Sunday, 25 January 2015

Woman's Prophecy of Husbands Execution

A woman who told her husband he would be the next person to be hanged at Kirkdale gaol turned out to be right after he brutally battered her to death.

In 1863, fifty one year old shoemaker John Hughes and his wife Mary lived unhappily together in Great Homer Street where Mary ran a grocers shop, the profits of which funded her husband’s intemperate habits as he rarely put his trade to good use. 

On 23rd April that year Hughes went to Kirkdale gaol to witness the execution of two men who had killed a woman near Blackburn and was prophetically told by his wife that if he carried on the way he was going, he would be up there next. Mary was a sober industrious woman and her friends knew how badly she was being treated by her husband.

On the evening of Sunday 26th April Hughes asked Mary for money for drink, striking her when she refused and saying again that he’d be hung for her. The following night they argued again and he pushed her before going out to a pub in Scotland Road. Mary went along there at midnight with her shop servant, 12 year old Elizabeth White, who persuaded him to return home. Being too afraid to go to bed with him, Mary stayed up all night and when Hughes woke at 5am, he demanded more drink and Elizabeth got him some whisky.

A few hours later Hughes got up as Mary went to bed. When she told him she had no money he hit her with his fist, causing her to fall out of bed onto the floor. He then put on his boots and jumped on top of her several times and kicked her until she was unable to move. Hughes then left her lying on the floor and eventually Elizabeth plucked up the courage to ask for help from a neighbour, Mrs Jones. Mary told her what had happened and a doctor was called, Hughes denying to him that any assault had taken place. As a consequence of the injuries the police were called and Hughes brazenly sat on a chair and joked that she would be alright if she was just given another pint.

Hughes was arrested and initially charged with carrying out a murderous assault, being remanded for seven days. Mary remained in a paralysed state and died on the evening of 30th April. A post mortem revealed that part of her vertebrae had fractured, causing pressure on the spinal cord and paralysis and death was a direct result of her injuries. The coroners inquest returned a verdict of manslaughter but the police were happy to persist with a murder charge and Hughes was committed to the Assizes.

On 19th August Hughes appeared before Mr Justice Blackburn, with evidence being given by Elizabeth, Mrs Jones and another neighbour Mrs Halpin in respect of what happened between 26th and 28th April, as well as the marriage in general. The surgeon who had attended said that given the way in which Mary was lying, the injuries sustained could not possibly have been caused as a result of a fall. Hughes’s defence counsel had a tough job to do and the best they could come up with was that he was drinking solidly for three weeks prior so was too drunk to understand the consequences of his violence, therefore a manslaughter verdict was more appropriate.

In summing up, the judge said that drunkenness was not an excuse and the charge could only come down to manslaughter if Hughes was so drunk that he did not even know harm could be caused by his actions.  The jury deliberated for just a few minutes before asking some clarifications as to the injuries. After just a few more minutes a guilty verdict was returned and Hughes declined to comment before sentence was passed. Justice Blackburn was brutal with his words, telling him that ‘it is absolutely necessary for the ends of justice that wives should be protected from the violence of their husbands and now all I have to do is pass upon you the sentence which the law requires. 

After the death sentence was passed Hughes fainted and had to be carried from the dock to the cells by court officials. He was was one of four prisoners hanged in front of a crowd of 100,000 at Kirkdale on 12th September 1863.

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