It was not until I was looking for information about a long dead Australian criminal that I remembered just what fun the News of the World was in the days just after the war.
The year I was looking up was 1948. Articles included the story of a woman on a receiving charge who claimed she had merely moved four 100-litre drums of methylated spirits out of the way in her garage. The prosecuting solicitor challenged her to do it in court and, when she had completed three runs without losing breath, in an effort not to lose any more face he said that was sufficient.
Then there was the couple who confessed to bigamy after 21 years of marriage. They had only surrendered to the police because they thought their adopted children should know the truth. The kindly magistrates fined them a tenner each.
More fun was the policeman who one morning found his doctor naked, except for a towel, in his airing cupboard. It seemed that the doctor was a lodger and when the officer had gone off to work leaving him and his wife in their dressing gowns in the kitchen he sussed something might not be all square and returned home. Decree nisi.
Then there was the man who horsewhipped his 20-year-old actress daughter’s lover. After the judge had a hard time getting the jury to convict, it was three days in the cells and £50 costs please.
Justice could not only be blind. A man convicted of murder was deaf. Apparently he could not hear the judge sentence him to death and only realised what was happening when he saw Mr Justice Humphreys put the black cap on.
As for the Australian, Robert Augustus Delaney died in Parkhurst at the end of December that year. One of his more spectacular robberies was the March 1922 theft of a safe from the post office at Euston Station, carried out in full view of the public on a Saturday evening.
A second was when he organised a raid on a furrier’s in the Brompton Road. Part of the proceeds was a dressmaker’s dummy which, at a crucial moment in the chase, he threw into the path of the following police car. The driver naturally did not wish to run over what appeared to be a naked woman and swerved to avoid the body, so giving Delaney and his partner time to escape.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor