexander was on the way back to his home town Newtongrange and jumped on a char-a banc motor vehicle. The bus was full at the time but he managed to find standing room between two occupied seats.

Eskbank - scene of the assault

Then as the bus moved away from the Eskbank stop, a man managed to jump on to the footboard. The conductor told him to get off as the bus was full. Alexander appealed to the conductor that he would let the man stand beside him. Resending this interference, the conductor told both of the men to get off his bus. Grabbing Alexander by the coat which began to tear, dragged him to the ground. Losing his temper Alexander struck the conductor and was subsequently charged.

At the trial it was said that Mr Burnett was a married man with one child and of exceptional good character. Also he had served in the army and had been promoted in the field.

The defence said that there was an element of provocation by the conductor and the accused had suffered from the physical attack.

Considering all the circumstances the judge should deal leniently with the accused who had pleaded guilty.
The prosecution said the accused interfered with the conductors requests as it was a friend who had come on board the vehicle. He had used bad language in front of a sizeable crowd who were the worse for drink and hostile to the conductor. They had encouraged the striking of the conductor which ended in several blows.

The prosecution reminded the judge the accessed had pleaded guilty to the crime. It also explained bus conductors would often have to make unpopular decisions making the job at times difficult to perform. People in public service had to be protected from assaults of this nature.

On passing the sentence the Baillie mentioned disturbances on motor vehicles had become more prevalent. A conductor had trouble enough taking fares and ensuring other passengers had the peace they were entitled to during a journey. 

The sentence was a five pound fine or twenty days in jail. The Baillie thought Alexander was getting off very easy.

A Dangerous dare. 23rd February 1922.
Two young pithead workers Alfred Cummings of Dalkieth and John King of Millerhill appeared in the Edinburgh Sheriffs Court in connection with a case of bizarre assault. Both admitted on January 11th they had wickedly and feloniously placed a quantity  of explosives in the bowl of a tobacco pipe and then handed it to another pithead worker named William McIntyre. William had asked them for a fill of tobacco and had accepted the pipe gladly.

He then applied a light to the bowl and the contents exploded, scorching and burning his face.
It was said by the Procurator the pipe had been filled with strum which was a part of a fuse miners used. William was off work for four days.

The Sheriff stated that Cummings and King thought there was no more strum left in the fuse and it had been done for amusement only. He ordered an end to practical jokes of this kind as gunpowder was not the thing to be played with.

King was fined fifteen pounds and the younger Cummings to pay a fine of ten pounds. They were each allowed two months in which to pay or the alternative of sixty days imprisonment.

The next week the young men were returned to court which order the sum of the fines were reduced. Cummings to five pounds and King eight pounds.

The Assault of a young girl. 7th December 1922.
When I was very young my friends and I ran in fright passed a green door placed near a bend of a wall. Others often did the same as it was rumoured in the twenties a girl was murdered by a policeman.
This is the real story.
Elizabeth Penman twelve years of age from Newtongrange was sent a message to her sister who was in service at Eskbank.

Elizabeth had travelled by bus to deliver the message and had returned at one o’clock walking home by Newbattle road on that Tuesday.

The door is now bricked upA Policeman called Alistair McHardy came out of a gate about fifty yards down the road and began walking in the same direction as the girl. At the cemetery the policeman asked Elizabeth where she was going. She replied back to Newtongrange.

He asked if she had seen the gamekeeper, The girl answered, saying she did not know this man. Walking along the road to home she could see the policeman pass her and stop at a little wooden door. He took out his keys and opened it, then asked Elizabeth if she had ever been this way as it was a short cut. Assenting she followed on until turning a corner where the policeman put down his bike. He then made improper suggestions to her. Her reply was to please stop and she would tell her mother.

He grabbed her by the arms and then place one hand on her throat, and with the other hand he used to strike her with a baton.
She lost consciousness for some time and regained it when the town clock chimed three in the afternoon. Feeling dizzy she managed only a few yards before falling to the ground. It was then her attacker returned with a knife and proceeded to stab at her neck and chin. Elizabeth managed to deflect some of the bows and could not remember much of this second attack except it was the same man. Praying for God to give her strength for each step in a downpour of rain managed to spot some children playing.

The girl was eventually taken to the infirmary where it was found she had lost a lot of blood and suffered from hypothermia.

Her step father had reported the girls absence to a police constable who began the search along with McHardy who took a different route to search while complaining it better to wait till morning. When Elizabeth was found the constable asked who had attacked her she answered, “It was the young policeman, if not someone dressed as one.”

She had disclosed this fact to one of her rescuers, a miner named Robert McLaren saying it was the Newtongrange policeman and she would know him if seen.

A church officer had noticed McHardy on the evening of the assault dressed in civilian clothes and felt hat. A young local lad had seen the policemen follow the girl down the road. The manager of the Newbattle estate had spoken to McHardy of the incident in the evening, McHardy had said it was a bad business and seemed to think the girl would not be found. He did admit he had spoken to her briefly. Which was verified by a van driver who saw them talking for a while.

The police Inspector questioned the girl along with McHardy and heard her clearly say she was quite sure of the man in question was a young policeman. As McHardy stood at the bottom of the bed the girl looking at him said, “I know him, that is the man who did it to me.”

Later on being charge the inspector examined McHardys baton and found in had rough indentations as if it had been used as a hammer. It was also clear it had been washed and dried with a rough towel.
McHardys wife had noticed he changed into his civilian clothes and had asked for his clasp knife on that particular day.

The defence had implied Elizabeth may have been mentally deranged due to the injuries. Later they implied she may have been attacked by a lunatic. One of the witnesses in reply to this said, It is recognised a murderer over does his work, while a lunatic under does it.

This defence did not work as the young policeman was sentenced to three years penal servitude.

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