[From High Bailiff Laughton's Recollections, 1911]
The City of Glasgow Bank had for many years established a sort of Branch Bank in the Island, called the, Bank of Mona, which for a time seemed fairly to prosper. but when the former failed, the latter followed almost as a matter of consequence.
Shortly before it closed its doors, one Saturday night, the 20th April, 1875, it was discovered that the safe of the Bank had been rifled of a sum of between £8,000 and £9,000.
The sensation produced in quiet old Douglas on the following Sunday morning may be faintly imagined. A message came to me when in Church, informing me, to my consternation, that Mr. Andrew W. Gray, the popular and genial cashier of the Bank, had just been arrested upon a charge of taking it, and that he wished me to see him at once. I found him in the ordinary lock-up, and he looked bewildered, as if he were under the influence of some narcotic.
His story was a strange one. He said that he was walking home on the preceding night about eleven o'clock, when he was accosted by a man whose face was hidden by a mask, and who demanded his Bank keys, which Gray refused to give up; whereupon two other men, also wearing masks, appeared on the scene, set upon him, knocked him down and discharged a pistol at him, that he became insensible, the last words he heard being " dead men tell no tales." When he recovered consciousness, which he did about four in the morning, he found himself lying on the side of the road, and the keys had been taken out of his pocket. He at once went back to Douglas and gave notice at the Police Office of what had occurred, and also sent for a surgeon to attend to himself. Upon an examination of his person, a small hole was found in his coat, and following its direction, a bullet was discovered, which had penetrated as far as an inner pocket, where it was stopped by a thick bundle of letters.
When the Police, under the direction of the Manager examined the Bank safe, they discovered that the sum of £8,873 had been abstracted therefrom; and Gray was therefore arrested and charged with embezzlement and robbery.
The subsequent trial was a protracted one. and revealed strange and startling facts. During an interview in the cell, the prisoner fervently grasped the hand of a fellow Freemason who was present and in the most impressive manner, solemnly assured him and me that he was perfectly innocent of the charge. The solemnity with which he made this statement very materially affected me.
The first trial was on the 24th June. 1875. the Attorney-General, assisted by the late Mr. T. C. Callow, appeared for the Crown, backed up by all the wealth and strength of the Bank; whereas I, alone, was retained for the defencerather an unequal fight I thought.
It will, perhaps, be interesting to Bankers and others to know the nature of this case. Gray was charged first, with abstracting upon different days, prior to the final robbery on the 20th April, the sum of .£2,000; and secondly, with, on the said day, robbing the Bank of £8,873.
The prisoner's evidence to the last charge I have already given; but the real interest in the case was centred in the evidence given as to the first. 'The Principle upon which the cash transactions of the Bank was carried on was as follows: Each item paid into the Bank was accompanied by a voucher which was signed by the Depositor and handed to the Cashier. It was his duty to enter in the Cash-book a note of each transaction, and at the close of the day, every entry of money paid in, or paid out, ought to appear in that Cash-book. If the cash balanced, then everything was correct. As a check, however, upon the Cashier, there was another officer who kept what was called the Statebook, in which the transactions of the Bank were entered direct from the vouchers that had been handed in to the Cashier.
These two books, the Cash and the State-books, were, at short intervals, compared by the Cashier and the State Clerk, and of course, if they should correspond, the correctness of the Cash account, as entered in the Cash-book, was assured.
But this would only show that the sums entered in the Cash-book to debit and credit balanced; it would not prove that the cash entered to credit was actually in the Bank safe, and so another official, the Accountant, had perhaps the most important duty to perform, viz., once a week to personally examine the Cash Balance Book kept by the Cashier, to compare it with the State book, and to ascertain, not only the correctness of the several entries and the final balance, but whether such balance of cash as stated in the Cash-book was actually in the safe, and with this object, it was his duty to accompany the Cashier into the strong room, where the cash was kept, and to count it. It appeared at the trial that the bulk of the money was kept in bags, each supposed to contain a fixed sum, and the practice actually adopted was that the accountant counted the bags without emptying them and accurately going over the actual coins. The Accountant having, in that manner only, checked the cash, signed a certificate on the Wednesday prior to the robbery, and forwarded it to the Head Office. It ran in the following words:" We hereby certify that the State No. 30/46 contains a full and accurate account of every transaction of this Branch for the week ending this day, and that the Bank's cash, forming the balance of the said State " has been counted" by the Accountant, and amounts as above specified to £13,507 4s. 6d." This certificate was also signed by the Manager. But it was sought to be proved by the Crown at the trial that when the certificate was signed and notwithstanding its contents, £2,000 had already been abstracted by the Prisoner, and that instead of £16,517 4s. 5d., only £14,507 4s. 5d. was then actually in the Bank.
To prove that the whole of the money was in the Bank on the day in question, I produced and proved the above written admission of the Manager and Accountant. To show the contrary, however, the AttorneyGeneral produced the Prisoner's Cash Balance-book. This book, for months prior to the robbery, had been examined and checked by the Accountant regularly each week, and the cash balances, as entered therein, were in accordance with the terms of the above certificate, signed by the Manager and Accountant. But the Crown averred, and sought to prove, that such balances were false, and had been entered by the Prisoner by fraudulently altering some of the items (upon this supposition the certificate must also have been incorrect), certainly it appeared that several items, from week to week, had been regularly altered by the Cashier; in point of fact he admitted it, but the crucial question was, were these alterations made before or after the total addition of all the items was summed up at the foot of each page and initiated as correct by the Accountant? I contended that they must have been made prior thereto, as the figures, as altered, were correctly added to the sum total on each page, and signed by the Accountant. To this apparently conclusive argument, the Accountant, in his evidence, deposed that the Cashier always added up the column and figured the sum total in pencil, stating that he was hurried or some such excuse, but that he (the witness) always initialed them in ink. The trial lasted nine days; the Attorney-General's address occupying three hours and a half, and mine SIX, and the summing up of the Deemster about the same time. The Jury, after an absence of an hour and a half, found the Prisoner guilty, but " recommended him to mercy on account of his youth, good character. and the temptation to which he had been subjected through the want of proper supervision on the part of his superiors in the Bank."
(It appeared, in the evidence, that Gray's parents had left the Island when he was only fifteen years old, he being then placed in the Bank. At a very early agetwenty-one or thereaboutshe was appointed cashier, and as such had charge of all the cash in the, Bank. He had gradually acquired expensive tastes, such as his Bank salarythen £100 per annumdid not justify. He was in the habit of driving to and from the Bank in a stylish dog-cart, with a black servant in livery by his side. In addition to this he had entered into business of various kinds in Douglas, which required considerable capital. In fact, in many ways, it was evident that he was dealing with large sums of money, apparently without any sort of supervision or check.)
The Prisoner, being sentenced to ten years penal servitude, stood up and said, "May I make one statement, your Excellency and your Honours ? I have refrained from saying one word until now, when you have pronounced judgment and sentence upon me. The only statement I wish to make is this, that if I had been permitted to give evidence upon my own behalf I would have been able to afford information which would have thrown a different light on affairs. However, with my mouth closed you have found me guilty. I solemnly declare before God and man that I am innocent."
There were: several extremely touching and painful passages connected with this episode in my professional life, which I am not at liberty to reveal, but many a thrilling romance has been evolved out of infinitely fewer and less startling facts. I may, however, say a few words as to one phase of the sequel to the robbery and trial.
Some short time subsequent to the verdict, information was conveyed to me which caused me considerable anxiety and worry, and I found it most difficult to decide what my duty was, under the circumstances, as a professional man and late counsel for the Prisoner.
The information I received was that the proceeds of the robbery were buried in two localities, the general description of the places not being sufficiently definite to enable me to find the exact spot. This hidden treasure was in immediate danger of being removed by a friend of the Prisoner's, who was aware of its precise position.
Acting upon the advice of one of our highest and most respected legal dignitaries, and fortified by a letter of introduction to the Home Secretary, I at once went up to London and was permitted a personal and private interview with Gray in the Pentonville Prison. The result was, firstly, an unconditional confession of his guilt, and, as some suspicion had been raised involving other innocent persons, I obtained a full acknowledgment that no other than himself had anything to do with the robbery; and secondly, he gave me a detailed statement of the exact localities where the coin was buried, so as to enable it to be recovered. Knowing that the money was in imminent risk of being taken by other parties, I, within an hour, left London on my return to the Island, first having telegraphed to Colonel Paul, the Head Constable, to meet me at the steamer with two or three men and the necessary appliances, which he did.
We forthwith proceeded to one of the places indicated, and, by the light of lanterns, commenced to dig. For some time we failed, and the Colonel, as he subsequently confessed to me, thought I had been hoaxed. At length the spade came against something harder than earth, and upon close examination, we found several sovereigns mixed up with the soil. Thus encouraged, the spades were worked with a will, and before the lapse of a couple of hours, to the astonishment of the Constables, we had unearthed some thousands of pounds, of which the Manager of the Bank, for whom we had sent, took immediate possession. The other locality was examined with similar success. So far as I recollect, every penny of the money taken from the safe, on the Saturday in question, was recovered, with the exception of some £16. I never received any thanks from the bank for this (nor even my travelling expenses to London and back, on two separate journeys), the Manager having bitterly resented, and visited upon me the verdict of the Jury, censuring him for lack of proper supervision. Moreover, it was alleged by him, that, without my aid, the Bank would have recovered the money, as they were intending an examination of one of the localities.
I, however, as a matter of simple fact, affirm that unless I had returned at once and had found the money that night, the Bank would have been too late in their search.