(A very intricate Case.)
The forgery for which this man was tried was supposed to have been committed by two swindlers, John King, and one White. There was much hard swearing to bolster up a respectability to the character of the former, but the learned Judge seemed to be of opinion, that the prisoner was, to use his own words, "a scape-goat in their hands."
Jeremiah Reading was tried for forging the name of John King, as an acceptance to a bill of exchange for 30l. with intent to defraud William Dolben and Richard Brown, linen-drapers, in Bishopsgate-street.
William Dolben being sworn, deposed, that in the month of February, 1792, the prisoner, who had been for a considerable time indebted to them in 9l, applied to him, saying, he had now the means of discharging the arrears, having received a note, which he wished to have discounted. For that night he wished to receive only 10l, which he had immediate occasion for. He described White, the drawer of the bill, to be a reputable merchant in Bristol; and King, the acceptor, a man of opulence, who resided in a large house in Berkeley-street, Portman square, and kept a carriage, livery-servants, &c.
The witness remarked, that the acceptance in the bill appeared in the place where indorsements are usually made. To this the prisoner replied, that when he took the bill he made the same observation; but that Mr. King assured him he always accepted his bills in that way, and that it should be regularly honoured when it became due. He then gave him 20l. for which he took his receipt. The prisoner not returning for the remainder of the money, excited suspicion, and induced the witness to make enquiry after the drawer and acceptor. The result was, that White had once resided in Bristol, but had disappeared for two years; but as to King, no such person was to be found in Berkeley-street. The witness having occasion to pay a visit in the King's Bench, found Reading a prisoner there, and brought him on his trial.
A servant in the prosecutor's house corroborated this testimony; and the collector of the taxes said, that no person of the name of King was a yearly housekeeper in Berkeley-street, otherwise he must have known him. This was the scope of the evidence for the prosecution.
In defence, one Clark appeared, who swore, that he lived as clerk in the house of White, in Bristol, and recollected having copied the note in question, and its being forwarded to King in Berkeley-street. The witness underwent an examination of two hours, in which he was required to give an account of himself. This he did in a very extraordinary manner, beginning at the time when he was only three years old; but it was found impossible to extract from him the manner in which he employed himself for the last eighteen months.
Allen, a hair-dresser, deposed, that he lived near Soho-square, in good business; and that, in the year 1792, he dressed a Mr. King, in Berkeley-street, Portman-square. He recollected, that about the end of February, the prisoner came to Mr. King, while he was dressing him, and presented a bill, which he accepted. He added, that all that conversation took place relative to the extraordinary mode of indorsement, &c. which was related by the prisoner when passing the bill upon Dolben. He also stated a circumstance of King's receiving a letter addressed to him under the name of Nugent.
Several witnesses gave the prisoner a good character, amongst whom was a Miss Davies, whose mother's house in Berkeley-street he frequented for three years.
Mr. Justice Grose summed up this very intricate evidence in a very able and circumstantial manner. He commented upon all the points; and when he came to that which regarded King's passing by the name of Nugent, Miss Davies requested the liberty of interrupting him. She said, that the mention of the name of Nugent called a circumstance to her remembrance, which, as it may affect the case before the court, she thought it her duty to state, though she could not have done so in her direct evidence; the whole having been suggested by the testimony of another witness. She then related, that a person of the name of Nugent had taken lodgings at her mother's, and refused to give any reference for character, saying, there was no occasion for it, as he was a regular man, and would pay weekly. He afterwards absconded in the night; and, on sweeping the room one morning, she found a pawnbroker's duplicate of an article pledged in the name of John King. Having never seen a pawnbroker's ticket before, she showed it to a gentleman, and their mutual curiosity led them to pay a visit to the pawnbroker. The latter told them, that he had directions to stop any person who should apply with the ticket; and that the instruction was given by the person who deposited the pledge. On the affair being explained, the pawnbroker gave a description of the man, which perfectly corresponded with the person of Nugent. She was desired to produce the ticket; but said, that having no idea that such a circumstance would apply in evidence to this case, she had not brought it with her, as she otherwise would have done.
The learned judge, after a short hesitation, proceeded to his charge. He remarked, that what they had last heard went in a great measure to confirm the evidence of Allen. If the jury should be led to attribute the whole to a foul and fraudulent conspiracy of White and King as an expedient for raising money, and that the prisoner was only a scape-goat in their hands, it was not a forgery, as charged in the indictment, and they must of course acquit him. They were not to convict upon doubt, inference, probability, or conjecture. The question to be considered was, whether the prisoner uttered this instrument knowing it to be forged? If they believed the evidence of Allen and Clark, corroborated by that of Davies, the charge was fully rebutted; if not, the other evidence was sufficient to convict him.
The jury, after retiring for a considerable time, re turned with a verdict, finding the prisoner guilty on the second count of the indictment "Guilty of uttering the bill, knowing it to be forged."—Death.
The learned judge, however, thought proper to reserve the case for the opinion of the Judges; and accordingly, at the Sessions-House in the Old Bailey, 1794, the judges were of opinion, that as the indictment stated the bill to be directed to John King, by the name and description of John King, and as there was no such person to be found as John King, that their description was erroneous, and repugnant to the precision the law required in the form of indictments, and that therefore the judgment ought to be arrested. The case, however, being of great public importance, the judges were of opinion that the prisoner ought not to be discharged, as the prosecutor was at liberty to prefer a new indictment against him, The prisoner was of course detained in custody. However, on the succeeding month, March, he received his Majesty's free pardon.