A HAMPSHIRE police officer was out of pocket after turning up late for a theft case.

John Ralfs, a Southampton sergeant, professed he had been waiting for an order to attend but the judge rejected his explanation after hearing that at the committal proceedings he had assured the court he would conduct his own inquiries over the date of the hearing.

Ralfs was a prime witness in the case of a Prussian accused of breaking into the Mayor of Portsmouth's home and stealing his wife's silver salver.

The hearing at the city's quarter sessions on January 7, 1850, had only gone ahead after the judge, Recorder Thomas Phinn, was satisfied the defendant could speak English and understood the proceedings.

"A good deal but not much," John Vereson admitted.

The 20-year-old labourer was found by the mayor in his Southsea house but instead of calling for the law, he had simply ushered him out. It wasn't till later the same day he discovered the salver was missing.

Information was relayed to local police forces and he was eventually arrested in Southampton town centre by Ralfs who challenged the suspect and demanded to know what he had done with the item.

"He immediately produced it, taking it from his pocket, and I took him into custody," the sergeant related.

Inevitably, Vereson was convicted and sentenced to three months hard labour but that was not the end of the matter.

The judge demanded to know why Ralfs was so late the case had to be adjourned for 90 minutes to enable him to travel by a Southampton-Portsmouth express after being notified by the Portsmouth police chief through the electric telegraph he was urgently wanted in court, warning him he would forfeit his own £40 recognisance if his explanation was unsatisfactory.

"I am very sorry for that," Ralfs replied. "I did not know the sessions were being held today. In Southampton, notices are always sent out and if I had received one, I would have attended."

But that statement was challenged Mr Madgwick, the clerk to the justices in Portsmouth, and Superintendent Leggatt, head of Portsmouth police who had both been present at the committal proceedings.

Madgwick said: "I told Mr Ralfs they would be held in the first week in January and he would send him a notice but he said: 'Oh no, I shall read about it in the papers and you need not send one."

Ralfs claimed there had been an unfortunate misunderstanding.

"I thought I would see the day advertised in the Southampton papers but I did not see it advertised in The Independent and consequently I did not attend."

Though the judge considered the two police forces were partly at fault in not assisting each other in the matter, he chiefly blamed Ralfs for his carelessness.

He stopped short of ordering his recognisance to be forfeited but refused to allow him his travelling costs.