IT must rank as one of the most bizarre cases of theft ever recorded - even the judge admitted he did not know what to do with the defendant.

Uneducated Charles Edmonds was to say the least a little odd - or “a half wit” as the prosecutor denigrated him - in possessing a propensity for taking horses from stables, riding them all night and then returning them to the same place the following morning!

It was in such circumstances that he led a mare from a field opposite the Shipton home of owner Charles Pothecary. However, the same night, before he had the opportunity to take her back, he was found in possession of the horse outside a pub where he was challenged by one of his employees.

Though Edmonds insisted it was his, the police were called and he was arrested.

The 25-year-old carter appeared at Hampshire Winter Assizes in 1875, and though he denied theft, he strangely did not pose any questions to witnesses and said nothing in his defence.

It was at this point the prosecutor Mr Warry informed the court about his state of mind and related his extraordinary riding habit. He even handed in a statement from his clergyman to support him but Mr Justice Bramwell refused to entertain it, saying it was not his practice to read unauthenticated documents.

To confuse matters further, the judge ruled in front of jurors after all the witnesses had given testimony, that what Pothecary had said in court could not be considered as legal evidence.

He then told the panel: “If you are of the opinion he took the horse intending to ride it all night and return it the following morning, he is not guilty.”

However, they convicted him, leading the judge perplexed as to what sentence should be imposed: “I hardly know what to do with the case.”

Warry suggested they should hear a second charge of stealing a leather halter from a man named as Henry Scammel.

Again he was convicted - but with a recommendation for mercy.

The judge told Edmonds he must stop committing “these improper practices” and sentenced him to five years penal servitude.

However he ordered the case should be brought to the attention of the Secretary of State, Sir Richard Cross, that when he thought it right, Edmonds should be released early on a ‘ticket-of-leave’ basis that if he committed another offence, he would be immediately returned to prison.