The first trial of the York Special Commission commenced at 10.00 a.m. on Tuesday 5th January 1813.
The prisoners John Swallow (aged 37), John Batley (31), Joseph Fisher (33) & John Lumb (32) were indicted for a burglary at the home of Samuel Moxon, at Whitley Upper, on 3rd July 1812 and stealing various articles belonging to William Moxon. They all pleaded Not Guilty.
Fisher, Swallow & Lumb were coal miners, whilst Batley was a clothier.
James Alan Park opened the case for the prosecution by stating that although the crime itself was not unusual, the circumstances under which it was committed made it anything but a common case.
Park went on to outline the Prosecution’s case: that shots were heard from outside the house by Moxon, and then threats, demanding he open his door until he relented. Once inside, the men demanded first arms and then money, accompanied by threats to shoot him. Moxon gave them some money, and then later some food from his cellar, as well as clothing. He stated that the men were in the house around an hour.
Park then produced the witness & perpetrator who had turned King’s Evidence: Earl Parkin. The Crown contended that it could be established that Parkin was involved by the evidence of other witnesses: Samuel Parkin – Earl Parkin’s brother – was part of the group, but said he got cold feet about the raid and left the group; and Jonas Boocock, a man who saw some of the group together, including Earl Parkin, earlier in the afternoon; finally Joshua Peace, a neighbour of Samuel Moxon who saw the group with blackened faces prior to the robbery and who tried to intervene, but was shot at, intimidated and even followed to his house and threatened to keep quiet.
Park contended that John Swallow had bragged about the robbery on 6th July 1812 at Wakefield Gig Fair on Grange Moor to a man called Littlewood. That he had said that the group passed themselves off as Luddites because that way those they robbed offered less resistance. Littlewood said Swallow had asked him to join, but he refused and went straight to the authorities. Two other witnesses, Joseph Roberts & William Sykes, had confirmed they had seen Littlewood talking to Swallow at the Fair.
Park contended that, when he was committed to York Castle, John Lumb had admitted to another prisoner, Samuel Stocks, that he had been present at the raid, though he had tried to not take part. This prisoner also contended that Joseph Fisher had admitted he too was present at the raid at the same time, but that he had been intimidated into going along by Swallow & Parkin.
Baron Thomson summed up the case, and the examination of witnesses began with William Moxon. Moxon stated that shots were fired at the house, something that the witness and accomplice Earl Parkin did not agree with, but the point was not laboured by the prosecution. Moxon went on to describe the raid in detail.
Jonas Boocock was then examined. The prosecution admitted that though Boocock was clear that he had met Swallow, Fisher & Earl Parkin on the afternoon before the raid took place, Parkin could not place the precise day this took place. Boocock confirmed he had known Parkin for 6 years, and also that he knew Swallow.
Next Earl Parkin, the King’s Evidence, was called. He said he had agreed to meet Swallow, Lumb, Fisher, Batley & Samuel Parkin at a cabin belonging to a man called John Bedford at Fallas, which was a mile from Moxon’s house. He had brought a gun, as instructed, and had joined the others after 11.00 p.m. Parkin stated that Swallow and Batley had taken their shirts off, and worn them over their outer clothing, something that Moxon corroborated, and blackened their faces with soot from the chimney.
Parkin went on to say that the witness Joshua Peace had wanted to join them in the raid, but the group did not want this, and threatened and intimidated him to get him to leave them alone, something Peace had not admitted to in his evidence. Parkin then went on to say that when they arrived at Moxon’s he did not go into the house, but that Swallow, Batley and Fisher did, with Lumb staying outside and Samuel Parkin refusing to take part 200 yards before the house had been reached.
Parkin stated that, after the raid, the men went to a wood in a valley nearby and divided up the goods they had stolen. Samuel Parkin did not want any of the booty. Swallow kept the money, in order to pay for a watch he had pawned for drinking money for them all some time before.
Under cross-examination, Parkin stated he had met Boocock the day after the raid, not the same day as Boocock had said. The defence also underlined evidence contradicting the account of the raid: Parkin was adamant no shots had been fired at the house, only those to intimidate Peace prior to the raid. Parkin was also clear about his motive for turning King’s Evidence – he wanted to save himself.
Parkin’s brother, Samuel, was next to give evidence. He stated that 3 days prior to the raid, he had met with the group, and John Swallow had first invited him to a ‘meeting of the Ludds’ on Grange Moor, and then ordered him to do so when he appeared reluctant. Departing from his brother’s evidence, he stated that he had no idea that there was a plan to raid Moxon’s house until the group was within 200 yards of it, and refused to go any further. Samuel Parkin’s evidence also directly contradicted that given by others: he said he heard no shots that night at all, nor did he see Joshua Peace, and he said the group returned only 10 minutes after leaving him in the road to rob Moxon’s house.
Joshua Peace was the next witness. He described in detail his encounter with the group, and admitted he knew all those at the bar in the court, but on the night, he thought that he only recognised John Swallow’s voice, but remained largely uncertain.
Further witnesses were called – Alexander Littlewood, Joseph Roberts & William Sykes, to state what had happened when they encountered John Swallow at Wakefield Gig Fair.
The debtor at York Castle, Samuel Stocks, was called and related his encounters with the prisoners, but under cross-examination did admit that he had taken legal action for slander against John Swallow and another man called Noble previously. Swallow had also been his tenant, and there had been a disagreement about extending Swallow’s tenancy which produced the slander. He went on to say that he owed money to Mr. Blackburn, one of the defence Counsel at the Special Commission, but that he bore the prisoners no ill will.
John Allison, the Huddersfield solicitor, stated to the Court that no threats or promises were made to the prisoners when they were examined by the Magistrate Joseph Radcliffe on 14th September 1812. The statements given by Batley, Fisher & Lumb were then read out to the Court.
The defence of the four prisoners consisted only of their assistance that they were not guilty.
Witnesses were called for the defence. George Armitage, a farmer from Kirkheaton, stated that the evidence for the King, Earl Parkin, was not trustworthy. A Mr. Wright, a debtor from Gaol, spoke for the good character of John Lumb, who he had known for 15 years.
After the summing up, and nearly 9 hours in court, the Jury retired at 6.40 p.m. for only 10 minutes. All four prisoners were found Guilty, but the Jury recommended John Lumb to mercy.
Baron Thomson asked for the grounds for mercy for Lumb, and it was stated that it was felt Lumb was under the influence of Swallow, that he had no firearm, and had not blackened his face, as well as having a witness to his character.
The prisoners would be sentenced at the end of the Special Commission.
This has been produced from accounts of the trial in Howell (1823, pp.971-997) & the Leeds Mercury of 23/01/1813.