In 1830 a Liverpool merchant died after being shot during a robbery in West Derby Road. Yet although the two men charged with the murder were acquitted, they were hanged anyway after being convicted of other robberies.
On the evening of 9th October Charles Burns, a wine merchant whose businesses premises were in Exchange Street East, was walking along West Derby Road towards his home in Tuebrook. About half a mile after passing the Necropolis (now Grant Gardens), a man jumped out from behind a hedge and held a pistol at him. Burns turned to run away in the direction of Liverpool but was shot in the back, but he did manage to get up and knock at the home of a Mr Turton, who sent for a surgeon.
The surgeon who arrived managed to remove the bullet from Burns's abdomen and he was taken home. However he had lost a remarkable amount of blood and died 24 hours later, having been able to give a description of the robber as being about five feet nine inches tall and wearing dark clothing. Having failed to seize anything from Burns, the culprit remained in the same place for an hour and a half before robbing John Arrowsmith, this time with two accomplices. Arrowsmith was a cousin of Burns who was on his way to Mr Turton's to assist in bringing him home.
The following Thursday a man tried to pawn a pencil case in Tithebarn Street. Noticing that it was engraved Arrowsmith a constable was called and the man, who had come to Liverpool earlier in the year from Dublin and was a 50 year old named Thomas Mulvay, was taken into custody. The following day his two brothers, John (34) and Michael (30) were arrested at their home in Naylor Street, where they lived with Michael's wife.
The brothers were charged with a number of robberies that had taken place in the area and committed for trial at the next assizes, then transferred to Lancaster Castle to await trial. Then in a remarkable development on 8th March 1831 Michael Mulvay expressed to the gaol chaplain that his brothers had been responsible for the shooting of Burns and he wished to turn King's Evidence against them.
The trial took place just three days later on 11th March, with Michael claiming that all three had gone out with the intention of committing a robbery but it was John who told Thomas to shoot. When cross examined over his motives for giving evidence against his brothers, Michael said he did so because he loved justice, and he had not done it expecting to have robbery charges against him dropped. John and Thomas both denied the murder, saying they had been drinking in Hoey's in Tithebarn Street that night, but the owner of the pub, Matthew Hoey, said they had only been in their Sunday to Wednesday.
After 15 minutes deliberation, the jury found the defendants not guilty of murder, but the ordeal in the courtroom wasn't over yet for all three brothers. Michael was kept in custody while enquiries were made as to whether he should be sent to York in relation to other offences, but he was released the following Thursday when it was deemed he was not being charged with anything.
On the same day, John and Thomas stood trial in relation to two robberies in the vicinity that had taken place in July 1830. The jury heard how the victims' belongings had been found at their home and they were found guilty and sentenced to death. As they sank to their knees begging for mercy Justice Littledale told them that they were 'responsible for several depredations in the neighbourhood' and he 'should not be doing his duty to the public were he to recommend them to His Majesty's mercy.'
The execution was set for 2nd April and both brothers admitted to the Rev. G. Brown, the Roman Catholic Priest of Lancaster, that they had been responsible for 7 robberies in total and John confessed to having shot Charles Burns, who left a widow and one child. At noon both brothers mounted the scaffold and went to their deaths holding hands. John died instantly but Thomas, having turned after the rope was placed around his neck, struggled violently for five minutes and his death had to be hastened by the executioner pulling at his feet. After hanging for an hour they were buried in St Mary's churchyard.