DONALD the donkey belied his breed's reputation by running away from his pedestrian pursuers, even pulling a cart.

He had been left outside a pub for just two minutes while owner George Newman slaked his thirst, unaware wily Walter Wilcox was watching. The old rogue then strolled across the road and clambered on board.

"George, someone is moving your cart," shouted Tom Humby, a fellow drinker at the Roebuck Tavern in Gosport's town centre.

Newman, a gardener, dashed from the bar, only to see the donkey being driven down the High Street and around Market Street corner.

Licensee Fred Brown joined the pair in giving chase, a hopeless one at that.

"I saw him galloping up North Street, I would say at a rate of 12 miles an hour," he recounted. "I have never seen a donkey move so fast in all my life. There was a man in the cart flogging it in a fearful manner."

By chance, Brown came across Pc Abbott and together they took a cab to go after the thief but as they neared the town side of the old double arches, they met another cab owner in Bill Phillips who had only gone after Willcox, holding the donkey in one hand and the villain in the other.

When challenged, Wilcox blustered: "All right, Mr Ripley told me to take this donkey to Portsea."

That story had little credence and three days later on March 10, 1874,he appeared before the town magistrates, charged with theft of the donkey which was valued at £4.

Pleading not guilty, Wilcox claimed he had been walking down the High Street when he was approached by a stranger who offered him a job.

"He said his name was Ripley and he asked me if I would drive the donkey to The Wire public house and if anyone asked me where I was going, I was not to tell. He told me 'There is a stick in the bottom of the cart and you can wake him up with that. I'll be there in half an hour and you can have plenty of booze.'

"He then pulled out some money but altered his mind and placed it back in his pocket."

Magistrates committed him for trial and he appeared before Melville Portal at Hampshire Quarter Sessions on April 6 where he put forward the same preposterous story.

Jurors never bothered to leave their seats to return the inevitable conviction which resulted in four months hard labour and a scolding from the judge: "This was the most impudent and barefaced attempt at robbery."