Monday, 23 June 2014

Policeman Killed on Election Day

The local elections of 1853 saw a  tragic incident in which a policeman was stabbed to death when he intervened in a row between a canvasser and a man in a pub.

On the 1st November of that year an election took place in Vauxhall ward and candidate Jonathan Evans arranged to meet a voter at Shaw's public house in Scotland Road. While he was waiting 19 year old Thomas Copeland, who was a well known neighbourhood ruffian, came in and demanded Evans buy him beer.

After Evans refused Copeland threatened him with violence and some of his associates, on hearing the commotion, began to gather around the pub entrance. Evans got away and headed for Marybone, where he found a policeman that returned to the pub to deal with the small crowd who had gathered. On being told to disperse they did, with the exception of Copeland who told Evans he was going to break his skull and also threatened the landlady, refusing to leave until he was given 4 pints of ale.

When more officers arrived Evans punched one of them on the head and then fled towards Cavendish Street, where he lodged in a court. Two constables and an inspector went inside and arrested Copeland,but as he was being led away he managed to stab one of them, Richard Sunderland, in the thigh. With blood streaming out of the wound, Sunderland said 'The Lord Receive My Soul' before collapsing. He was carried to the dispensary in Rose Hill but was dead within ten minutes, the femoral artery having been severed.

With Copeland under arrest, officers returned into his lodgings and found his sister casually washing a knife. His landlady said that after he had entered the property with the officers in pursuit, he had picked up a knife from the table and put it in his pocket.

At the inquest the following day, it was revealed that Sunderland left a wife and two young children. It was also stated by Superintendent Ryde that associates of Copeland had already been threatening witnesses to the crime. Copeland's sister's claim that she was washing a different knife to the murder weapon was immediately seized upon by the Coroner, who said he preferred disputes to be settled by a stand up fight rather than butchering by a knife.

After a verdict of wilful murder was returned, Copeland was committed for trial at the Lancashire Winter Assizes, where he appeared before Judge Baron Alderson on 8th December. Witnesses told how Copeland had ran into the court shouting he'd rip the officers and also that he had been seen to throw the knife over his shoulder shortly before Sunderland fell down. Among them was 8 year old Mary York, who saw Copeland take the knife from the table and also inflict the fatal thrust, which was three inches deep.

There was little point in Copeland trying to say he hadn't carried out the stabbing, so it was a case of going for damage limitation. It was pointed out that the police had no right to enter the property without a warrant for the type of offence committed, and also that there was no premeditation as he grabbed the knife in the heat of the moment. After an hour and a half's deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter.

Baron Alderson told Copeland he was fortunate that the jury had found him guilty of the lesser offence, but that it was still one of great aggravation. He had already served three months in gaol for stabbing his brother but this time there was to be no leniency, as Alderson sentenced him to be 'transported beyond the seas for the term of his natural life.' There were some cries of support which were quickly quashed and Copeland then had to wait sixteen months for his voyage. After eight months on the Adelaide, he finally landed at Western Australia on 16th December 1855.

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