Wednesday, 24 October 2012

24th October 1812: The authorities leak information to the press about the Horsfall arrests

On Thursday 24th October 1812, a letter was sent to the Courier newspaper about the arrests made for the shooting of William Horsfall, and which was subsequently published on 29th October. It took a further 9 days for it to appear in any local press, eventually surfacing on 7th November in the Leeds Mercury.

The letter, which is featured below, was clearly written by some person or persons very familiar with the cases of George Mellor, William Thorpe, Thomas Smith and Benjamin Walker. It contains information present in the statement of Benjamin Walker, which must have been known to only a handful of people. The most likely suspect behind the letter must be the Stockport solicitor, John Lloyd. He had been known to publish items in the press in the past, which had greatly annoyed General Maitland.

There seems to have been an effort to prejudice the case by placing information in the public domain, especially as it contains errors, which I will illustrate below. The names are redacted in the original, but I have added them (in square brackets) where it is obvious from the relevant statements obtained by the authorities who they are meant to be:
To the Editor of the Courier.
Huddersfield, Oct. 24.

SIR.—A very important event happened here on Thursday last, of which as the Leeds Mercury of to day does not appear to have any information, I hasten to communicate the intelligence through the medium of your paper.

A man has been taken up and examined before that indefatigable Magistrate Joseph Radcliffe, Esq. and has at length received the offer of his Majesty's pardon, and given the most complete and satisfactory evidence of the horrible murder of Mr. W. Horsfall. In consequence of this, the whole of the wretches concerned in that dreadful transaction, have been taken committed to York Castle, to take their trial at the ensuing Commission of Assize.—He was with the party (four in number) when Mr. Horsfall was shot.

They were furnished with loaded pistols by [George Mellor] who ordered them to take their stand in the Plantation on Crosland Moor. Two others soon after joined them, and took their station about twenty yards below them. When the unfortunate Gentleman came up, two fired. They then all fled across the fields, and [George Mellor & William Thorpe] damned them all the way for not firing their pieces. Two ran forwards to Honley, four miles off, and two more stopped at a place called Dungeon Wood, and hid their pistols at [Joseph Mellor]’s house there, in some flocks—left their great coats, and ran immediately in their jackets to Huddersfield, where the news of the murder had but just arrived. The next morning they all four met at the work-shop of their employer (a cropper) and [William Thorpe] produced a Bible, and made them all swear not to betray each other.

The villains have frequently been examined before, but have always been discharged for want of sufficient evidence. One behaved with the greatest effrontery till he saw —, and then he changed colour and gasped for breath! When he came out, he said, “Damn that ______, he has done me.”

It appears [George Mellor] and [William Thorpe] have been Chiefs in all the disgraceful transactions that have occurred in this part of the country the last twelve months, especially at Rawfolds, where the former was Captain of the gun-division, and the latter of the pistol. ______ has thus made discoveries which will lead to the detection of a great number of these offenders, and, it is hoped, ultimately restore the West-Riding to its former tranquillity.
Most the information is clearly from Benjamin Walker's statement, although the information about the pistols being hid at Joseph Mellor's house is from the statements given by him and his household.

The fourth paragraph - about the confrontation between the informer [Walker] and his former comrade appears nowhere else in any evidence. Brooke & Kipling (1993, p.48) point out that it cannot be George Mellor, as he had already been committed to York Castle before Walker was arrested. There is a possibility that it is William Thorpe, but it seems unlikely because of the strong denials Thorpe had given in his statement and subsequently at his trial. It seems unlikely then, that if such a confrontation had taken place, that it would not have been brought up at trial, which it wasn't.

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