IT was a solitary halfpenny that snared a pub thief who in a feigned act of charity even offered to part help reimburse the victim.

Having hawked about Southampton in his dealings of fish and eggs, Isaac Bailey wanted nothing more than a drink at the Royal Hotel to slake his thirst - but one ale led to a second, then a third and finally a fourth.

Easing into a comfortable armchair, he drifted away to the land of nod, leaving a yellow bag with an assortment of coins that represented his takings at his side.

It was temptation 26-year-old Alfred Collins could not resist.

Sat on the far side of the bar, he could hardly fail to notice Bailey falling asleep. Thinking he was alone, he moved closer, sitting at one stage to Bailey’s right and then left, before gently reaching out and pulling the bag towards him, slipped the contents into his pocket.

But he could not have been more wrong. Observed by landlord Herbert Rogers, he was followed and detained.

Collins protested his innocence, all the more so when Bailey and the police arrived.

The hawker was reluctant to press charges and gave him an extraordinary charitable choice.

“I promise I will freely forgive you if you give me all my money. If not, I will have you taken into custody.”

Collins foolishly refused. Instead he reached into his pocket and slapped down 6s 6d on a table in front of him, challenging Bailey: “There’s my money. Will you take that?”

It was instantly rejected, Bailey snapping: “I would rather bang my head against a wall rather than take that.”

Collins was removed to the police station and three weeks later on October 21, 1850, he occupied the dock at the town’s quarter sessions when his barrister attacked Bailey’s inebriation as his best defence.

“Of course, I couldn’t tell what time he came in,” he admitted. “I paid for four or five pints of beer and my glass was my timepiece. I fell asleep when I was a little fatigued through drinking. I naturally don’t sleep with my eyes open and consequently did not see all who came into the room,” he accepted in an answer to the suggestion another customer had taken his money.

However, Mr Sewell could not shake Rogers in his testimony, adamant he had seen Collins deliberately sit adjacent to Bailey. “He was close enough to see what he had.”

Then came the seemingly innocuous incident with the halfpenny that was to seal Collins’s fate.

“When Mr Bailey was drinking, he produced a halfpenny which was beaten to represent a penny. I returned it to him.”

The coin, jurors heard, was later found in a police search of the defendant’s lodgings.

The judge, Recorder Edward Smirke, asked jurors one question in his summing up.

“Is it probable that an innocent man would have thrown down 6s 6d as the prisoner did in part-payment. He has been shown to have been suddenly come into money and it is a strong fact that the halfpenny, so remarkable in it appearance, has been traced to him.

“It is for you to decide whether the conduct of the prisoner throughout the whole transaction has been that of an innocent man or whether satisfactory evidence of guilt has been produced.”

Collins was swiftly convicted and on the back of a previous conviction for felony, he was jailed for six months.