Sunday 21 October 2012

21st October 1812: The cropper, Benjamin Walker, turns informer & implicates Mellor, Thorpe & Smith in the William Horsfall shooting

By the evening of Wednesday 21st October 1812, Benjamin Walker, the cropper who had been arrested 4 days before, had reached his limit and agreed to turn King's Evidence for the State against his former comrades and fellow croppers.

Only 24 hours before, he had proved to be unyielding for the past 3 days: General Acland had reported to General Maitland in a letter of the 20th that Walker had "been examined, but nothing has come out".

Something had made him capitulate. He was being interrogated by the Stockport solicitor, John Lloyd, a loyalist zealot who was renowned for his interrogation techniques and practice of abducting witnesses. In a letter Lloyd wrote to Acland the day before,  he indicated that he had an informer (a 'respectable merchant in Huddersfield') who told him that prior to her son's arrest, Walker's mother had unwittingly approached the informer with concerns that those in custody may impeach those at large. Lloyd had persuaded this merchant to turn informer when he had Walker's mother watched and followed to his home. Lloyd had then acted to apprehend Walker, followed by William Thorpe after 'intimations' from Walker's mother he was also somehow involved. Lloyd then apprehended Walker's mother herself, and subjected her to a rigorous 'examination', but she would not tell him what she had told the informer. Lloyd got the informer to give him an undertaking that he would get Walker's mother to relent, so that he would not have to appear himself to give evidence. Finally, Lloyd then abducted Walker's mother to his home in Stockport "where she will more fully and freely give her Examination".

By the Thursday 22nd October, Walker had placed a mark next to his name (because he was illiterate) at the bottom of a lengthy confession which implicated many of his comrades. Radcliffe, Lloyd & the others intended to use him as King's Evidence, which would save him from the hangman.

The statement began with a description of how Walker became involved in the raid on Rawfolds Mill: hearing about the plan at his workplace in John Wood's cropping shop: Walker said George Mellor had teased him, asking him if he could 'keep a secret', before revealing the plans to attack Rawfolds. A good deal of what we know about the raid comes from this statement. Walker stated that Mellor and William Thorpe were the ringleaders, and company commanders on the night, and also stated that he and others from John Wood's shop felt obliged to be involved because, as well as being their employer, Wood was Mellor's step-father. Walker also implicated others he said were wounded - James Haigh and a man called Jonathan Dean - and also a man called Mark Hill who had been involved in collecting money for those wounded in the raid.

Walker then went on to state his involvement in the assassination of William Horsfall. He alleged that the shooting was solely the idea of Mellor & Thorpe, a plan they presented to him and Thomas Smith only 30 minutes prior to putting it into execution. This is perhaps the weakest past of Walker's whole testimony: all that subsequently followed is supposed to have occurred in only 30 minutes, something which stretches credibility beyond any reasonable point, but which the Crown subsequently based its case on. Walker said he and Smith 'refused for some time' the idea of the execution, hard to believe as they would have needed to have moved fast to make it to Crosland Moor and lie in wait for Horsfall, who would have been well on his way to the Warren House even by then. Walker then said that Mellor provided both he and Smith with pistols and directed them to make their way to the plantation on Crosland Moor and wait for him and Thorpe who would take a different route to arrive there. According to Walker, they did this and waited 10 minutes before the two others arrived, meaning that only 20 minutes had elapsed from Mellor broaching the idea to them reaching this point.When Mellor & Thorpe arrived, they agreed that Walker and Smith would fire only if they missed, and that they should lie in wait 20 yards behind Mellor & Thorpe. Walker then says, rather bizarrely, that they all waited a further 30 minutes before Horsfall arrived, which contradicts his statement earlier that he only knew of the plan to kill Horsfall 30 minutes before it happened.

Walker went on to say that when Horsfall drew level with the plantation, he heard two shots, and assumed both Mellor & Thorpe had fired, although he did not see what happened. In this statement, he is clear that neither he nor Smith fired a shot, something which he said annoyed Mellor as they fled. The four split in Dungeon Wood, with Walker & Smith taking a different route. He and Smith then headed on to a public house at Honley, where they drank and ate.

The following day at John Wood's workshop, Walker said that William Thorpe made he and Smith swear on a Bible to keep the matter secret. The day after that, Walker said Mellor told him to be careful and say nothing, as some people from Dungeon had already been questioned.

Walker was keen to exonerate his master, John Wood, saying that he knew nothing of his step-son's plan.

At the end of the statement, more detail was added: Walker said that after he and Smith had parted with Mellor and Thorpe in Dungeon Wood, they had hidden their loaded pistols in an anthill, but never returned to retrieve them. He also talked about the Russian pistol belonging to George Mellor, and how Thorpe had hurt his cheek running through Dungeon Wood, and Mellor one of his fingers because he had loaded his pistol full of musket balls. He also described the coats Thorpe and Mellor were wearing. All of these details had appeared as questions put to Joseph Mellor's household 10 days before, and appear to corroborate them.

Radcliffe and Lloyd now had what they wanted: an accomplice to corroborate the story that had been concocted. Despite the seemingly insurmountable issues with the timings given by Walker, his confession would prove to be the framework for the Crown's case.

Benjamin Walker's statement can be found at HO 42/129. Acland's letter to Maitland is at HO 40/2/8.

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