Sunday, 22 July 2012

22nd July 1812: Thomas Allsop is acquitted of writing a threatening letter at Leicester Summer Assizes

On Wednesday 22nd July 1812, the Secretary of the Leicester Committee of Framework-knitters, Thomas Allsop, was acquitted of sending a threatening letter to Henry Wood at Leicester Summer Assizes.

There appears to be no record of the trial, other than the outcome. The Home Office papers do have some records which are of interest. In June, the under-secretary of State for the Home Office had sent a note to persons unknown, pointing out the potential problems with the prosecution:
The evidence against Allsop, tho’ such as leaves no doubt in the minds of the Magistrates as to his guilt, is certainly not sufficient to convict him. It consists of evidence arising out of a comparison of his hand-writing in several letters acknowledged to have been written by him with the threatening letter. There are many characters in these letters so exactly similar to those in the threatening letter as to leave no doubt of them all being written by the same hand – This added to a few collateral circumstances is the evidence on which he is committed — but in order to convict him before a Jury it will be necessary to have witnesses, who have seen him frequently write, to swear that they have no doubt the threatening letter is the Prisoner’s hand-writing — Such evidence, is during the existence of the present system of terror & intimidation is difficult to obtain There are however strong hopes of procuring it between this & the Assizes.

The Prisoner is a bad character — & from his abilities (for he is a very clever fellow) a dangerous man; as well calculated to be a General Ludd as any man can be — & from some letters of his which had been produced he is evidently a rank Ludd.

I am in possession of additional evidence which has been given to me confidentially, & with a most sacred promise not disclose it, which, however, I hope I shall be able to prevail upon the parties to permit me to bring forward.

Please to keep this very secret.

The failed prosecution was expensive: in November,  the Deputy Town Clerk of Leicester, Thomas Burbridge, sent a letter to the Home Office requesting they meet the surplus costs - £112, 5 shillings & 8 pence - to the £53 they had already agreed to pay.

What could have been an explosive and powerful precedent had turned into a costly mistake for the Leicester magistrates.

The outcome of the case was reported in the Leicester Journal of 31st July 1812; Beckett's note can be found at HO 42/124, and carries no precise date (a clerk has marked it 'June 1812?') and Burbridge's letter of 5th November 1812 can be found at HO 42/129.

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