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Evening Post, Wellington, 25 February 1905
Misbehaviour of a Band of Thorndon Youths.
Steal Ninety Pounds and Camp Out.
Escape With a Birching.
A band of five Thorndon boys on Wednesday last raided the residence of the parents of one of their number, secured £90 and bolted for the Wairarapa, taking up their quarters on the banks of the Raipoua River, Masterton. There they evidently intended leading a free and easy life, probably on the lines of some penny-dreadful hero. They had in their possession two rifles, ammunition, and stores enough to last them for several days. The camp fires lighted by the young scamps led the people in the locality to make enquiries, and to report the matter to the police, who broke up the camp and sent the boys back to Wellington.
This morning, the youngsters, whose names are Eric Leonard Picton (thirteen years), Joseph Michael Fleming (fourteen years), Walter Albert Cole (fourteen years), Jas. K.G. Sutherland (fourteen years), and Keith Cropp (sixteen years), were charged before Dr. A. M'Arthur, S.M., with having on the 22nd inst., at Wellington, stolen £90 in money, the property of Mrs. Everine Picton.
Each boy entered a plea of guilty, and with the consent of his parents was dealt with summarily.
In stating the facts of the case, Chief Detective M'Grath said these five lads planned the theft from the mother of the defendant Picton. Sutherland, Picton, and Fleming went into the house, smashed open a box and stole £90, whilst Cropp and Cole watched outside. They afterwards divided the money, walked out as far as Ngahauranga, and took the train to the Upper Hutt. There they broke the journey, but catching the next train went to Kaitoke, waited for the express, and journeyed on as far as Masterton. They put up for the night at a boarding-house, and next day set about getting together their camping outfit. About £20 was expended on a tent, rifles, ammunition, provisions, watches, blankets, pipes, tobacco, trousers, etc., which were taken a short distance out of Masterton, where camp was pitched. The police recovered from the youngsters about £68 3s., some of which was buried about the camp.
Several of the defendants had been before the Court before. Cropp, for instance, had been up for damaging windows, stone-throwing, wilful damage, and two thefts. Fleming and Sutherland had both been reprimanded for damaging property, the informations, however, being withdrawn, whilst Cole had been before the Court for damaging windows.
Mr. Herdman appeared for Cropp, and said the circumstances surrounding the case revealed a most unwholesome condition of criminal depravity. He suggested that it was no use sending Cropp to gaol; if the boy went there and mixed with the juvenile class the criminal bent in his nature would become worse. The lad's parents were highly respectable people, and he had been informed that the boy had been working in the city and of late conducting himself well. Counsel suggested that the boys did not recognise the gravity of their offences; that their imaginations had possibly been affected by reading unwholesome literature, and he submitted that the best means of punishing them would be to give them one of the soundest thrashings it was possible to give.
Chief Detective M'Grath said he believed such treatment would be more effective than gaol or an industrial school.
His Worship said he did not draw any distinction between the boys who waited outside the house and those who went inside and stole the money. Each defendant would get twelve strokes of the birch, and he hoped the constable would "lay it on," especially on the tallest boy, Cropp. He reminded them that if they came before him again he would send them to Burnham.
In due course the thrashings were administered. Judging by the howling and the antics the boys cut after they left the police cells, the gravity of the offence had been impressed upon them.
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