Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton

Attempted Extortion at Brighton, 1891

2 January 1891

"Robert Henry Harris," 17, billiard marker, and "Richard Thomas Roberts," 16, clerk, both said to be well educated, were indicted for threatening to accuse James Arthur Haylock of a crime punishable by law with penal servitude, with intent to extort money, at Brighton, on September 4th, 1890. – Mr C. F. Gill prosecued, and the prisoners having employed no counsel, Mr Murphy, at the request of the learned judge, conducted their defence. – The prosecutor, who resides at 3, St. Michael's place, Brighton, said he first saw the two prisoners on the morning of the 22nd August on the front at Brighton. He was leaning against the rails when the prisoners came up, and Harris asked him to give him a light. Witness replied that he had not got one. Harris then said he was at Brighton for a holiday, and witness asked how long he had got, to which the prisoner replied, "Until Monday, but it all depends how the money holds out." Roberts, who had been standing a little way off, then came close up. Harris, continuing, said they had come down that morning and were going to look for apartments. Witness recommended them to go to 5, Russell square, which was about two minutes' walk from the Pier, near which they were standing, and left them. In the evening, at about a quarter to ten, he again met the prisoners on the front, and one of them said "Good evening, sir." They had come from the direction of Hove, and witness was proceeding towards Montpelier road from the Pier. He asked them how they were enjoying themselves, and they said they had been bathing. Harris asked him if he could give them a smoke, and witness told them he had none, as he was no smoker, but he would give them one at the Crescent Hotel, Montpelier road. They all went there, and witness paid for some cigars and lemonade and claret for them. After remaining four or five minutes they came out of the house, and witness, after walking a few yards with them, left them and went home, the prisoners going on towards the front. A week later witness was watching a swimming race from the Pier, and noticed the prisoner Harris standing close to him, and something was said about the race. That was on a Saturday. On the following Tuesday he again saw Harris on the front, but did not speak to him. Next morning, at about half-past ten, the two prisoners called at his house. He asked them what they wanted, and Harris said, "We want some money to get back to London." Witness said, "You have no right to come here and ask for money," to which Harris replied, "We shall not go away until we get some." Witness told him he should not have that sort of thing, but would go to the police station and have them removed. He stepped out of the house with the intention of going to the station, and the prisoners followed him, Roberts saying, "Unless you give us some money, we shall charge you with an indecent assault." Witness told them he was not going to be frightened in that way, and then Roberts said, "Well, if you will give us a couple of quid, we will say no more about it." Witness said he should do nothing of the kind. All this time they were walking towards the police station, and meeting a friend of his – a Mr Bargent – he asked him if the prisoners were the lads who called at his house the previous evening, and he said they were. Witness went to the police station, followed by the two prisoners. He told the officer in charge that he had been very much annoyed by the prisoners coming to his house the previous evening and again that mornng, and threatening that unless he gave them money they would accuse him of indecent assault. Roberts then said they only asked for money to get back to London, and that witness had taken them to a common lodging-house and committed the assault. There was no truth whatever in this statement. The only house he had been to with them was the public-house. That day they were taken before the magistrates and remanded for a week. During the remand, a man named Coulton called on witness and showed him two letters, and when the prisoners were again brought up, they were represented by Mr Abrahams, solicitor, of London, who produced to him the same two letters. One letter was written by witness to a person named Hedger, who did not appear on the scene agan. – Cross-examined by Mr Murphy: He first met Hedger on the front accidentally, and Hedger told him he was a page boy. Although he did not know him, witness said, "Good evening" to him. Hedger said he was out of place and had been living with Dr Sanderson in Montpelier road. Although he was particular in speaking to persons of good character, it did not strike him as odd that he should stop and speak to a strange lad at half-past eight at night on the Briton front. He often spoke to boys. As to recommending the prisoners to seek lodgings at 5, Russell square, he did so because he lodged there himself when he first came to Brighton, three years ago. – By the judge: He had no inquiries about the prisoners, neither did he ask them what kind of lodgings they wanted, or what they could affird to pay. – Cross-examination continued: He would swear he did not arrange to meet the prisoners in the evening. Their meeting was purely an accident, and he denied that there was any indecent behaviour between them. He could give no reason for buying cigars and drinks for them, except that they asked for them. He took a great interest in boys, and had met others in the same way. He remembered telling the magistrates that the reason he wrote to Hedger, asking him to meet him away from home, was because he did not wish his servant to know he was looking for "another" page boy. Although he used the word "another" he had never had a page boy in Brighton. As a matter of fact he was seeking a page boy to take the place of the third maid-servant. He someties had the choir boys to his house to supper, and his wife was always present, but she was blind. He had never brought a charge against a lad named Robertson, neither had he been mixed up, to his recollection, in a scandal at Eastbourne. He denied taking the prisoners to the house in Russell square, introducing them to the landlord – Mr Phillips – giving them lemonade and claret and money, taking Harris to another room and assaulting him, and then telling Phillips that whenever the boys were in Brighton he would "pay the racket." – Police-Constable Ellis, who has charge of the West Hill police-station, Brighton, said that the prosecutor, his friend Bargent, and the prisoners entered the station together. The prosecutor said he had been very much annoyed by the prisoners calling on him and asking for money. Witness asked him if they gave any reasons for demanding money, and he replied, "They say that unless I give them two quid they will accuse me of indecent assault." Witness said if that was the case he could give them in charge for attempting to extort money. Prosecutor said he would do so, and the prisoners were apprehended. Harris then said they did not ask for "two quid," but that if the prosecutor gave them money they wuld not say anyting about what he did to them. On searching the prisoners witness found two letters on Harris, and 4s ½d on Roberts. – The letters were read by the judge, but they appeared to have no particular bearing on the case, the contents of one being unfit for publication. – George Phillips, keeper of the lodging-house, 5, Russell square, said the prisoners came to his house on the 25th August. Harris asked him if they had lodgings. He added that they did not want lodgings exactly, but they wanted money, and asked witness to advance them five or ten shillings to assist them to London, but he refused.They said they were poor and hungry, and witness then gave them a shilling, and a walking stick which had been given him but which he did not care to keep. – Cross-examined: He had known the prosecutor about three years, and he had lodging with witness for three nights. Witness met with an accident some time ago, and the prosecutor gave him the stick. When the prisoners called on him they said something about his giving cards to boys, but it was perfectly untrue. They said they had been recommended to the house by a gentleman, and witness thought he must be Haylock, because he had promised to recommend lodgers to him. It was absolutely untrue to say that the prosecutor brought the boys to the house, and took Harris into a back room and assaulted him. – James Margent was the next witness, but he was only cross-examined by Mr Murphy. He said he had no occupation except as amanuensis to Mr and Mrs Haylock. He would not swear that at the police-station the prosecutor merely said he wanted the prisoners removed. To the best of his recollection, he gave them in charge. – Summing up the case for the prosecution, Mr Gill pointed out that, according to law, even if the prosecutor had at any previous time been guilty of criminal acts, that would not justify the prisoners in attempting to extort money from him. – On behalf of the prisoners, Mr Murphy critized the conduct of the prosecutor, and asked the jury whether it was that of an innocent man. – The judge, in summing up, commented upon the almost unheard-of conduct of the prosecutor in making himself friendly with two boys whom he had never seen before, recommending them to a friend as lodgers, and meeting them again at night and treating them at a public-house. It struck him that the more stronger became the accusation of the prisoners that the prosecutor committed an indecent assault upon them the more probable it was that the threats of extortion were made. – The jury found the prisoners guilty. – His lordship said he had not a shadow of doubt in his mind, after what the prisoners said had taken place between themselves and the prosecutor, that they were given to filthy and indecent practices, and were really at Brighton for the purpose of getting persons to indulge with them in such indecencies. – The prisoners were sentenced to nine months' hard labour. (Croydon Observer)

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Attempted Extortion at Brighton, 1891", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 12 September 2021 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1891brig.htm>.

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