Alleged Arson at Denaby.

May 1899

Sheffield Independent – Tuesday 02 May 1899

Alleged Arson at Denaby.

At Rotherham, yesterday, George Thomas Cooke, grocer, of Mexboro’, and his brother John Cooke, engineman, of the same place were charged with arson at Denaby on April 25th.

Mr. Gichard prosecuted, and Mr. H. J. C. Reed, of Mexboro’, defended. Mr. Gichard said that George Cooke was the keeper of two wooden shops close together at Denaby, one for the sale of groceries and the other of chip potatoes.

On April 25th a girl was in charge of the former shop, and she lighted a fire for some purpose, and when this was done she allowed it to go out. The coal was sent for at night by the prisoners, and the fire was then seen to have gone out. The coal was used for lighting a fire in the fried fish shop, which was dose to the grocer’s shop, with a small building between. The girl closed the shop and went away, and later the defendants, who were in the other building selling chips, were seen by a lad in their employ, to go out through the back window. A woman came in, and as the lad could not serve her he called for George Cooke, who returned by the window. P.-c. Lancaster saw the prisoners after they had dosed the potato shop. They were close to the other place of business, and a few minutes later someone in the street saw flames issuing from the roof of the buildings. The door was burst open, and it appeared that the fire had only just started. It had then not spread beyond one side of the shop.

It was suggested by the prosecution that the men went, out at the back of the shop in which they were working, and prepared for the fire, and then after dosing the other place had set the shop on fire. Then came the question as to whether there was any intention to defraud, and the evidence he thought would show that the business carried on by the defendants at the shop set on fire was only a small one. In October last the building, stock, etc., was insured for £120, but at the time of the fire the stock was worth only about £8. He should submit that such facts if proved were sufficient to justify the committal of the defendants.

Several witnesses were then called

Percy Birchnall Swain, of 106, Whitham road, Sheffield, said he was in charge of the Sheffield branch of the National Alliance Insurance Company. The defendant, George Thos. Cooke, held a policy for insurance of the grocer’s shop. The building was insured for £40, stock, etc, £60, fixtures and- fittings £20, total £120. Only one premium had been paid, and that would be in October, at the time of the issue of the policy. He saw the prisoner, George Cooke, at the scene of the fire on Thursday, and asked him what he estimated, his loss at. He said he valued his stock at £60; and the other items were worth the full amount of the insurance. He offered no verification of the loss, and witness asked to see the stock books. He said that these, with the exception of the day book, were burnt, and the day book, which was at his house, would throw no light upon the matter, as it only related to a few credit transactions with his customers. He denied that he was insolvent or in financial difficulties. His trade, he said, amounted to £30 and sometimes £40 per week. Witness asked for the names of the wholesale houses that he dealt with, so that the claim might be checked. No claim had up to that time been made, and witness handed him a claim form to fill up. He gave the name of John Clayton, High street, Mexboro’, as one of his houses, and stated he owed him £25, and Hawksworth Bros. £20, and James Ward and Co., Sheffield £3, none being overdue. Up to the present no claim for insurance had been sent in.

Cross-examined, witness said the defendant George did not refuse to answer questions but he volunteered no information. When defendant’s proposal for insurance of stock was received there was no valuation of stock.

Police-sergeant Lyttle said he apprehended the prisoners on April 27th at 11.10 p.m. George Cocke when charged with the offence, said, I never was in the shop after 10.30 o’clock in the morning,” and John answered, “Why me. I never was in the shop.”

Witness, questioned as to the nature of the stock, said for the last seven or eight months there had been very little, and the place had not been busy, very few going into the shop. The last time he was in the shop before it was burnt was six or seven weeks ago,And then he saw very little stock. The last time he was in the shop before it was built was six or seven weeks ago, and then he saw very little stock. He did not see stock worth more than £7 or £8. The building was a wooden one, with slated roof, and he had known it  for 15 years, and it was not a new shop when he first saw it. The size was about 20′ x 15′, and the doors were nearly opposite each other back and front of the storm 7 foot from the back door.

Witness was cross-examined at some length with regard to a hole in the back door of the shop. He had not been in any way asked to prosecute by the insurance company.

Mr Gichard said the proceedings were taken by the police.

The prisoners were committed for trial.