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  • Belfast Between The Wars


Belfast News-Letter, Friday 29th April 1932



“We regard traffic in illicit spirits as a most nefarious business, and are determined to inflict sufficient punishment to prevent a repetition of the offences,” said Mr. H. Toppin, R.M., at the Belfast Licencing Court, yesterday, when sentencing Robert S. Lyttle, who gave an address in Princes Street, Belfast, for six months’ imprisonment with hard labour for having removed and been in possession of a quantity of spirits which had been illegally distilled. Mr. H. H. Mussen, Crown Solicitor, prosecuted, and accused was not professionally represented.

Sergeant Bell gave evidence of arresting the accused at Musgrave Street barracks on the 19th April, and stated that when cautioned, Lyttle said: “I got it from John Benson, who used to be a bookmaker in Skipper Street. He told me whisky was in it, and I was to take it to a public-house in Church Lane. Benson told me a gallon and a half was in it.” Later, continued the witness, defendant stated: “He told me it was made by a man who was thirty-five years in a distillery and it came from the country, and he told me the man’s name.”

William Kearney, Surveyor of Customs and Excise for Belfast, stated that about seven o’clock on the 19th April he was in Church Lane, accompanied by William Hunter, another officer. They saw the defendant there and informed him of their business. Witness asked him what he had in a suitcase which was in his possession. He replied that he did not know, as he had got it from a man to deliver. When they took defendant to the police station and asked him to open the case he said he did not know how. Witness opened the case without any difficulty, and found it contained six ten-glass bottles and two aluminium hot-water bottles of spirits. Defendant gave his name and address, and said he got the suitcase from a man called John Benson at Victoria Square. He knew nothing about him.

Mr. Kearney said that on examining the liquor he found it to be “crude spirit,” commonly known as poteen.

Wm. Hunter, Excise Officer, gave corroborative evidence.

Defendant, in evidence, said that on 16th April he met Benson, whom he knew only slightly. Benson asked him if he was working and, on receiving a reply in the negative, remarked that witness could earn a few shillings by getting a merchant for him for three gallons of proof spirits. He acted on this suggestion, with the result that he was caught with the suitcase at the corner of Lower Church Lane and Ann Street. In view of the fact that he had not received any money for his services, and that he had had no previous dealings of the kind, he pleaded for leniency.


Mr. Mussen – Did you ever see Benson before – I knew him slightly. He was a bookmaker in Skipper Street.

Where did he live then? – I have not the slightest idea.

Had you been out of work long before that date? – About a week.

What were you engaged in then? – I was doing a bit of canvassing, anything that turned up.

When you got the whiskey you knew what it was? – He told me it was “the real stuff.” (Laughter.)

You knew you were doing wrong? – I more than realise that now.

You knew you were breaking the law? – I am not an infant.

Mr. Mussen said he looked upon it as a very serious case.

Mr. Toppin, in sentencing Lyttle, said they regarded traffic in illicit spirits as nefarious. They wished to put a stop to it, and would inflict sufficient punishment to prevent a repetition of the offences.


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