LAST week we took a look at repeat offender pensioner Daniel Baker and learned how he was treated by the justice system as he continued to commit petty crime into his 80s.

By the time he reached 84 Baker had appeared before magistrates 59 times and this was the eighth occasion he had stood in the dock at the Shire Hall courthouse in Dorchester.

He may even have hoped to see an old friend on the judge’s bench opposite. Let’s flash back to 10 years earlier – 1894. The judge is considering his sentence.

JUDGE: “I learn from the calendar that the prisoner is 73 years old. I would like to give him such a sentence as would persuade him that it is better to end his life outside prison walls.”

DANIEL BAKER interjecting: “Give me one more chance, my Lord!”

JUDGE: “I intend to give you another chance. You will be imprisoned for two months, and I urge you, when you come out at the end of that term, to try to conduct yourself so as not to die in prison. If you find it difficult to know what to do with yourself, you might find a temporary shelter at the workhouse, and then perhaps some kind-hearted person who has heard of you and your life in prison will befriend you, and care for you in your final days.”

Despite being visibly moved by the judge’s kindness, a year later Daniel Baker was back in court – and facing the same judge.

JUDGE: “Daniel Baker, you and I have met together before. I gave you a moderate term of punishment then because I thought it was a shocking thing that an old man like you should finish your days in prison. I still think it would be a shocking thing. I am not going to send you to prison for a long time – but you must stop this pilfering. You should try to keep from it, especially in summer weather; it is a pity to be in gaol in the summer. You will be sentenced to six weeks hard labour.”

Sadly, the judge’s attempts to reform Baker were unsuccessful; he went on to commit at least another seven offences before his final appearance at Shire Hall in 1904.

Related archive:

1. Photo or drawing or description of DB from previous convictions

Daniel Baker was brought before the court on a charge of stealing a shirt. But his trial took a very different direction.

Mr B. Fosset Lock, for the prosecution.

FOSSET LOCK: “My Lord, rather than offering an opening statement against the prisoner, I have new information to bring before the court.

The Medical Officer of the county gaol has come to the conclusion that the prisoner is insane and not in a position to plead.

I therefore call Dr Hefferman to the witness stand.

Dr Hefferman, what is your occupation?”

DR HEFFERMAN: Assistant medical officer at His Majesty’s Prison Dorchester.

FOSSET LOCK: How do you diagnose the prisoner’s medical condition?”

DR HEFFERMAN: The prisoner is suffering from senile dementia.

FOSSET LOCK: And can you describe his behaviour whilst in prison?

DR HEFFERMAN: He experiences delusions of persecution about Satan in hell. He covers his wall with faeces and attempts to wash away the marks with his urine. He tears up his clothes and throws them out of his cell window. He covers himself with the salt allowed to him for meals. He uses most obscene language.

FOSSET LOCK: In your professional opinion, is the prisoner capable of submitting a plea of guilty or not guilty?

DR HEFFERMAN: He is not.

The jury at Daniel Baker’s trial were faced with an unexpected challenge. Instead of reaching a verdict on whether or not Baker was guilty of theft, they had to decide if he was in a fit state of mind to be tried at all.

*Next week we find out what decision the jury made about Daniel Baker and how he was treated under the Mental Health Act of the time.