JOHN DILLEY’S WWI BLOG: Career criminal finally caught

Ex Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the Market Harborough Advertiser.
Ex Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

January 9, 1917 – 76-year-old hustler’s string of frauds comes to an end in Harborough

Police in Market Harborough claimed a coup when they caught a career criminal who had evaded officers from around the country.

According to the Market Harborough Advertiser’s January 9, 1917, edition the town magistrates heard that 76-year-old Albert Palmer had finally been caught when he tried to obtain £2 by false pretences from sadler Fred Smith.

Palmer had asked for TWELVE other cases to be taken into consideration from LIVERPOOL to LONDON – all offences where he tricked owners out of motor cars or horses and traps.

The court was told: “Palmer had been convicted a number of times in the course of his career and had spent altogether 14 years in prison.

“During the last 18 months he had gone about the country and committed all these crimes and completely evaded the police until his arrest in Market Harborough.”

The report continues: “This afforded some evidence of his experience, skill and remarkable energy. He was associated with other criminals of course, and he had dragged his wife, a woman of only 30 years of age, into a life of crime.”

There was clearly moment of levity in the court as the account says: “Palmer asked for leniency and promised to amend his ways – he did not wish to die in penal servitude. If they gave him a chance they would never forget it.”

The paragraph concludes with one word in brackets. (Laughter).

The chairman said ‘the prisoner had confessed to a series of crimes which were almost unparalleled’ and ‘had evidently exercised the gift with which providence had endowed him in preying on the public’ and jailed him for five years.

There is other war news in this week’s edition. Sadly, Private G W Woodford of Adam and Eve Street is reported as missing in action. Woodford was called up with the Harborough Territorials when war broke out but was subsequently transferred to the 8th Staffs.

There is some good news too with a report of a Harborough soldier who had already won a Military Medal at Gallipoli has now been awarded an even higher honour for his bravery at the Battle of Somme – the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

And that is not the only highlight for Battery QMS Pitts, the nephew and adopted some of Mr and Mrs G H Underwood of Logan Street – yesterday he was married to Miss B Clarke of Northampton at Market Harborough Parish Church.

Pitts is not the only Harborough hero. Lieutenant Herbert Coales of Burnmill Hill, who has seen ’a good deal of service in France’ has won the Military Cross as has Capt Humphrey Edmund de Trafford, ‘the son and heir of Sir Humphrey and lady de Trafford of Hill Crest, Market Harborough.

And local legend and former England rugby player Lieut-Col Edgar Mobbs has been awarded a Distinguished Service Order.