28th October 1949

A man “disappeared” from a Guernsey ferry

Company director James “Maurice” Pitt disappeared from a steamer on its way to Guernsey on the night of 28 October 1949. Facing a charge of fraudulent conversion at Bow Street at the time, he left a note in his cabin implying that he’d killed himself. He hoped, he said, “to find peace by quietly dropping overboard”.

Pitt had been travelling on the Isle of Guernsey and had left the letter, along with his bags, in his cabin. It had been addressed to his wife and explained that he’d been motivated to take his own life because he was sick with worry. The case and letter were found with the steamer called in at Jersey.

Doctor’s note

Pitt’s lawyer had been given no notice that his client would disappear when he was supposed to be in court. The first he knew of it was when he received a letter from Pitt, which enclosed a doctor’s certificate. The certificate diagnosed a heart condition and recommended an immediate holiday.

Pitt had followed the recommendation precisely and asked his solicitor to inform the court that he wouldn’t be available for the next two weeks. The court refused to adjourn, in part because by then the certificate was almost three weeks old already.

First doubts

The day after Pitt’s abandoned case had been found on the steamer, doubts as to whether he really had gone overboard started to surface. A purser on the ship had seen a man writing a letter as they had passed the Needles, but he couldn’t say for sure it was Pitt.

In all likelihood, it wasn’t. The most probable explanation was that Pitt had boarded the ship shortly before it sailed, deposited his case and then left. His first class bed had not been slept in by the time the journey was over.

The following February, with the case still open and the Ministry of Transport unconvinced the man was dead, Pitt was at last found and arrested. The following day he was taken to Bow Street where he should have appeared five months earlier. He was remanded for eight days.

On 3 April, he was sentenced to six years’ detention after being found guilty of 15 specific instances of fraud. These included forging receipts and making false entries in his accounts.

Prison wouldn’t have been unfamiliar to Pitt. He already had 14 other convictions and had been sentenced to a total of 28 years in jail over the years. This perhaps explains why police didn’t buy into his suicide story.

Fraudulent conversion

Fraudulent conversion is the act of using someone else’s property for your own benefit, without necessarily intending to steal the property. Examples would include using somebody else’s unsecured wireless internet access or fare dodging on a train since in neither case would you be depriving the owner of the asset the ability to use it themselves.

It could also include keeping hold of something beyond an agreed return date simply because you haven’t specifically been asked to give it back. If your intention was still to return it if and when asked, rather than keep it under all circumstances, that would be conversion rather than theft.

 

FREE Guernsey history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Guernsey's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want. We'll also keep you up to date with our latest book releases and early-bird discounts.

 

Other events that occured in October

Guernsey Post Office was established 1st
Guernsey switched to Reichsmarks 2nd
Sark was the target of Operation Basalt 3rd
Sark voted for democracy 4th
Guernsey lifeboat saved a Swedish schooner 5th
Jeeves actor died in Guernsey 6th
Sarnia Theatre celebrated its most successful year 7th
The Story of Adele H opened in cinemas 8th
Howards’ Way came to Guernsey 9th
Guernsey Ladies’ College opened 10th
A Trislander ate itself between Jersey and Guernsey 11th
The Channel Islands’ king set sail for England 12th
Major General Sir Isaac Brock died 13th
Footballer Matt Le Tissier was born 14th
Island FM brings commercial radio to Guernsey 15th
Channel Television saw off a rival broadcaster 16th
The first mines were dug on Sark 17th
Sark’s Stocks Hotel was damaged by fire 18th
Elizabeth College’s foundation stone was laid 19th
Hitler ordered the Channel Islands’ fortification 20th
Guernsey’s stone crackers demanded a pay rise 21st
The desalination plant opened 22nd
Sir Charles Hayward buys Jethou for £91,000 23rd
Guernsey Monopoly board game went on sale 24th
Dame Sibyl Hathaway chose her Desert Island Discs 25th
GUNS founder Charles Machon died 26th
Bailiff Sir Peter de Havilland was born 27th
A man “disappeared” from a Guernsey ferry 28th
Express & Star bought Guernsey Press 29th
The first lighthouses were built on the Casquets 30th
States of Guernsey voted to lower the voting age 31st