Usual Case of Street Betting

On Wednesday 8th July 1914, a somewhat unusual case relating to betting in the street arrived before Sheriff Shennan in a Hamilton Court.

I’ve mentioned before on this page about people who used to bet on Blantyre street corners, being lifted by police and charged. Though this case was similar, a bit of twist gave “pause for thought” as finer legal points were questioned.

The story starts in July 1914 with a Blantyre bookmaker betting in the street, in the open, something very much ‘frowned’ upon by authorities. The police had observed the individual for some time and knew his spot. The ambush was set with officers hiding in wait. Along came the bookie and stood at his usual corner, getting ready for his customers.

Now, the police had to catch him in the act of taking bets, but before any customers came along, something unusual happened. An equally vigilant woman had been at her kitchen window on Glasgow Road and as she peeled the tatties, had watched the ‘polis’ set up their hiding place. As soon as the bookie arrived on the scene, she knew exactly what was happening and went downstairs, over to the bookie still with her tattie knife in hand. A quiet word in his ear and the bookie quickly learned he was being watched. He thanked the woman and walked off, only being on his spot a total of around 3 minutes.

The police were not content in losing their man and followed him, lifting him and charging him with “Betting in the open and Frequenting and Loitering”.

In court later, the defence had an easy time. Not only had the man NOT taken any bets, but no customers had time to even approach him. The charge was easily dropped. On the second charge of “Frequenting and loitering” that street corner, the defence had an equally easy time.

‘Frequently’ meant he had been there often, yet with no witnesses in the room, the term had no substance. Similarly, “loitering” was looked up in the dictionary in court and found to mean, “hanging around there for a long time”. It was admitted by police and the man himself, he had only been there 3 minutes, if at all. The charge was dropped.

Walking away in his stride past the officers in court, the man would have been clearly relieved and must have known he would need to be more careful in future.

The officers immediately launched their (unsuccessful) appeal.

Photo: Illustration only.

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