- Assizes record courtesy of Mr John Gillespie, grandson of Insp Fred Janes.
Frederick William Couldridge, aged 38, night watchman, 1 Buxton Road, Luton, was charged on July 25th, 1919, with: “On the 20th July, 1919, together with divers other evil disposed persons to the number of one thousand or more, unlawfully riotously and routously did assemble and gather together to disturb the public peace and then unlawfully riotously routously and tumultuously did make a great noise riot tumult and disturbance of His Majesty’s subjects there being and residing passing and repassing and then and there unlawfully riotously routously and tumultuously did assault beat wound and ill treat one Alexander Andrew, against the Peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, his Crown and Dignity”.
The July 25th hearing was told that when arrested Couldridge said: “Not guilty”.
Inspector Fred Janes stated that he was on duty at the Town Hall after ten o'clock on Saturday night, when prisoner made repeated attempts to gain access to the main entrance of the Town Hall. He was pushed back time after time, but came again and again until beaten off with a truncheon. Witness heard him say: “Come on, come,” and he aggravated the crowd.
Prisoner had nothing to say against being remanded, except that he was not guilty. He was remanded in custody to July 30th.
In court on July 30th, Inspector Janes said prisoner was in the forefront of the vast crowd which attempted to gain access to the Town Hall on the Saturday night, and was forced back time and time again. Couldridge repeated many times, “Come on! Come on!” Prisoner was a special constable at Messrs Kent's Works, and was sworn in as a special constable for the borough.
Chief Officer Alexander Andrew said he saw prisoner while he was working in Upper George Street. Couldridge stood in Dillingham's doorway while the hose was being played on the crowd, and he said to witness, “I'll murder you if you stop here all night”.
Afterwards, he called out, “Come on, discharged soldiers! Rush them! Don't let them get the water on.” The crowd gained possession of one length of hose and destroyed it by cutting it. Prisoner threw missiles from the doorway at firemen generally and at witness in particular.
Witness asked him to go away and leave the Brigade to put the fire out. He replied, “I'll get you before I've finished.” One piece of iron (produced) thrown by prisoner struck witness and made a big dent in the front of his helmet.
Prisoner was there practically throughout the disturbance and remained until the military arrived. Chief Officer Andrew said he had no doubt whatever that prisoner was the man concerned. Corroborative evidence was given by Inspector Harry Duncombe and Pc William Wright.
Prisoner reserved his defence on the charge of rioting, and pleaded not guilty to charges of destruction of the Town Hall and of assault on Chief Officer Andrew.
He was committed to Beds Assizes in October and told the question of bail could not be considered.
AT THE ASSIZES
At the Assizes, Witness Chief Officer Andrew said when the crowd were behaving in a very hostile manner to the Brigade, Couldridge stood in Dillingham's doorway, and urged the crowd to rush the Brigade and stop them getting the water on. At times the firemen had to turn the water on the crowd.
Couldridge threatened to murder witness even if he had to stop there all night. The crowd got away with one length of hose and cut it up. Prisoner was continually throwing at the fireman, and threw a lump of iron which hit witness on the helmet. Couldridge remained there practically until the arrival of the military.
After cutting up the hose, said witness, the crowd used the couplings as missiles to throw at the firemen.
Prisoner suggested it was too dark for witness to see who was throwing the missiles from the doorway. Witness: “There was plenty of light for me to see you.”
As to identification, witness said he picked prisoner out from five other men at the police station. “I considered you were absolutely one of the ringleaders there who prevented us getting the water on,” said Chief Officer Andrew, in reply to further questions from prisoner. Witness also said he saw prisoner get hold of the hose.
As to the lump of iron, prisoner suggested that he did not throw the iron, and that the iron did not strike witness.
The Chief Officer held up his helmet and pointed to a dent, which he said was caused by the lump of iron. In reply to prisoner, witness said: “I saw it come from your hand, and wasn't quick enough to dodge it.”
Pc Wright said prisoner was with a number of men who were throwing at the firemen, but witness did not see him actually throw anything. Earlier in the evening he saw prisoner outside the Town Hall, urging the people to “fetch the ------ out”.
Inspector Janes said he several times pushed prisoner back when he was trying to force a way into the Town Hall. Prisoner exerted his utmost efforts to get past the police into the Town Hall. Police and rioters were down on the pavement together, and there seemed to be every possibility that the police would be crushed to death.
Cross-examined, Inspector Janes agreed that the prisoner was an ex-serviceman. Prisoner suggested that it required a physically fit man to take part in the rushes on the Town Hall, and asked whether witness knew he was entitled to a 50 per cent pension for disability caused by heart disease following wounds and disease in France.
Inspector Janes: “Then it was very foolish of you to behave as you did on that night.”
His Lordship: “He is suggesting that his heart is so weak that he could not have done it, and that it must have been somebody else.” Witness said he knew Couldridge too well to be mistaken.
Inspector Duncombe said he heard prisoner threaten to murder Chief Officer Andrew and shout, “Come on, discharged soldiers, rush them, don't let them get it on.”
Prisoner: “Did you notice anything peculiar about me?” Witness: “Yes, you were like a raving mad-man.” (laughter).
Prisoner: “I meant in my clothes?” Witness: “You had no hat.”
“When you came to my lodgings and I put a straw hat on, you told me to put on my soft felt hat, and when I did you said, 'Oh, now I know you'.” Witness said he did not remember anything of the kind. Prisoner: “Then you have an elastic memory.”
It was suggested that prisoner went with witness to the police station voluntarily. Prisoner said he went with the inspector, and escorted by a sergeant. He did not know whether that was going voluntarily.
The Judge: “Perhaps it is a euphemism. They asked you to go and you went.” Prisoner: “When they asked me to go, I had to go.”
DEFENCE AND VERDICT
Frederick William Couldridge addressed the jury on his own behalf. He said he cast no reflection on any of the witnesses, but submitted it was a pure case of mistaken identity, and made a vigorous appeal to the jury not to blank his life and ruin his character on evidence which was not adequate to identify the person who actually committed the offences charged against him.
Prisoner was found guilty of riot and of assaulting Chief Officer Andrew (he was the man said to have thrown the lump of iron), and not guilty on other counts.
Inspector Janes said prisoner was a Devonshire man, and was bound over at the London Sessions in June 1912 after being convicted of obtaining credit by fraud.
The Judge: “Then I think he was sailing pretty close to the wind when he was asking questions about his good character.” Witness: “I did not know of this conviction at that time.”
Prisoner said said he had done his utmost to justify the leniency shown to him at the London Sessions. He asked His Lordship to take into consideration the time he had been in custody awaiting trial, and that he was disabled and receiving a pension, and to deal with him leniently.
His Lordship; “I cannot treat your case leniently. You are obviously a man of education and of great intelligence, and when a man like you takes part in proceedings of this sort, what can be expected of ignorant labourers and boys?
“The least sentence I can pass on you is 18 months imprisonment without hard labour.