Sunday, 26 April 2015

Court Rules Wife's Death Caused by Fall

A violent husband who was charged with manslaughter after the death of his wife was acquitted after a jury decided that her death was not as a result of injuries received from his beatings.

On 21st July 1857 cart owner William Swift returned to his home in Mile End and asked his servant Mary Gorman if his wife, also called Mary was in, to which she replied that she wasn't. Mary had lied as Mrs Swift was actually asleep in the servant's room and when both women were in there 31 year old Swift broke the door down and punched his wife several times, causing her to bleed. 

The assault had happened in front of the couple's young daughter, who Swift threw out of he house. Mary Gorman went and found a policeman who came and helped 30 year old Mrs Swift climb out of the window. In doing so, she fell from a dog kennel and landed on some timber, but she got up straight away and did not appear to be hurt. She was then taken to the St Anne Street dispensary where her wound was dressed and she then stayed with a neighbour overnight.

The following day Mrs Swift went to Pritchard's beer house in Bevington Hill and was followed there by her husband, who hit her causing a black eye. She was then taken to the dispensary again by Mary Gorman and on their return home, they saw Swift talking to a police officer offering him £5 if he could be spared arrest. That night Swift was arrested and initially charged with assault, with doctors being of the opinion that his wife was in a very precarious state.

Two days later, Mary Swift died at her mother's home in Tatlock Street, having now developed delirium tremens in addition to the erysipelas which was as a result of the head wound. A post mortem couldn't conclusively determine the cause of death with doctors failing to agree over which condition was responsible. A corner's court found a verdict of manslaughter and Swift was committed to Kirkdale prison to await trial at the assizes.   

Swift was due to stand trial on 21st August but as Mary Gorman was going into court she was threatened by his sister Ellen Christie. This led to Christie's arrest and appearance at the police court, where she was fined £20. The trial did take place the following day when three doctors said they believed erysipelas was the cause of death and two thought it was more likely as a result of delirium tremens. Swift's defence counsel contended that the servant was an unreliable witness and that the even if erysipelas was the cause, the infected wounds could have been the one that occurred after Mary fell off the kennel. After twenty minutes deliberation, a not guilty verdict was returned.   
As Swift was being freed from the dock there was a cheer from the public gallery which was quickly suppressed by the judge, Baron Watson. He indicated that if there was any more noise he would commit those responsible to prison for contempt of court. 

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