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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Chapter VIII. — The Man that Fills the Bill

Chapter VIII.

The Man that Fills the Bill.

In a Nut-shell.

It is no doubt a providential arrangement for the safety of life and property that the cleverest criminals often make a stupid blunder which checkmates all their cleverness and leads to their undoing. But stupidity verging on insanity is not to be lightly presumed, and a hypothesis which attributes such stupidity to both criminal and detective in the same case does not deserve acceptance outside of Bedlam. The theory of the Crown, that Meikle left the incriminating skins in his own page 30 smithy, and that the Company's detective, having seen the sheep stolen, left them unwatched for fourteen or fifteen days, and then put the police in to find a number of sheep corresponding exactly with what had been originally stolen is therefore utterly untenable. But the rationality of both parties will be saved and every improbability removed by supposing (i) that the sheep, whenever Lambert first saw them on Meikle's property*, were not there as the result of any criminal act of Meikle's, but had either strayed or been placed there by Lambert; (2) that the skins were placed in Meikle's smithy by Lambert in order to secure a conviction which would be impossible on the uncorroborated assert of a hired informer. Let us tabulate the chronology in order to focus its bearing on both points:—
  • October 17 or 18.—Lambert claims to have seen 28 sheep stolen by Arthur Meikle and one killed.
  • November 1.—Lambert visits Meikle's smithy at night, and he can't say why !
  • November 2.—Police enter, and find—
    (1)Two of Company's sheepskins in Meikle's smithy.
    (2)Twenty-seven of Company's sheep in his paddocks.

For fifteen days after the alleged theft the police are held back, but they come in to find the booty intact and the skins in position on the very morning after Lambert's nocturnal visit to the smithy ! If either of the Commissioners is simple enough to suppose that this was a mere coincidence, he surely ought to have told us so. If they both know better, why has not Meikle had a full clearance ?

Armed Cap-a-ple.

Character, motive, opportunity, and equipment are the chief elements to be considered in weighing the probabilities of any criminal charge. How does Lambert satisfy these tests? That he was a station rouseabout, with two convictions against him for drunkenness and one for larceny, says enough for his character. His motive is obvious enough when it is remembered that an impecunious man whose normal wage was "£1 a week and found" was to get £50—practically a-year.'s salary—spot cash for a conviction, and nothing if he failed. The opportunity was not wanting if he found himself on a dark night in the neighbourhood of Meikle's smithy after the family had retired; and the occasion, be it noted, was not casual or sudden, as Mr. Justice Cooper im- page 31 plied in an otherwise happy quotation from Bacon—" the occasion sudden, the opportunity dangerous "(C. 283)—but had been deliberately created by a false pretence. Lambert's equipment was also complete if he had brought with him the sheepskins for which he had asked McGeorge, or to which, as Mr. Justice Edwards prefers to believe, he could have helped himself without asking anybody. Thus in every quality and circumstance Lambert is seen to have been fully armed for the crime; and we believe that Mr. Atkinson's, remark to the Premier was fully justified—viz., that no jury in the land would hesitate for five minutes in acquitting. Meikle of sheep-stealing on the evidence of Lambert himself, and at the same time convicting Lambert, on the same evidence, not merely of perjury, but of having also planted those skins where the police found them in order to make his perjury successful.

* Before the Commission a strong attempt was made to prove from the station diary and other evidence that the number of these sheep was known before the olice seatched. If established, this would remove the suspicion attaching to the ex post facto coincidence in number which impressed Judge Ward as corroboration. But as it does not touch the question of how the sheep got there, we pass it by. Obviously the longer these sheep were on Meikle's property untampered with, the stronger their testimonial to his innocence.