Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Mother Not Guilty of Smothering Son

A woman who accidentally smothered her son to death was charged with manslaughter and acquitted, but still given a severe rebuke by the judge.

Thomas Shaw, his wife Margaret and their 8 month old son Thomas junior lodged in a house in Worfield Street (where the John Moores University building is now by Tithebarn Street/Vauxhall Road). Thomas was a hard working coal heaver but Margaret was known for her drunkenness.

In the early hours of 3rd March 1870 Margaret, who was 25 years old, ran to her landlady Ruth Gillies screaming that her son was dead. She was quite drunk and Mrs Gillies went to her room where she found the lifeless body of Thomas, who was stone cold. She noticed that the child was still wearing day clothes, was dirty and lying on a filthy mattress.

Margaret woke her husband and they both approached a police constable on Tithebarn Street, saying they wanted to hand themselves in as Margaret had smothered her child. They were taken to the police office but allowed to return home. A post mortem revealed no marks on the body and the condition of the lungs suggested that suffocation was the cause of death, with overlaying a possible explanation.

At the inquest on 7th March the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter and Margaret was taken into custody to appear at the police court the following day. There, it was revealed that another child of Margaret's had died of apparent suffocation in 1868 and she was committed for trial at the next assizes, which were just a fortnight away.

On 22nd March Margaret appeared before Mr Justice Willes but the prosecution offered no evidence, accepting that the death was an accident. Discharging her from the dock, the judge said there was no felonious design on Margaret's part but that the case 'should be a serious lesson to her and others not to indulge in intoxicating liquor.'

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