Stop Thief! (Part 37)

Martin & Mandy

You know I get really bored with people pinching things, especially when it detracts from the overall project we have in hand. We told you about our last lead theft to see if we could track down the culprits but on that occasion, no luck. This time we had more than a bit of evidence to work with due to the diligence of the boys and girls in blue, and now the silliness has played out I can recall for you the whole story finishing in an appropriate punishment for the guilty parties. I did not get a hanging but I got close - you can see I'm not heated by this situation at all!

On April the 15th there were reports of three dubious looking characters hanging around St Bartholomew's in a really odd looking vehicle who were generally acting like nothing good was going on. At the time it was dismissed as nothing important, but the next thing we know more lead has gone missing from the church. But luck is with us this time and we have a description of them, and the vehicle they were in, along with an eye witness.

On one side of the vehicle was a rather badly made false sign for 'C Newman Cambridge', which is not much use in terms of tracing people, but our witness also managed to produce a description of the men themselves. One was grubby looking, in his late 20's with black hair and a scar on his forehead, who looked like he worked on the land. The second man was short - just over 5 foot with many tattoos of fish and anchors, along with a bird in a bush and a heart with arrows through it. He also had the initials TP tattooed in several places and a very odd looking set of rings tattooed on three fingers of his left hand. The last chap was taller with brown hair but had a red beard you could hide a badger in. So three really good descriptions of people who would generally stick out like a sore thumb. Our witness recalled that at about 12 o'clock she saw the man with the beard travelling in the direction of the church and later on she passed the other two men going in the same direction.

By the following morning the lead was missed from the church but a quick hunt around the site and in the adjacent graveyard revealed some of the lead buried under some top soil, they were obviously planning on coming back the following day to collect the rest of their ill gotten gains.

So these descriptions and the pile of abandoned lead gave the Police something to run with and with much activity and enthusiasm they were afoot trying to locate the perpetrators of the theft and the missing lead itself. As luck would have it the rather distinctive looks worked in our favour and one of them was tracked down by the Police, firstly to Hare Street and then onto Hoddesdon where a road worker remembered a chap with a red beard passing by in his vehicle just after midnight on the morning of the 17th heading for London. Later that afternoon he recalled all three men coming back towards Buntingford and that was the point at which the Police caught up with them and all three were arrested. All a bit of a result really.

One of the men was found in possession of a large quantity of cash and a selection of fine clothes along with some silver that really did not match his look nor the job he claimed to do, which was that of a labourer. The other two were arrested in the vehicle with a quantity of alcohol and a lot of very flattened straw in the back but no sign of lead. The older one with the red beard claimed to be a gardener and insisted that he had recently had a vast quantity of potatoes in the back which accounted for the state of the straw.

All three of them were placed before the court by the Police and remanded in custody until the 26th of April to allow time to gather more evidence and prepare for the trial. Over the coming week a number of witnesses were located by the Police in addition to our initial one and we thank them all for their help and time. So the morning of the 26th arrived and at 10 o'clock the three characters were presented to the court.

The chap with the red beard is John Shad, a 40 year old gardener, and his accomplice with the scar is Edward Haycock who had just turned 27, they both come from Cambridge. The third man, Thomas Patman, is only 23 and turns out to be Edward's brother in law. Thomas is the one with the impressive selection of tattoos, the ones round the fingers must have been most painful in the application. A more despicable group of criminals you could not have asked for if you tried, but there they all stood in the dock, which was quite a refreshing image.

The money, the stolen clothing and silver, and the images of the transport with all the crushed straw in the back, was provided to the court as evidence, along with a steady flow of witnesses who testified as to the actions of the three men over various parts of the week. The one thing that was missing was the lead from St Bartholomew's, save the small amount hidden in the graveyard.

Even the local Church warden got involved and provided evidence along with a number of the Police Officers about how they tracked them down and followed the trail down towards London. The whole process in the end consumed five hours of the courts time with the presentation of all the facts and evidence.

Eventually we come to the verdict and with all the evidence before the court the three were found guilty of the theft of the lead from St Bartholomew's, which was a great result. Next came the sentence and my faith in the justice in our country is restored as they are each given a seven year sentence for their crimes.

It's unfortunate that Haycock and Patman were both married with four children each, but perhaps they should have thought about this before embarking on a life of crime. John Shad claimed to be single and it looks like he had not really got anywhere in life other than perhaps being able to grow potatoes.

Now all the new metal going into the restoration of St Bartholomew's has smart water DNA traceable chemicals all over it, which means that anyone who has handled the marked metal can be tested by the Police and convicted of metal theft. Regardless it's still two thefts of lead from the church in less than 14 months.

Now for the final twist in this story:

Published VersionUnlike the theft of the lead from the spire of St Bartholmew's last year the story you have just read actually took place in 1837. These guys managed to steal nearly a ton and a half of lead off the church roof and the story covers the facts as taken from local newspapers and court records. The vehicle we mentioned was actually a horse and cart, (you've got to feel sorry for that horse) and the road worker was actually a toll-gate keeper.. The witness was named as 'Mary Batt' - now we have a Mary Batt buried in Layston graveyard on 20th Aug 1837 aged 33 - we don't know for certain, but she could well be our witness. We should also say that their 7 year sentence was actually one of deportation to Australia. All three of them were held on the prison hulk 'Fortitude' and two of them were transported on the convict ship 'Waterloo' They all served their sentences and were eventually released in Australia, and it's their release papers that provide us with such good descriptions. To our knowledge two of them married and had children over there and last month Mike contacted us from Australia to ask about his Great Great Grandfather Edward Haycock and if we had any knowledge of his story. With a lot of help from our friend Diana (a decendent of John Crouch) we are able to bring this piece of history from St Bartholomew's to you. And yes, there really were two thefts of lead from St Bartholomew's within 14 months of April 1837.