Poachers and Police
In the summer of 1893 gangs of poachers were at work in the Sherborne and Yeovil areas and the local police were on alert. One suspected poacher, Frederick Moors of South Barrow had been seen in Sherborne on Friday evening 14 July, and his horse trap was parked in the yard of James Lyne’s house in Bristol Road. Lyne was a convicted poacher and the local constabulary suspected that something was in the air.
At about 5 o’clock the next morning, Sherborne constable, PC Payne, was patrolling the Bristol Road when in the early dawn light he saw a trap coming towards him at a fast pace. As it drew nearer the constable recognised Frederick Moors as the driver and James Lyne in the passenger seat but as he shouted ‘Halt’, Moors whipped the horse into a gallop and disappeared down the Bristol Road. However as the trap passed, PC Payne glimpsed a large sack bag in the back of the vehicle.
Five miles away at Yeovil Bridge, four police officers were also on poacher alert; PC Meech of Yetminster and PC Miller from Nether Compton were concealed behind hedges at the bottom of Babylon Hill and PC’s Marsh and Wise from Yeovil were on the Somerset side of the bridge.
At about 5.30 the officers saw a trap being driven quickly down Babylon Hill and as it approached the bridge, the driver and his passenger were recognised as Moors and the convicted poacher Lyne; a large bag could also be seen in the back of the trap. PC Miller ran out into the road with raised hands shouting for the driver to stop but Moors swerved the trap around him and urged the horse into a gallop. At this moment PC Meech rushed from his hiding place tried to seize the reins from the driver but missed and fell under the trap. The constable was knocked unconscious, dragged for several yards but as his body was freed from the trap, one of the wheels of the speeding vehicle ran over him.
The trap raced over Yeovil Bridge and PC’s Marsh and Wise were forced to jump for their lives as it drove furiously towards them and disappeared up the Sherborne Road to Yeovil. Despite their narrow escape, the two constables had time to glimpse a large bag in the back of the trap.
All this was witnessed by Thomas Score, the dairyman at Yeovil Bridge Farm, who was standing on the bridge at the time, and who would later corroborate in Court the statements of the policemen; he would also confirm that there was a large bag in the back of the trap.
PC Meech recovered consciousness but was badly hurt and bleeding heavily from a head wound. He was taken to Dr. Williams in Sherborne, and after treatment for severe lacerations to his back where the wheel had gone over him, a deep scalp wound and heavy bruising, the constable was taken home.
Later that Saturday, Frederick Moors and James Lyne were arrested and taken into custody. On 20 July the two men were brought before the Sherborne Magistrates charged with causing grievous bodily harm to PC Meech and assaulting the officer in the execution of his duty. The events of the Saturday morning were recalled by the prosecution who stated that the police officers had tried to arrest the prisoners on suspicion poaching. The four constables described their actions and those of the prisoners and Thomas Score recounted what he had witnessed as he stood on Yeovil Bridge. Yeovil solicitor, Mr. W. Marsh, defending, stated that before the police had the right to stop his clients, they must have good cause to suspect that they had come from land where they had been in search of game. The fact that James Lyne had once been convicted of poaching did not justify the attempts to stop his clients without proper authority and the police must take the consequences of their actions. His clients had been lawfully driving to Yeovil, the constables had suddenly jumped into the road, frightened the horse which broke its rein and ran away out of control accidentally knocking down PC Meech. Mr. Marsh therefore sought the dismissal of the charges. However the Magistrates committed the prisoners for trial but allowed bail at £25 each with two sureties of £25.
Frederick Moors and James Lyne appeared at the Dorset October Quarter Sessions but despite further pleas that there was no proof that they had been on a poaching expedition, the sack contained mushrooms, and the because the police had no authority to seek to arrest the two men, the injuries to PC Meech had been the result of an unlawful act on his part and therefore accidental, they were found guilty and sentenced to nine months hard labour.
PC Meech made a full recovery from his injuries.