Blackmail Case…."a tissue of falsehoods in a letter."

This is a strange tale of a young lad called Noel Bancroft, who at the age of only 17 years, was before the courts on the serious charge of blackmail.

He was born on 13th December 1913, in Keighley, the son of George and Isabella [nee Metcalfe] Bancroft, who were both born in Manchester, where George was a House Decorator, and Isabella a foreman in a Sowing Factory, making waterproof clothing. They moved over to Keighley shortly before Noel's birth in 1913, and were living at 20 Arctic Street, in the Beechcliffe area of the town,at this time.

The Keighley News newspaper of 3rd November 1831 reported 'this sensational story' with the following headlines:

Blackmail case in Keighley….Youth sent to Assizes…A tissue of falsehoods in a letter.
Noel Bancroft, [17] apprentice outfitter of Arctic St, Keighley was committed at Keighley today for trial to the Assizes on a charge of Demanding Money with Menaces.
Superintendent Coates said that between October 19th and 21st, the prisoner uttered a letter demanding £20 with menaces from Walter Burrows [43] Drapers Assistant, of Cark Road Keighley. The letter received by Mr. Burrows on October 21st stated:
'For the past month I have been very interested in your movements with a certain young lady. You have had a very bad habit of meeting in Keighley Cemetery. Your behaviour has not been very nice for a married man and a married woman. I am an eye witness of your activities. On second thoughts, if the sum of £20, or nearest you can get at short notice, is not brought to me by my directions, I will take proceedings and cause a great scandal, for I deal in nothing else'
The letter instructed the complainant to make a parcel of the notes and hand them to a youth, who would meet him at the Yorkshire Penny Bank, Keighley at 1pm on October 21st.
The letter continued:
'If you fail, I will break you and disgrace you. Don’t treat this as an idle boast, or go to the police with a blackmail idea. You will be watched by two men, both out-of-work who will do anything for money. I never ask more than once, as I have a bad temper, and I wan t to go to Liverpool and London on other business'
Superintendent Coates said Mr. Burrows at once communicated with the police, and was asked to keep the appointment. At 12.55 Mr. Burrows went to the appointed place, holding in his hand a small packet. At 1.00 the prisoner rode up on a bike and said to Mr. Burrows “Have you a parcel for me?” When asked his name the prisoner said “ Oh I haven’t time I want to be going”. He then asked for the parcel, which Mr. Burrows handed to him.
As the prisoner was about to ride away a plain clothed policeman went up to him. When cautioned and charged, the prisoner replied “I wrote the letter. I don’t know what made me do it, I am sorry.”
Mr. H Wall, of Turner & Wall,Keighley, on behalf of the prisoner said he wished to express his client’s regret to Mr. Burrows, and to say unreservedly that there was no truth whatsoever in the allegation. It was a tissue of falsehoods from beginning to end.
Mr. Wall regretted that it was not possible to reduce the charge, remarking that the offence was the act of someone not quite responsible. He intimated that that would be the defence at the Assizes.
Mr Wall remarked that it seemed a pity that there was no option but to send the lad for trial, for he felt it was not responsible mentally, for what he had done. He also asked the bench to grant a poor persons' defence certificate, but the Bench said that in view of his plea of guilt, they would not be justified in granting this request, even after Mr Wall said the accused's father had not the means to meet the defence, and the boy himself had lost his job.
The accused was remanded for trial at the next West Riding Assizes, bail being allowed in two sureties of £10.
The case was heard at the Assizes on 28th November 1931, when the Keighley News newspaper, together with the regional ones,  reported the outcome of 'this sensational story'  as follows:

Keighley Blackmail.
Noel Bancroft [17], Drapers Assistant of Arctic St, Keighley, was bound over for three years, after pleading guilty to uttering a letter demanding money with menaces from Walter Burrows on October 21st last at Keighley.
In the accused possession was found a diary that had the same handwriting, as the person who had sent the letter to Mr Burrows
It was stated that the Prosecutor, a married man, received from Bancroft, at his business address, a letter containing allegations which were absolutely without foundation, and demanding £20.
On Bancroft’s behalf ,Mr Wall his solicitor said that he did not propose to put the accused into the witness box or call any witnesses as it was agreed that the contents of the letter were untrue, and stated that he was run over when he was a boy of ten, and had since had a rather sullen nature, and been difficult to get on with. He was in the habit of reading sensational novels, and he  visited cinemas very frequently, despite his father’s best efforts to dissuade him.
When the Judge announced the decision, Bancroft collapsed in the dock and had to be revived before he could be bound over.’

How times have changed!....gone are the days when reading sensational novels, and going to the cinema too frequently, could be given as reasons for a young man turning to blackmail!

Shown below, a peaceful scene of the  Beechcliffe area of Keighley where Noel Bancroft lived, around this time

Beechcliffe in the background

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