Trial of Sarah Slade and Mary Wood for Theft

This is a case where two women were charged with theft but had no counsel to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses.  Garrow volunteered to do so without fee even though on the face of it the case against the prisoners seemed clear cut.  He is seen vigorously questioning another thief-taker.  The case also reveals Garrow challenging hearsay evidence.  At the time hearsay evidence was often allowed by the judges and it was the insistence by Garrow and other barristers that it be excluded that led to the introduction of the rule of evidence that forbade it.

Sarah Slade and Mary Wood were charged with theft items of haberdashery from Robert Eggleston.

Robert Eggleston gave evidence that on returning from work on 7 November 1783 he and his wife found their place ransacked and the goods set out in the indictment gone.  Questioned by Garrow he agreed that he lived in a lodging house and that somebody unknown had a key which opened the door to his apartment..   His wife gave confirming evidence.

Samuel Yardley was sworn and said that when he passed the prisoners on 7 November he recollected that they had been in his custody before.

Garrow:  You know you are not to tell us that?    I am telling you the reason why I stopped them.

Garrow:  But you are not to tell us your reasons.

Yardley:  I am not talking to you, I am talking to my Lord.

Garrow:  I submit to your Lordship that this man who is an officer of justice is not to tell us his reasons why he stopped them.

Court to Yardley:  You knew them before and therefore you stopped them?

Yardley:  Yes, they are mother and daughter.  He said he found a number of garments on them but did not believe they were theirs and took them before a magistrate.  He also found a key in their possession which opened Mr Eggleton’s door.

Garrow:  How do you know that, did you ever try it.  No.

Garrow:  Then do not tell us any thing of it.  I want to understand a little further about this key, whether you are entitled to introduce it , in the manner you have done, to the jury.  You having found the key on one of the prisoners, delivered that key to one of your officers who is not here?   Yes.

Garrow:  Who was he?  I cannot recollect … I received this key from him.

Garrow:  You now have a key in your hand which has been delivered to you by somebody?  Yes.

Garrow:  From whom did you receive it?  I cannot recollect.

Garrow:  So  that you do not recollect to whom you gave that key, nor from whom you received this.

Yardley:  I do not, I know it was a very remarkable key.

Garrow:  By what was it remarkable, Sir?  It was worn with rust.

Now I want to know Mr Yardley, said Garrow, whether in the whole course of your life, as a thief-taker, you ever knew a key identified in such a manner.  Is it by a key being worn with rust that you affect to identify it in a court of justice?  Yardley replied that there was no doubt in his mind.

Garrow:  It is not your saying bluntly here, that there is not a doubt in your mind that will induce the Court or jury to believe it.  By what marks, Sir, will you make the Court and jury believe that this is the key which you took on the woman, which key you gave to you do not know who, and have received a key from somebody you cannot describe.  How will you make us believe it is the same key?

Court looking at the key:  It is a very remarkable key.

Garrow:  Not, my Lord, because it has been eaten up with rust.

Questioned by the Court Yardley confirmed his conviction that it was the same key as he had taken from Sarah Slade.

In her defence Sarah Slade swore that she bought and sold old clothes.  Her husband had given her a guinea that morning

and she had bought the things from a woman for 26 shillings.  She said Yardley was a very false man and they told her they would hang her.

Elizabeth Cockson gave evidence that she knew Slade and had seen her buy some clothing and a sheet for 28 shillings from a woman at the Blue-Boar.  There is no record that Mary Wood gave evidence but character witnesses gave both women a good character

Both prisoners were found not guilty.


Full details of this trial: Old Bailey Proceedings Online. ( 3 March 2010) 10 December 1783 Trial of Sarah Slade and Mary Wood for Theft. (Ref: t17831210-44.

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