Alleged corruption at Wigan, 1894

Liverpool Mercury May 8th 1894

Alleged corrupt practises at Wigan

Trial at Liverpool Assizes

The verdict

In brief :-

In the Crown Court at Liverpool Assizes before Mr Justice Day, yesterday, Richard JOHNSON, Magistrate for the Borough of Wigan and for the County of Lancaster, county councillor for the Ince-in-Makerfield Division, member of the Ince Local Board and Chairman of the Wigan Liberal Association, was charged at the instance of the public prosecutor with having been guilty of corrupt practises at the municipal by-election held at Wigan in December last. Mr SEGAR and Mr STEEL represented the public prosecutor, Mr SHHE, Q.C, Mr C. A. RUSSELL and Mr MARSHALL appeared for the defendant, who was seated during the hearing of the case, at the solicitor’s table.

Mr SEGAR stated the case, that the corrupt practises took place at a by-election held at Wigan in December last, according to the Act of Parliament under which the proceedings took place, the giving or providing provisions, entertainment or drink to electors or others for the purpose of influencing votes was a corrupt practise and one that could be brought before the assizes. The defendant was a gentleman who took an active interest in the politics of Wigan and on the date in question was engaged on behalf of Thomas WORTHINGTON the Liberal candidate for the Swinley Ward at the Borough of Wigan. Amongst other places the defendant visited was the inn called the Saracen’s Head, whilst in there at about 6pm there were some 25-30 persons present, some talk was going on about the election and a Mr BIRCHALL who was in the house and it was alleged went to the defendant and said, “Well Dick am I to have one too?”

Defendant replied, “Yes certainly get what you want.”

BIRCHALL had a drink, so did others, but BIRCHALL did not know who had paid for them. At this rime there were present many voters in the ward, amongst others Hugh WINNARD, who without paying had three drinks, WINNARD did not know who paid for two but, Mr WILLIAMS paid for one. It was also stated that a voter named PRESCOT said something to the defendant, who replied, “Fill these lads glasses”.

Council next directed the attention of the Jury to an incident which occurred about 7.30pm at the public house, a Mr GEE, town councillor met the defendant outside the polling booth and was asked to have a drink, they went to the Saracen’s Head and as soon as defendant entered the people drank up and defendant said, “Gentlemen give your orders.” Mr GEE would state the defendant paid for those drinks, although nothing was mentioned about the voting or going to the poll, although a man in the defendants position was not likely to expose his hand, and the most he could be expected to do was create a good feeling towards his party.

After the poll was declared the defendant went to the , Green Man public house where he addressed the multitude in a cheerful speech and offered to stand pop and liquor.

Evidence was then called

Arthur SMITH, Town clerk for Wigan proved the election in December last and the election and the election petition in the following February, the candidates were George RUSHTON [C] and Thomas WORTHINGTON [L]. The burgess roll contained the names Thomas PRESCOT, Hugh WINNARD, William COLLIER etc.

Cross-examined, defendant was the leader of the Liberal party at Wigan and was unanimously elected to his position as county councillor.

Ralph BIRCHALL, Landlord of the Kings Head Inn, Wigan was next called, he said he was not a voter of the Swinley ward, he was in the Saracen’s Head on the night in question and saw defendant there. There was about 30 persons there he said to defendant, “ Dick am I to have one?” Defendant replied, “Get one, and lets have none of your bother.” He got a drink and did not pay for it, he did not see the others in the room pay for their drinks. He saw the men PRESCOT and WINNARD in the place.

Cross-examined, witness believed he was a Conservative and well-known in Wigan. He was chairman of the Licensed Victuallers Association, the magistrates in Wigan dismissed the case when it was before them. Witness did not see defendant pay any money. Mr SHEE, what you got would not influence your vote, Witness, I have no vote in the ward. No, but you are conservative and will remain one all your life?. I don’t know I might change yet. Witness was asked to show there were many Conservatives in the Saracen’s Head. On re-examination witness believed the commissioners report was against the defendant.

William MILLINGTON said, he was a town councillor at Wigan and on the night in question was in the Saracen’s Head and saw the defendant there and heard him say, " Fill those lads drinks.”

Cross-examined, witness was treasurer of the Licensed Victuallers Association.

Hugh WINNARD, Painter and voter in the Swinley Ward, gave evidence of having been in the Saracen’s Head before he voted where he saw defendant, he had three glasses, but, did not see who paid.

Joseph Thomas GEE, town councillor for Wigan, said he was not a voter for the Swinley Ward, he saw Mr JOHNSON about 7.30pm and asked witness to have a drink, they went to the Saracen’s Head, there was about 18 people there who immediately drank up when they entered. He asked those present to have a drink with him, liquor was brought and consumed. Shortly after the defendant asked them to have another drink, conversation went on about the election, witness saw Mr JOHNSON pay the landlord. There were several voters in the house for the ward.

Cross-examined, names of candidates not mentioned, voting not spoken off no one left the room while witness was there, witness thought party would be beaten by a big majority and was a Conservative. It was between 7.30 and 8pm when they entered the house, he had only a forced interest in the matter.

Albert J. HUNTER, Grocer’s assistant, deposed he was in the house at 7.30pm when defendant and last witness came in, he heard defendant order the drinks but, did not see who paid for them.

Joseph JONES, member of the Wigan Liberal Association, stated, he saw defendant taking a little part in the election.

Thomas WORHINGTON, J.P, of Wigan, stated he was Liberal candidate for the Swinley ward on the date in question. After the declaration of the poll the witness came to the Green Man public house where he saw Mr JOHNSON. He said, “It was a poor heart that never responded, and those who liked pop could have it, and the others could have what they liked.”. Witness added he was a life teetotaller.

That concluded the case for the defendant.

Mr SHEE, Q.C, addressed the Jury for the defence. He said the defendant was a self-made man who had to his credit, won for himself a high position. His position was a matter for grave consideration for the Jury, if as much as if at the close of evidence any doubt was in their minds, they would see that Mr JOHNSON occupied a sphere in life which must command itself to them. If found guilty he would at once be stripped of his honour and they must be aware that before the time of the election the defendant knew the penalty of such an offence. Again it was necessary for the prosecution before they reached a verdict, to prove there had been treating and there had been corrupt treating, for the purpose of influencing votes. An idea prevailed that treating on an election day was dishonest, whereas there was nothing to make it wrong in itself. If a man was in the habit of standing a drink to a friend and receiving one from him then he had as much right to do it on a day of election as any other day. The defendant was a soda water manufacturer and some of the witnesses in support of the charge were members of the Licensed Victuallers Association, surely the Jury could not conceive that the defendant corruptly treated men in the presence of the enemy.

The defendant denied general treating, and the Jury should bear in mind that Mr GEE belonged to the Conservative party, and they were asked to believe that the defendant in the presence of the opponent actually set about corruptly treating men in the public house. The defendant repudiated the idea of a general treating, witnesses would be called to prove the fact and prove the defendant was absolutely innocent of the charge of corruption.

Lily CORLESS was called and stated that her brother kept the Saracen’s Head at Wigan. She was helping in the house on the 20th December and saw the defendant there with another gentleman shortly after 6pm, she served them on the order of the defendant, who, however ordered no other drinks. She saw Mr BIRCHALL there, Mr JOHNSON did not stand drinks all round. There was a Mr WILLIAMS there who bought drinks for men who were not voters.

Cross-examined, She did not carry drinks around at 6pm. She saw the defendant and Mr GEE in the house shortly before 8pm. Mr SEGAR “Is your house a Conservative or Liberal house” Reply, “It is open to both.”

Hugh CORLESS, Licensee of the Saracen’s Head stated, when his sister served drinks, he was at tea. He did not serve drinks while Mr BIRCHALL was in the house. He served defendant and Mr GEE at about 8pm, Mr JOHNSON did not then order drinks all round.

Cross-examined, defendant only paid for his own drink and his friends, he did not owe him for any drinks.

Albert J. HUNTER, recalled, in reply to Mr SHEE, said he was in the Green Man, public house on Sunday night and saw Messers SCHOFIELD, HILL and MC CONNELL. Witness was talking about the election, but, did not see Mr JOHNSON order and pay for drinks.

Thomas SMITH, said that in December last he lived in Wigan. He knew Mr JOHNSON, whom he met 20 minutes before 6pm on the night in question. They met in the Saracen’s Head, but he did not see defendant order drinks for the people in the room. Witness had a drink with the defendant and he with him.

William SPENCER who was present in the hotel, stated, he was there all the time defendant was and a drinks round was not ordered by the defendant.

Samuel WILLIAMS, provision dealer and voter in the ward, and Edward AINSCOUGH, retired publican gave similar evidence.

George RUSHTON, provision dealer, Wigan, said he was the Conservative candidate in this particular election. He saw the defendant and Mr GEE meet in the neighbourhood of the polling booth, and heard the defendant say, “ It’s practically over now, lets go and have a drink.”, they went, and almost immediately afterwards the polling booth were closed, showing the conversation between the defendant and Mr GEE must have taken place close upon 8pm.

James WILSON, Solicitor, Wigan, corroborated the evidence of the last witness.

James FAIRHURST deposed that he was in the Saracen’s Head between 7.30 and 8pm, he saw defendant and Mr GEE come in, but did not notice the people in the house drink up when they came in, defendant did not treat the people who were in the house.

Ellis WARDLE, voter in the ward, Thomas KENYON another voter, William COLLIER, Joseph BROWN and Robert ALLEN have given evidence to the effect that the defendant did not treat the people in the house.

Richard JOHNSON was called and said, he was the defendant in this case. He gave evidence before the commissioner, that he went into the Saracen’s Head on the day in question along with Mr SMITH and they exchanged drinks, but he did not invite or treat anyone else in the house. When in the hotel later on with Mr GEE witness did not pay for drinks for all present, and went to Green Man public house after the close of the poll and stood drinks to the value of 3s-2d including the pop. He did not do it for the purpose of corrupting anyone or as a reward for votes.

Cross-examined, defendant was asked if he had ever at other elections paid publicans for drinks, he replied, he had never bribed an elector in his life., before this particular election he had not been in a public house in Wigan for about 12mths.

His Lordship on summing up, said that in Wigan like many other places municipal elections which were supposed to exist for the benefit of the town, were regulated by considerations which might effect what was called, Imperial politics which had nothing to do with local rates and the like. In this election he could not see what reason Mr JOHNSON had for wasting his cash when his candidate was in by an overwhelming majority. One could understand an attempt to secure votes even at a late hour during an uncertain election, but it was beyond conception that it would be done when Radicals and Conservatives alike were entirely agreed that the Liberal candidate had secured the seat.

After a minutes deliberation the Jury found the defendant not guilty. The verdict was received in court with applause which was immediately suppressed. As soon as the decision was heard in the corridors of the hall loud cheering took place. The defendant was warmly congratulated by many friends on the result of the trial.


Copyright 2002 / To date