Former Metropolitan Police officer Henry Austen, 42, suffered the indignity of being the first person in Hampshire charged using money entrusted to him for his own benefit.

The case brought under a new Act of Parliament came before the Hampshire Summer Assizes of 1903.

The facts were short and simple.

Austen acted as treasurer for fellow employees at the La Dansk Margarine Factory in Southampton who had set up a sickness benefit society.

Between January and November the previous year members gave him money which under the rules had to be repaid a week before Christmas after sickness fees had been met.

Accordingly, storeman Charles Quick was entitled to receive almost all of the 16s he had contributed but the day after the set date, Austen disappeared.

When police caught up with him, Pc Neish read out the warrant for his arrest but Austen was adamant he was innocent.

"I did not appropriate one penny for my own use."

It was the same defence he put forward giving evidence, telling jurors he had been employed at the factory for 11 years and was trusted by the men.

"No one can feel more acutely by the charge than me."

Austen claimed he had urgently gone to London in search of his missing teenage daughter and had written to Quick that he would pay out the cash on his return.

Citing his career with the police, he said he had been commended by judges and the Commissioner of Police and was in receipt of a £30 a year pension for saving the lives of two children.

"If I am convicted, I will lose it. For six months I have been living under the stigma of committing this offence and if you acquit me, I have heard from the Home Office every farthing will be paid out in full. If it had not been for the worry, I would not have had the money."

He reasoned: "Why should I abscond for less money than I can draw?"

Following a short deliberation, jurors brought back a verdict that astounded the judge.

"We find the prisoner guilty without intent to defraud," stated the foreman.

Mr Justice Lawrance asked what they meant and as a guide asked the foreman: "If I took your watch, would I take it with intent to defraud."

The clerk intervened, reminding them the charge under consideration was of fraudulent conversion.

The panel briefly re-consulted and this time found Austen unconditionally guilty.

Jailing him for six months, the judge told him: "No one ought to doubt that any man who receives money from people for a certain purpose and applies it to another is guilty of fraud. The worst thing is that you have been a member of the Metropolitan Police. The men in the factory entrusted you with their money and you had no right to use a farthing."