FORMER court reporter John Hoskins looks back at a case from the archives.

Has he received a blow so forceful to his head that it had unhinged his mind and clouded his judgement? Such was the basis of the defence when Henry Smith appeared at Hampshire Michaelmas Sessions in 1881, charged with obtaining money by false pretences.

Jurors heard Smith, 24, had an account with bankers in Norfolk until he told he was overdrawn and with the return of his bank book, had it closed.

Two days later, Smith stayed at the Pier Hotel in Ryde where he asked the manager William Wilkinson if he would cash a £10 cheque for him. Believing it was above board and drawn on the bank, he agreed. Smith did not sign the cheque in the usual manner, only placing his initials on the stamp, but later signed it.

It was not until he had settled his bill for his accommodation that the cheques were sent out for collection, only for them to be returned marked 'No account.'

Wilkinson duly notified the police and Smith was subsequently arrested and charged.

At his trial, defence barrister Mr Bullen asked Wilkinson what he knew about Smith.

Daily Echo: Royal Pier Hotel in Ryde from an old postcard.

"I had heard he had been to the hotel before," he replied. "He had married a lady from Ryde who had been unfaithful to him and she had ruined his hopes and happiness."

Bullen then asked if he knew anything about his connection to racing.

"Do you remember his saying he had won £2,000 at Goodwood, that he had horses to sell at Tattersalls, and that he had six horses at Brighton not worth less than 50 guineas each?"

Wilkinson replied: "No but I do remember him saying he was going to ride a race in Brighton."

Daily Echo: Union Street in Ryde old postcard.

The court was then told Smith had been arrested at the resort where he confessed that when he signed the cheque, he knew he had no money in the bank but claimed he had asked Wilkinson to hold it over for a week and he had telegraphed his wife to put £100 to his credit.

Supt Hinks, who was stationed at Ryde, said of their interview: "He told me his wife had been away with another man and he had been looking for her. It had driven him mad."

Bullen questioned the officer of his demeanour after his arrest, to which Hicks replied: "He was talking wildly all the time he was taken in custody to Ryde."

Opening the defence case, the barrister apologised to the jury over its content.

Daily Echo: Goodwood from an old postcard.

"His defence is exceptional and I am sorry to have to present it to you, as are his relative who have instructed me. At the time he presented the cheques he was not in a fit mind to be responsible for what he was doing. Having suffered an injury to his head, he has been more than once deranged in intellect.

"He is a young man unfortunate to a certain extent in his life. He had married a woman who has ruined his prospects in life and who has been a curse and bane to him, and to have caused him so much trouble as literally to have turned his head."

He then called surgeon Francis Coomber who said that after being kicked by a horse in the head, Smith had given indications of "mental unsoundness" which led him to believe he was not responsible for his actions, exemplified by his once claim he had won more than £1,000 at Newmarket and had used the winnings to buy horses.

"His mind has also to some extent been unhinged by his domestic troubles and I think he was not in a position to know that when he was drawing a cheque on a bank in which he had no assets."

The prosecutor Mr Matthews suggested his most accentuated form of delusion was not paying for goods he had bought, but Coomber said he had known Smith since he was 10-years-old and until the accident his conduct had been "straightforward and honourable."

Other witnesses spoke of his "stupidity and eccentricity," but in his closing speech, Matthews posed one question to the jury: "I have often heard the plea of insanity raised in cases of violence but have you ever heard of it being raised as an excuse for a man drawing a cheque which he must have known was of no use whatsoever?"

In his summing up, the chairman Melville Portal told jurors they were asked by the defence to say that at the time of the alleged offence Smith was not only of unsound mind but did not know the difference between right and wrong.

"The law assumes every man to be sane until the reverse is proved. I regret the defence has not called medical evidence of a more recent date, such as the surgeon of the jail or the warders to tell you he has acted since being in custody in an insane manner."

Jurors retired for a few minutes before finding Smith guilty.

Jailing him for six months with hard labour, the judge told him: "The court is grieved to see a person of your position and education convicted of such a crime. You had exceptionally good opportunities of getting on in life but you neglected them and sought only your selfish pleasures. Drink is the cause of all your disasters and probably led to this."