Friday, 3 October 2014

Army Deserter Kills Brother

A soldier who had overstayed his leave killed his brother after being reported by him to the Military Police, leading to him being convicted of manslaughter.

30 year old James O'Neill was a Private with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and stationed in Seaforth Barracks at the start of 1917, although he had seen action in France where he was wounded the year before. On being given some leave he went to stay with his married sister and their brother William in Epworth Street off Islington.

On the afternoon of 9th February all three siblings went drinking in a nearby pub and then returned to the house in Epworth Street, where they had more drink and a sing-song. The joviality soon turned sour though and the brothers began to argue, with William saying he could never forgive James for the occasion he got battered by him on the Dock Road. This had been after James took offence to some remarks William had made about his wife, who was now living with another man much to James's distress.

The two brothers started to fight but the sister intervened and William was ordered out of the house. He then went down to Lime Street station and told two military policemen that he would take them to a deserter. On arrival back at the house their sister said 'God forgive you' to William and insisted James was no deserter as he had just overstayed his leave a few days. It was later admitted though that he had told his family he had no intention of going back.

James made no resistance and was allowed to change and have a cup of tea by the military police, but as he was led out he put his hand in his pocket and drew out a razor, quickly slashing it across the throat of his brother, who died instantly. He then calmly handed the razor over to the police and said 'I am well satisfied now'. When he was arrested and searched, a diary was found in James's pocket in which he had wrote that he would do wrong if his wife continued to openly live with another man.

After being charged with murder James was tried on 18th April before Mr Justice Bailhache. James's defence was that he had not been of sound mind since his wife's infidelity and he had been provoked by his brother. However doctors told that although he had been very down in prison, he new the difference between right and wrong.

When the judge summed up, he drew attention to the random nature of the blow that was struck, which could easily have connected with the chin or nose and not caused death. Consequently, the jury found James guilty of manslaughter without leaving the witness box and he was sentenced to seven years penal servitude.

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