Thursday, 26 August 2010

Entrapment 19th century style

Time to return to Food and Sanitation. This time for a story of cruel entrapment


At the Handsworth Police-court, on February 9th, George Lester, a grocer and wine and spirit dealer, 75, Hamstead-road, was summoned at the instance of the Inland Revenue Authorities for selling one dozen bottles of ale on December 19th without having a licence. Mr. J. W. Clulow defended. Thomas Nisbett, an Excise officer, stated that on the date named he called at the defendant's shop, and after purchasing several articles of grocery which he asked to be sent to his house, he asked to be supplied with one dozen bottles of beer. The defendant replied that he
did not hold a beer licence, but to accommodate his customer he would buy the ale and send it with the groceries. Witness paid the bill which was made out, including the beer among the other items. Defendant subsequently had the groceries and beer delivered at Nisbett's house. The Bench were of opinion that a technical offence had been committed, and that a sale had taken place. Under the circumstances ithey were bound to convict, but they considered that the course taken to secure a conviction by Nisbett reflected no credit upon him, and little upon the Revenue Department. Mr. Lester had certainly been entrapped. For an Excise officer to go to the shop and, after being told by the defendant that he did not hold a beer licence, to insist upon him making a sale was not at aR honourable. The Bench imposed the merely nominal fine of 6d. and costs. Mr. Wright, the supervisor of Inland Revenue, wished to make some remarks with respect to the reflections cast upon the Revenue Department, but Mr. Clulow objected, and the magistrates declined to hear him.

We hope some Member of Parliament will raise this and recent other scandals in the House of Commons by necessary questions to the responsible minister. We confess we would rather see the Inland Revenue suppressing the sale of maddening potato or Indian corn spirit as whisky, or chemical "swipes" as beer, than laying such traps upon honest men's good nature, or bringing vexatious prosecutions like the following :

At Heywood, on February 14th, Mr. J. Birch, chemist, York street, was summoned for selling extract of malt and cod-liver oil, which it was alleged was liable to stamp duty. Mr. Squires, from Somerset House, prosecuted. The defendant was fined.

It would be more creditable to the Department were its chemists to learn snuff analysis, lard analysis, or butter analysis; and the responsible officials who advised Mr. Gladstone to abolish the malt tax that permitted the brewer to make his chemical "swipes" out of road sweepings if he likes, to retire, disgraced and degraded as they are, from injuring their country as public officials, than to put up jobs of this nature upon those who are taxed to support their ignorant existences."
"Food & sanitation, Volume 4", 1894, page 57.

I'm glad that the court sided with the defendent.

I wonder if excise men still get up to this sort of underhand trickery?


Thomas Barnes said...

Shame on the judge for not throwing the case out or finding for the defendant.

At least in the U.S., most alcohol regulatory agencies are underfunded and understaffed, so I doubt that the "beer-ocrats" have much time for this sort of nonsense. Pettifogging regulation to justify their existence: yes. Outright entrapment: no.

It's probably asking too much from human nature to hope that this sort of skulduggery is gone for good, though.

Martyn Cornell said...

The sort of entrapment that goes on now is to send a gruff-voiced six feet three 16-year-old into a bar or off-licence and try to get the staff to serve him alcohol.

Thomas Barnes said...

Like Martyn said, but, at least in the U.S., the perpetrators are generally local policemen with too much time on their hands, not tax authorities.

To avoid getting nailed for selling alcohol to minors, some businesses make a point of asking everyone for I.D., from fresh-faced barely-21s to gray-haired grannies. It's complete BS.