I came across this story from October 1920 in the pages of the Eccles and Patricroft Journal and was shocked to read of the treatment meted out to these men who appeared at Manchester County Police Court charged with stealing quantities of potatoes from local farmers' fields.
The background to this story is as follows, in October 1920 coal miners went on strike for higher pay, the strike only lasted two weeks but this caused hardship for many families and most of the men who stood in the dock accused of theft were colliers from local pits.
Local farmers had complained to the police that for several nights groups of men had been seen in the early hours of the morning stealing potatoes either from the soil or which had been harvested and awaiting collection in baskets.
The newspaper reported that "scores" of coal miners were in the fields, stealing the crops and at one stage 200 men and boys were seen stealing.
The police were informed and Supt. Keys raised a force of mounted policemen and several dozen policemen who travelled in prison vans were taken to the farms.
They launched a raid on the potato pickers and arrested a dozen men, others scattered leaving half filled sacks and shovels on the ground.
Mounted police along with uniformed policemen patrolled the fields for the next few days to deter any more thefts with a show of force.
Eight men appeared in the dock and a boy aged 11 years of age, they were, George Dale, George Arden, Robert Hodgkiss, Ernest Cullis, Edward Jones, Ernest Vernon, Thomas Atkinson, and Wilson Taylor,
The case of George Dale was heard first, with Mr T. Stuttard The Chairman of the Court and Mr J, Crofton was the Prosecuting Officer.
Crofton alleged that Dale was caught with 56lb of potatoes and that this court case arose from the coal strike and then launched into an astonishing attack on Dale and the other accused by saying that they behaved as if the crop in the ground was theirs was to be taken and eaten and if this kind of behaviour was not stamped out, "the disease would grow and would ultimately lead to, as it has in the past, rioting and the usual accompaniments"
The Chairmen asked him if he was bringing a case of anarchy on the men?
He replied that he wasn't but this is where these things lead to.
Addressing Dale, the Chairman told him that he couldn't behave as the Germans did in Belgium and France and take anything they liked and fined him £5 and 12 shillings Advocate fees and told him he should be happy he wasn't being sent to prison.
Dale asked for a month to pay and was told the decision would come after the trial of the other men.
The other accused were given fines ranging from £1 to 10 shillings plus court costs.
George Dale had his fine reduced from £5 down to £2 in a rare show of leniency and was given a month to pay..
The Chairman then warned the whole district of Pendlebury that if any more men were brought up before him charged with potato theft they would go straight to prison