Monday, 2 December 2013

Death of a Prizefighter

In 1875 a prizefight that the police were powerless to prevent took place at Aintree racecourse, resulting in the death of one of the men involved.

Simon Looney and John Mahoney were both Irish dock labourers who lived in the Vauxhall area of the city. Mahoney, who was known as a good fighter but didn't go looking for trouble reluctantly agreed to fight Looney who wouldn't stop challenging him to one.

The fight, for which both men were paid £5, was set for the early morning of Sunday 1st August but police were tipped off and dispersed a crowd of a few hundred men from the canal locks at Love Lane. Later that morning, what the Liverpool Mercury described as 'crowds of low characters' were seen by police heading towards Kirkdale and on towards Walton. The men eventually got to Aintree, where many started playing games and running races to try and convince the police nothing untoward was happening.

A ring was formed and guarded by men with sticks and belts, and the heavily outnumbered police were unable to stop the fight from starting. Mahoney and Looney shook hands, with Mahoney telling his opponent that it was bad that two Irishmen should have to fight like this. Mahoney gradually gained the upper hand after the first four or five rounds were even, then after 40 minutes he was ready to pronounce himself the winner. However many of the crowd, which numbered about 400, rushed towards the ring and insisted they fight on. After Looney was knocked to the ground with a blow to the cheek, he said he would not fight any more and was taken to Bootle Hospital by his friend, while Mahoney and his friends began the long trek back to Vauxhall.

The police managed to arrest five men who were taking charge of the ring and attempts to take a statement from Looney were unsuccessful. He died the following morning and when Mahoney heard this news he handed himself in to Great Howard Street police station.

On 16th August Mahoney and five others were found guilty of manslaughter, with the jury recommending mercy. In sentencing Mahoney to four months imprisonment, Mr Higgin Q.C. told him he had every opportunity to pull out of the fight, but took into account his previous good character and surrendering to the police on hearing of Looney's death. The other five were sentenced to six weeks imprisonment.

In a twist to this story, Mahoney was assaulted the following March  by a Patrick Moran in Tenterden Street. Moran told him that he had killed a good man and that he would swing for him. Moran then punched Mahoney up to fourteen times in the face. He was subsequently convicted of common assault and sentenced to two months imprisonment.

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