Teenage brooch thief was let off lightly

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WE should be ashamed of ourselves as a society, that shoplifting is on the increase because people are stealing to feed themselves.

Would we could find it in ourselves to be as compassionate as – surprisingly – they sometimes were in the past.

Take the case of Hugh Sutton.

Hugh was a 15-year-old boy who came before magistrates in South Shields in 1892, charged with stealing a brooch worth 2s 6d (12p).

The jewellery was the property of his landlady, with whom he lodged in Alfred Street, and he had later sold it to a man in Chichester Road, for 3d.

When asked why he’d taken it, he broke down sobbing, and said: “I wanted to buy something to eat.”

He told the court that he earned 3s a week, out of which he paid 1s 6d a week – half – for his lodgings.

His father was blind and his mother dead. There was another child in the workhouse.

He could have been fined, I suppose, or even sent to jail.

But no, the case was adjourned for three months, during which, he was told, if he behaved himself, “he would hear no more about it.”