Riot case: George Buggs

George Buggs record

  • Assizes record courtesy of Mr John Gillespie, grandson of Insp Fred Janes.

George Buggs, aged 24, box maker, of 52 North Street, Luton, was charged with: “On the 19th July 1919, together with divers other persons whose names are unknown to the number of at least one thousand, then and there being riotously and tumultuously assembled together to the disturbance of the public peace, feloniously did unlawfully and with force begin to demolish and destroy a certain building to wit a shop belonging to Messrs. S. Farmer & Company, contrary to Section 11 of the Malicious Damage Act.”



He first appeared before magistrates in Luton on July 25th, 1919, and was remanded in custody.

“Yes, I was there,” said George Buggs when arrested by Sgt Clarke. “I was coming down Wellington Street at 9.30. I went straight down Bute Street, and went straight home and don't know anything about this business.”

Chief Constable Griffin said this was one case in which a civilian witness was available.

In a subsequent court appearance on July 31st, Charles Pearse, a foreman employed by Farmer's, described the attack by the crowd on his firm's shop and said that pianos were dragged out, one being taken into George Street, one into Manchester Street and another into Bute Street. One was worth £20, another £63 and a third £60.

Witness said he tried to persuade the people to leave the shop, and some did so, his efforts being assisted by persons among the crowd. He saw some people leave the firm's office – among whom he recognised the prisoner, who shouted: “Now for the ------ safe!”

Witness placed his hand on prisoner's shoulder and said: “George, get out of here! You've done enough trouble for one night.” Prisoner turned, had a good look at witness, and “away he went”.

Sgt Arthur Clark said that Briggs, when charged, replied: “Yes, I was there.”

Buggs was allowed bail in £20 and his father in £10.



Before Judge Greer at the Beds Assizes in October, Buggs said he joined the Army in 1914 and was a prisoner in Germany for 18 months [from June 1917]. He said he never entered Farmer's shop as alleged, or any other shop, and he did not anything about bringing out a safe. He was watching the fire for about three quarters of an hour, but he never went into Farmer's.

Cross-examined, he said there was a lot of fighting and throwing going on, but he did not see pianos brought out into the street. As far as he could recollect, he had never been into Farmer's shop in his life.

Mr F. Webb, blockmaker gave prisoner an excellent character.



Pointing out that the case of George Buggs turned largely on his identification by a solitary witness as being inside Messrs Farmer's shop and saying, “Now for the safe,” the Judge said it was not always safe to trust to the casual glance of even an honest, reliable person.

“My brother one day ran after a man, addressed him by name, and asked him what he was doing in that street,” said the Judge. “Then he found it was another man altogether.”

Buggs was found not guilty on all counts, and his Lordship said to prisoner: “You have had the benefit of the doubt. Go away and look after yourself.”