Dastardly Deeds on the Home Front, Episode 2 : The Trial

Debbie Cameron, one of the volunteers for GM1914, has uncovered a tale of confidence trickery and downright fraud.
It’s a fascinating case with some very unexpected links. This is the second instalment of a developing piece of research.


I was fortunate to find several reports of the trial in contemporary newspapers, which gave a lot of background into the Defendants, their crimes and their victims – who ranged from a secretary to a very large local munitions factory. As can be seen from the original court documents, the two defendants faced a whopping 18 charges of obtaining money under false pretences. The gist of the charges was that Timothy Gerald O’Sullivan (aged 45) and Edward John Johnson (aged 29) conspired together to obtain money by false pretences by maintaining they ran a viable company – Manchester Aircraft Company – which had good credit with various banks and into which they had put large sums of money. In carrying out this fraud, they approached various people and companies – named in the indictments – including A V Roe and Company, a local company that made aeroplanes.

It seems that the main player, Timothy Gerald O’Sullivan (TGOS) was, according to the prosecution “hopelessly in debt” at the time. Many of the witnesses stated outright that they always felt he was the Business Manager whereas Edward John Johnson (EJJ) was the engineer and therefore not as culpable. TGOS even stated to one victim that EJJ was invalided out of the RFC because “poor Johnson only has one kidney” to which EJJ’s counsel said in Court “it is the first time he (EJJ) heard that he had such an affliction”!!

The two men had a registered office in Cooper Street – one of their victims was their hapless secretary, Annie Letitia Doggett and her testimony was reported in the Manchester Evening News. They did not stop at smaller investors however and aimed high – including A V Roe, a large, local munitions and aircraft company from whom he tried to obtain £1000. I will look into the backgrounds of some of the victims at a later date. Suffice it to say that some were duped, but many soon realised what was going on. After TGOS cross examined one of the alleged victims, Thomas Murphy, who had described a convoluted story of duplicity and changing Directors, he asked “Are you still a Director” to which Mr Murphy replied a heartfelt “God Forbid!”. Clearly, he had had quite enough of the whole venture!

Despite the dynamic duos sometimes outlandish claims – for example that they had been managers of factories in Brazil or Inspectors for the Government’s Aeronautical Division, the Jury did not believe their claims that they did, in fact, have a viable business with “brilliant” prospects. After 19 days’ of legal proceedings and countless witnesses, the duplicitous duo were duly found Guilty in 17 of the 18 indictments on 19th February 1918. Incredibly TGOS got only 15 months’ hard labour and EJJ 10 months, following a plea for leniency by the Jury for Mr Johnson. This was at a time when it would have been much more dangerous fighting in the trenches, facing the very real possibility of death or serious injury every day. To my mind, these two got a cushy billet compared to those soldiers!

To be continued…

One thought on “Dastardly Deeds on the Home Front, Episode 2 : The Trial

  1. Tina

    My great grandfather Edward John Johnson did not fabricate anything about any of his background in Brazil – it was all true (yes, I’ve done the research). Clearly you have not read the detail in the trial papers, nor done the research, as I have (including our family history in Brazil). To imply that he had a “cushy billet” doing hard labour rather than being in the trenches is objectionable and ill-informed. In fact he had already attested in the RFC in January 1916, but was not called up due to ill health (subsequently being on the Silver War Badge list), and discharged in August 1917 for this reason. The trial papers include his statements and answers to questions such as “why did he continue to work for O’Sullivan” when it became clear that the latter was into some scam or other. His reply is revealing: he said that he had signed a contract and did not think he could get out of it easily (not his exact words). More interesting, and which the trial papers DO NOT go into, is O’Sullivan’s background: it seems he was known to the police for something else “not connected to the trial” and there is no statement from him at all, no cross-examination, nothing. WHY? Was he a Fenian? Interestingly, and perhaps because he thought he had an “in” with the police, he had the gall to appeal his conviction, which was refused.

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