THE passing of Joseph Dodds in 1891 gained just a two-line death notice in The Northern Echo. Two letters in those two lines – MP – suggest he was worth far more.

In these days of duck houses, moats, second homes and second jobs, people yearn for the good old days when MPs were decent and respectable. But every era has had its rogues, and Dodds’ despicable defalcations shocked the Echo so much it couldn’t bring itself to report his death properly.

Dodds was born in Winston in Teesdale in 1819, the son of a farmer. He was educated at the Gainford Academy and was apprenticed to solicitors in Darlington and Barnard Castle before becoming a partner in a firm in Stockton where he quickly established himself as one of the town’s leading lights.

He married a local girl, Ann Smith, became a councillor and then mayor, invested in ironworks and ironstone mines, and became chief clerk to the Tees Conservancy Commission, which was one of the first regional regeneration agencies, charged with bringing business to the banks of the Tees.

After the Reform Act of 1867, Stockton for the first time elected its own MP. It bestowed the honour upon Dodds, the Liberal candidate, and returned him without fail at every subsequent opportunity. The townspeople even covered his election expenses so he wasn’t out of pocket.

In return, he worked diligently, both for his constituents and his investment portfolio, rising at six and reaching his desk by seven.

When he persuaded the North Eastern Railway to run a through train from Middlesbrough and Stockton to London, his people dubbed it “the Dodds Express”.

The Echo enthused about “his ceaseless attention to Stockton’s interest, and untiring attention to the manifold matters affecting its prosperity”.

It continued: “He has served the party of progress nobly and ungrudgingly.”

At the 1886 election, Stockton rewarded him with a majority of 4,991 – one of the largest in the country.

But a recession was biting. Dodds had cashflow problems. Among his clients was Jane Meynell, a little old lady, who entrusted him with her life-savings, merrily signing her money and her property in Stockton High Street over to him to invest.

Instead, Dodds filched the lot.

When she gave him a cheque for £2,000 to be invested in the Tees Conservation Commission, he simply scribbled in the word “bearer” so he could cash it immediately and pocket the money.

Judge Baron Hudlestone said: “Here an old lady, 76 years of age, placed herself entirely in the hands of this solicitor – a gentleman whose public position most fully justified the confidence which she placed in him – and he has basely abused that confidence and embezzled £13,800.”

The Bank of England’s inflation counter says £13,800 in 1888 is worth £1.35m today.

Dodds resigned from all of his public offices and disappeared.

“He hurriedly left the town,” said the Darlington and Stockton Times. “It is not known where he has since been living.”

Three years later, he died a broken man whose betrayal was so complete that he barely merited a mention in the local paper.