A story of a former Blantyre gang next. Going back to 1912 and on Thursday 4th April that year, 12 young Blantyre men found themselves standing in the dock at Hamilton Sheriff Court. The trial proceedings were complex and lasted from 1.30pm until close to midnight. The charge? Taking a leading part in a serious Blantyre riot.
The accused were Andrew Dobbins of 266 Glasgow Road, Cormick Higgins a joiner of McAlpines Buildings, Joseph Reynolds and James Flynn both miners of McAlpines Buildings; Daniel Casey of Central Buildings, James Murray of 14 McAlpines Buildings, John McLusky a miner of Central Buildings, John McAuslin of 174 Glasgow Road, James McPike of 5 John Street, Frank Casey and William Davidson of Central Buildings (and John Griffen of Bothwell).
The previous Friday, the men formed part of a disorderly crowd at Glasgow Road and Victoria Street in Blantyre. IT was said they conducted themselves in a disorderly manner, threatened violence to police, incited a crowd to attempt to rescue a colleague, John Ferrie, jun. of 51 Auchinraith Road, Blantyre.
John Ferrie was under the custody of police and was being conveyed to custody, when Constables Millar, Robbie, Keith, Munro, and Greig were injured in the execution of their duty by stones and other missiles, thrown at them by the crowd lining Glasgow Road.
The pleas of not guilty previously tendered were adhered to. The story unfolded in more detail. The prosecution evidence showed that, shortly after eight o’clock on the night in question, Ferrie was arrested on a charge of breaking a plate glass window, and while he was being taken into custody, a crowd of a couple of hundred interested people followed. For some distance the prisoner went quietly, but at McAlpine’s Buildings on Glasgow Road near the turn into Victoria Street, he gave a sudden spring forward shaking himself from the arms of police, and turned to the crowd, asking if his gang mates were going allow him be taken quietly.
The twelve men, several of whom were members of the gang, the ‘Haricot Bean Brigade’, were at the front of the crowd, and the cries came back from them they would ‘see him ail right’ and began cursing and swearing at the police. They incited the crowd to effect a rescue against the few officers. There were five constables all with the prisoner, and the mob closed in on them, at the same time throwing them bottles, bricks, and stones.
Further along the road, at Hart’s Land, a second attack was made, and several of the police were struck with missiles, and one of them was beaten to his knees. This time the crowd was greatly increased in size, and as it proceeded increased still more, until at the corner of Victoria Street near the new police station, it amassed to around a 1,000 people. At this point a third attack was made, and Inspector Kemp, who had been in the office, hearing the commotion, rushed out with other four constables. However, the crowd pressed on, and it was not until a baton charge had been made that they were driven back towards Glasgow Road.
Several plate-glass windows were afterwards broken, and later on some constables who were going Bellehill were also stoned the mob. All the accused put forward a plea alibi except McLusky, for whom evidence was led to show that, while he was in the vicinity at the time, he had definitely took part in the disturbance. On behalf of Griffen, it was stated that he had left Blantyre in company with his sisters prior to the outbreak, and had spent the remainder of the evening until ten o’clock in a public-house in Bothwell with his sisters willing to testify. The alibi on behalf of the others accused was in effect that, while they bad been in Blantyre on the Friday night in question, they had not taken part in the disturbance, some them having said they were in a public-house, some in their homes, and others in different parts of the village.
Over forty witnesses supported the various pleas, and these were examined and cross-examined at great length, while practically all the accused gave evidence on their own behalf. The case tor the prosecution concluded at five o’clock, and at that stage the Sheriff dismissed Reynolds and Murray from the bar, holding that there was insufficient evidence in regard to them.
Following an interval, the defence was re-opened, and lasted until 9.30pm, after which the Fiscal and the agents addressed his Lordship. Sheriff Shennan, in giving his decision, said the case was a very difficult one to deal with, and he was certainly desirous in giving the accused any benefit be could, but he could not lay aside the fact of the police evidence, though he agreed that, in some instances, was subject to error owing to the circumstances in which they were placed.
He found the charge against Dobbins, Higgins, Griffen, and McLusky not proven, but convicted the others, and confessed that he bad to perform a very unpleasant duty in sentencing them. It was late at night, and he did not wish to detain them, but he wanted to impress upon them that they had been doing the cruellest thing for themselves and the community among whom they lived.
He wished it could be known in Blantyre that a drunk man was not entitled to put his foot through window without being punished nor was it tolerable for people to support that. He wanted people to know that a repetitive statement he was making in his 20 years of being sheriff, police were there, not as enemies of the public, but as their servants, in order that all might live in peace with one another.
Some time was spent in summing up the case and comparing it to other crimes of that week. Only the other day he had sent a woman to prison for stealing a man’s old age pension, a fraud at the Miner’s Union, and recently he had sent a man to prison for stealing the instruments of a colliery band. It was stated that unless the police existed in numbers in Blantyre, such petty crimes would escalate and become commonplace. People could not live like that and that sort of life would not be worth living.
So, he would take it upon himself to issue a lenient sentence in the hope that people would remember why the police were there and that kindness, empathy and compassion is possible in all circumstances.
Flynn and Davidson got 14 days in jail, the others 10 days.