Sir Frederick Arthur Greer was a newly appointed High Court judge when he presided over the trials of Luton Peace Day riot defendants at the Beds Assizes in October 1919. The son of a Liverpool merchant, he had gained a first class honours degree in mental philosophy at the University of Aberdeen – potentially a significant factor in his verdicts at the trials.
Far from being afraid of re-igniting mob violence by his sentences three months after the riots - as some later accounts of the riot trials suggest – he seems to have shown some compassion for those before him.
A man with a heart condition was given one of the lightest sentences; a man sentenced to hard labour was recalled to have his sentence reduced to one of simple imprisonment so that his pension would not be potentially jeopardised by the more severe sentence being imposed; and he accepted the argument of a defence lawyer that evidence of shell shock given in one case was also a factor in the actions of his own client, who was bound over and effectively freed rather than facing imprisonment.
And in the case of a partly paralysed man found not guilty and discharged, the Judge said: “He is lucky. I hope there are some decent people who will look after him.”
Judge Greer acquitted a total of nine of the 28 defendants before him after he decided they had behaved out of character or had not played a violent role in the riots other than making speeches about their grievances on pensions, which were set by the Government and not by Luton Town Council. The Judge said: “A man sometimes says more than he intends when he get on his feet.”
One defence counsel, Mr Bernard Campion, suggested that the jury might find the conduct of the Corporation had been so provocative that they might feel inclined to make a strong recommendation to the Judge by way of a rider. The Judge said he thought to proceed on those lines would be most irregular.
About half of the Assizes trials jury were men from Leagrave and Limbury, with a foreman from Leighton Buzzard. Cases other than involving the riots were to be heard at the Assizes, with men from the north of the county due to hear the Luton cases and the men from the south of the county the remainder.
But due to a misunderstanding, the Clerk of the Assizes called the southern jury first to hear the riots cases. The jury was empanelled from Thursday, October 16th, until Friday, October 24th. The only reward the Judge was able to give the jurists was exemption from jury service for the next ten years.
One juryman had to be excused on the Saturday morning after receiving news that his wife had died the night before. Another juryman was sworn in in his place.
Counsel for the Crown: Mr T. Hollis Walker KC (Mr J. F. Eales with him), instructed by the Town Clerk of Luton.
Defence lawyers: Sir Ryland Adkins, Mr H. B. Drysdale-Woodcock and Mr J. P. Stimson. Mr C. E. Dyer (Mr Bernard Campion with him), Capt Loseby MP. Variously they were instructed by Mr H. W. Lathom and Mr C. Barber.
The Luton Reporter estimated that the cost of the prosecution would be at least £250 (almost half the amount allotted by the Town Council for the whole of its Peace Day celebrations).