Thursday, 2 July 2020

Killed by Boiling Coffee

A woman who threw boiling coffee over her lodger, causing his death, avoided transportation due to her not realising the action could prove fatal.

At about 8pm on Saturday 8th November 1845 a 33 year old miller named Robert Fitten returned to his lodgings in Eldon Street in a drunken state and went to bed. When his landlady Mary Phythian returned with some bread, she was told by another lodger Margaret Wilson about Robert and she went to check on him, only to be called a "drunken faggot".

Phythian threatened Robert with a poker but he called her a faggot again. She then responded by taking a pan of coffee from the hob and throwing it at him. Margaret wiped the scalds to his head, chest and hands then went to a druggist for some dressing which she applied. Phythian went and visited a neighbour, telling her that she had given Robert a 'faggots mark.'

The following morning Robert was taken to the Northern Hospital with scalds to his head, face, chest and hands. He lingered until the following Friday when he passed away.

An inquest heard evidence from Margaret who said that she had never known Robert and Phythian to argue. A house surgeon from the hospital confirmed that death was as a direct result of the scalds. When a manslaughter verdict was returned, Phythian burst into tears and begged to be able to see the body. This request was granted and she was taken to the hospital on the way to Kirkdale gaol.

On 11th December, Phythian appeared before Mr Justice Williams and she pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He accepted that she may not have realised her actions could have caused death and this was a factor in sentence. The judge told her that as a result of this, she has avoided transportation and was instead sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. 


Monday, 29 June 2020

Death of a Grocer

When a widow died days after being beaten by a man she cohabited with, there was no conviction as a postmortem had not taken place.

One May evening in May 1845, fourteen year old Margaret Johnson was in bed in a room above the grocers shop that was run by her mother Elizabeth, a widow. Her two younger half brothers, aged eleven and seven, were asleep beside her. Their father was Thomas Davis, with whom Elizabeth now cohabited.

The children's sleep was interrupted by the sound of Elizabeth and Thomas arguing. Elizabeth ran upstairs and tried to seek solace with her children, but Thomas came after her and the quarrel recommenced. When Elizabeth tried to leave, Thomas stopped her and when she threw a drawer on the floor, he struck her upper body and kicked her leg.

A passing policeman was alerted by the screaming of the younger children and Thomas invited him in. Elizabeth pleaded to be allowed to leave but the policeman persuaded her to remain, in return for a promise from Thomas to cease any arguing and violence.

For the next three days Elizabeth remained in bed and spent most of the time retching. A surgeon attended but she expired. She was buried in St Mary's Cemetery.

The family had only been in Liverpool for a month or two and they returned to Ledbury in Herefordshire, where Elizabeth had Thomas and the three children had resided until the previous year. Elizabeth's sister Hannah Meadows, wife of a carpenter, agreed to take Margaret in as her own. The two boys were placed in lodgings by Thomas who then left the town, leading to them being taken into the care of the workhouse when rent became due.

All three children had told those looking after them that their mother had come to her death by foul means and rumours began to spread around the town. Of particular interest was that Thomas had refused to write to inform any of Elizabeth's relatives of her death until after her burial.  Thomas was a former excise inspector and on 3rd November the Hereford Times published a paragraph urging him to return to Ledbury and clear his name. He did so on 10th November, handing a letter to Superintendent Shead, before absconding.

The following day magistrates sent for the two young brothers from the workhouse. They and Margaret were examined separately, leading to a warrant being issued against Thomas for 'felonously, wilfully and with malice aforethought, killed Elizabeth Johnson at Liverpool in the county of Lancaster by striking and beating her on the head, back and other parts of her body, of which several mortal bruises and wounds the said Elizabeth Johnson did die.'

On 13th November Thomas was apprehended by Superintendent Shead at Ross-on-Wye and appeared before magistrates the following morning where arrangements were made for him to be taken back to Liverpool. Reporting on his appearance at the Police Court in Dale Street, the Liverpool Mail described Thomas as 'tall, elderly and of decent exterior.' 

Margaret recalled the violence that ad been carried out by Thomas to her mother. This was corroborated by the two boys. All three said that there were black marks on the breasts and legs, where Elizabeth had been struck. However the surgeon who attended said that he was of the opinion that Elizabeth was dying of congested fever brought on by a low mood. He said that he had not been told of any injuries although they could produce the symptoms he had seen. Two neighbours who had laid out and washed down the body deposed that they had seen the bruising, and Thomas was remanded in custody.

At the South Lancashire Assizes on 9th December, the charge was reduced to manslaughter. However with no postmortem having taken place, and no medical professionals having observed any injuries, a not guilty verdict was returned and Thomas was freed.




Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Alleged Murderer Granted Bail

British legal history was made in 1957 when a man charged with murder was granted bail. When he returned to court for his trial, he was found not guilty.

On the morning of  Tuesday 16th April 1957 Thomas Harding visited Dr Gibson's surgery at 170 Upper Parliament Street and reported that his wife was ill. 36 year old Harding was actually divorced but had been living with Veronica Chen, a barmaid aged 31, for three years. Most of these were at 128 Falkner Street but for the past few weeks they had been at 239 Smithdown Lane.

At 1pm Dr Gibson called at their home and found 31 year old Veronica unconscious. He arranged for her to be taken to Sefton General Hospital but she never came around and died shortly before midnight. The matter was referred to the Coroner and detectives arrested Harding the following morning. He was taken to Prescot Street police station, where he made a statement that the previous Friday evening, Veronica had returned home drunk and with bruises on her face. 

Further enquiries were made and when Harding was told by detectives were not satisfied with his explanation, he admitted striking Veronica with the back of his hand, causing her to stagger and hit her head against the wall. An hour after making this admission, the postmortem results were returned, which showed Veronica had died of a cerebral haemorrhage following a skull fracture, and had received several blows to the head.  

Confronted with this new information, Harding replied that he wanted to make a full statement as to what had happened. He said that Veronica had returned home 'rotten drunk' and refused to say where she had been, leading to him hitting her several times and throwing her on the bed. On being told that he would be charged with murder, Harding stated "I admit hitting her harder than I ever hit her before because I lost my temper, but I did not think she would die."

Harding was remanded in custody for seven days when he appeared at the Magistrates' Court on the morning of 18th April. When he was committed for trial at the Crown Court on 31st May, his defence counsel suggested that there had been no intent to cause serious harm and as such it was a case of manslaughter. The magistrate however said that the murder charge must stand and it was up to the prosecution to decide at the Assizes if they would accept a lesser plea. 

On 11th July British legal history was made when Harding was granted bail, the first time ever for a defendant charged with murder. Judge Laski, after hearing representations and reading documents, said that this was not a capital murder charge (meaning that Harding would not face the death penalty) and as such was willing to grant bail providing adequate sureties were arranged.  Harding was then released pending his trial in November. 

At the Crown Court on 5th November, Harding pleaded not guilty to murder and was defended by leading Q.C. Rose Heilbron. Medical evidence showed that the skull fracture could not have been caused by a fist, but more likely by falling against a wall. This, coupled with Heilbron's submissions that there had been no intent to cause serious harm, led to the jury finding Harding not guilty. With the Crown having gone solely for the murder charge, Harding was freed. He died just two years later and was buried in a public grave in Allerton cemetery. 



Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Fatal Consequences of Drunkenness


A husband who rowed with his wife after he came home drunk ended up causing her death when he kicked out, but at his trial he was cleared of manlaughter. 

At 8 o'clock in the morning of 25th May 1833 John Kearns, a labouring porter, returned in an intoxicated state to his home in Dickenson Street. His wife Annie told him to take his breakfast and go to work, but instead he called her by what the Liverpool Mercury described as an 'infamous name' before tipping the table over. 

When Annie called him names in reutrn, he threw a stone, poker and fender at her, all of them missing. They then fought for ten minutes before, a neighbour intervened and kept them apart. Kearns had a wound to his head which was dressed, but he refused to go to bed and Annie declined to go and seek solace at her sisters. 

Fifty year old Kearns left and went into the street, with Annie shouting abuse after him, causing him to return whilst in an even more furtious state than earlier. Despite the best efforts of a neighbour to hold him back, Kearns kicked Annie in the neck whilst she was picking something up, rupturing the windpipe.

Annie died two hours later and Kearns was taken into custody. At an inquest two day later Annie was described by neighbours as a mild and inoffensive woman. Any quarrels they said, was down to her husband's habitual drunkenness. After a verdict of manslaughter was returned the Coroner, James Aspinall, issued a warrant committing Kearns for trial at Lancaster Castle Regret was expressed that five children had now been deprived of their natural guardians and protectors. 

On 14th August, Kearns was tried and evidence was given that the item Annie was about to pick up was a brick to throw at him. The jury concluded the death was accidental and he was acquitted. 

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Unsolved Sectarian Killing

When Liverpool was struck by a wave of Sectarian violence in 1909, nobody was ever brought to account for the death of a carter who died after being struck on the back of the head.

On the evening of 21st June 1909 a carter named Andrew Cathcart and two workmates were heading up Hopwood Street when they were approached from behind. The other two got away but twenty six year old Andrew was hit on the back of the head by a wooden implement, possibly a rolling pin. Although he fell down, he did manage to get back to his feet quite quickly but after a few more steps, he went down again, losing consciousness.

The attack was Sectarian in nature as on the previous day over fifty Protestants had been arrested for attacks on Catholics in and around Prince Edwin Street. Andrew would normally have walked down Latimer Street but avoided there knowing a large crowd of Catholics had gathered. As carters were more often than not Protestants, they were particularly vulnerable to revenge attacks. Although Andrew was a Protestant, family members said he was not affiliated to any lodge or order. 

On hearing what had happened his sister Annie went to the Northern Hospital and saw him lying barely conscious with a bandaged head. He mumbled "mean fellows" to her. 

Andrew spent a week in hospital before returning to his home in Pugin Street. He continued to feel better but on Saturday 3rd July, whilst having supper, he felt a pain in the back of is head and slumped forward. Annie sent for a local doctor, who pronounced life extinct. 

A fifteen year old boy called Lawrence Duffy gave a statement to the police that Daniel Munroe, who lived at 111 Hopwood Street, had carried out the attack. Based on this, Munroe was arrested and taken to the Athol Street bridewell and charged with murder. 

Munroe was remanded in custody pending a coroners inquest. By the time this took place on 21st July another suspect, Edwin Costello, had also been arrested and charged. 

There was  a lot of conflicting evidence. Although it was agreed by eye witnesses that Andrew had been struck on the back of the head with the implement, only one could say Costello struck the blow, while one woman said it definitely wasn't them. When asked to look at the two prisoners and state if one of them had done it, Lawrence Duffy now said he couldn't be sure. 

In summing up the Coroner said that witness evidence was unreliable and it would be unsafe to return a verdict of wilful murder against either Costello or Munroe. The jury came back with an open verdict leading to the discharge both prisoners. 

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Boy Killed By Car As He Played

The driver of a car that killed a seven year old boy was jailed for a year after being cleared of manslaughter but convicted of dangerous driving. 

On 4th June 1945, three young boys were playing at the corner of Dingle Lane and Dingle Mount when a car came careering out of control towards them. Rather than turn the corner into Dingle Lane, it carried on straight and collided with a pillar box, trapping seven year old Leslie Stockton. 

The driver of the car was 31 year old Sidney Davies, an insurance agent who lived at 18 Corinthian Avenue, Stoneycroft. On getting out of the car he immediately fell to the pavement and said to a police officer who attended "I am sorry old man, I have had a good night." Leslie, who lived in Dingle Mount with his parents, was taken to hospital but died from his injuries. Sidney was charged with manslaughter and dangerous driving and committed for trial. 

 The following month at Manchester Assizes the prosecuting counsel was Rose Heilbron, who went on to have a number of legal firsts for a woman. She told the court that he drove the car recklessly and under the influence of drink, but acknowledged his staggering may have been made worse by having a wooden leg. Sidney's defence was that his wooden leg had slipped from the brake onto the accelerator and that if he appeared drunk, it was due to the shock of the accident. 

The jury found Sidney guilty of dangerous driving but cleared him on the manslaughter charge. He was then jailed for one year and banned from driving for ten years. 

Triple Tragedy in Litherland

A husband whose mental health suffered as a result of a house move committed murdered his wife and son before committing suicide. 

On the evening of 6th April 1960 a neighbour of the Gibbon family who lived at 23 Hawkshead Drive, Litherland, became concerned when she smelt gas from the property next door and realised she had not seen or heard any of the occupants that day. When it was seen that milk bottles were still on the doorstep, police were called. 

On forcing entry to the property, the found a terrible scene.  In the bedrooms, still in their nightclothes, were the bloodied bodies of Amy Gibbon and her sixteen year old son William. Both had been battered about the head. In a cupboard under the stairs, was the hunched body of 46 year old Charles Gibbon, next to a severed gas pipe.

An inquest heard from neighbours and family members. They had been a loving family who moved to Litherland from Speke just two months earlier to be nearer Charles's brother. However Amy had expressed concern to neighbours that he may have a nervous breakdown.  He had been finding many faults with the house and regretted buying it, spending many an hour of an evening out walking rather than be there. He was also worried about mortgage payments, despite having a good position as an assistant cashier with a biochemists.  

The inquest returned a verdict that Charles had murdered Amy and William, before committing suicide whilst the balance of mind was disturbed.