Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Bird Watching Barber Kills Friend

A barber who went on a bird watching trip got into a disagreement with his friend and hit him over the head with a hammer, leading to him being convicted of manslaughter.

On the morning of 6th February 1895 Robert Atherton, a 35 year old barber from Field Street in Everton went out at 630am with photographer Robert Owen, who had been a friend of his for several years. Atherton carried a hammer and net to use as a snare, while Owen had some sticks due to suffering walking difficulties. They stopped at the Seaforth Hotel for some whisky then carried on, but around noon got into an argument on a field in Litherland due to Owen having had too much to drink.

During the row Atherton hit Owen with a hammer and a stick, then left him in a shed on the field. This was was witnessed by two boys who were trying to catch rats, who then directed Atherton to the station. He then went to Owen's home in Seaforth while the boys checked on the injured man, who they assumed to be just the worse for drink and left him there to go back to their rat catching. 

When Atherton got to Owen's home he told his father that his son had gone 'up country', but he was suspicious of Atherton now having one of his sticks. Meanwhile at the shed, Owen came round and shouted for help. When the two boys went and saw him he asked where Atherton was and when they said he had gone home, he threw a brick at them. This hit the shed wall instead and bounced back on his head, knocking him out.

At some stage 36 year old Owen woke up and got out of the shed as at 4pm he was found lying face down in a field by a coachman. He was helped up but couldn't stand and a boy playing nearby was sent for a policeman. A detective arrived and carried Owen to the Claremont Hotel, but he died on the way.  Atherton was arrested the following day at his home in Field Street, telling the detective he had a drink with Owen but no idea what happened after that. 

After being remanded by a magistrate at the local police station the inquest was held at the Seaforth Hotel where Owen's father described him as quiet and inoffensive. The two ratcatching boys, who were both sixteen, gave their evidence but the doctor who carried out the post mortem said he could not be sure as to what extent the hammer blow caused death. Dr German explained that although there was effusion of blood on the brain this could just as easily have been caused by the brick bouncing back, while the cold weather was also a factor.

The Coroner Mr S. Brighouse summed up that if violence was used then the prisoner had to be responsible for the eventual outcome, unless it had been used in self defence. The jury returned a verdict of 'death by violence' leading to Atherton being committed to the assizes for a manslaughter trial.

On 20th March Atherton appeared before Lord Chief Justice Russell. The two boys who witnessed the row admitted under cross examination that Owen had struck the first blow, hitting Atherton on the leg with a stick. The jury returned a guilty verdict but with a strong recommendation for mercy, leading to him being sentenced to just nine months imprisonment.

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