Thursday, 24 September 2015

An Atrocious Crime in Bootle

A man who kicked a seaman to death that had insulted his wife was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to a long term of penal servitude.

On 7th August 1897 Joseph Willis, a healthy 33 year old seaman, was discharged from his ship after it docked in Liverpool and left carrying a hefty pay packet. Two days later he went to a house in Millers Bridge where a woman he knew called Elizabeth Scanlan lived. She had been drinking with fireman John Smith and his wife and Willis offered to buy some more beer for them.

Mrs Smith got quite drunk and began dancing and singing, then became so intoxicated that Mrs Scanlan had to to take her home in Derby Road. Willis left soon afterwards and met Mrs Scanlan as she was on her way back, and for some reason they both went back to Derby Road, where they found that Mrs Smith had fallen out of bed. They lifted her back in and decided that she would be okay as there were several people present in the room.

Willis and Mrs Scanlan returned to Millers Bridge to continue drinking and they were soon rejoined by Mrs Smith. She complained to her husband that Willis had insulted her he took little notice and when she hit Willis with a brick, John Smith knocked his wife down. Willis and Smith then began arguing themselves with Smith kicking out. When Willis fell down Smith then followed this up with a kick on the head. 

After staggering into the adjoining yard, Willis turned round to see Smith had followed him and he was punched in the head. The injured man managed to clamber onto a sofa but Smith went up and kicked him so hard he was flung from one end to the other. Willis was taken to hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival, death being the result of laceration on the brain.

A number of neighbours had heard the commotion and gave evidence against Smith when he appeared at the Liverpool Assizes on 6th December, charged with murder. One testified that when Smith caught up with Willis in the yard he said 'Is he not dead yet, I will finish him.' The defence tried to say that the brick thrown by Mrs Smith could have caused death, but the medical evidence suggested this wasn't the case. In summing up the judge said that a manslaughter verdict could be returned if there were grounds of provocation and the killing had been carried out in the heat of the moment.

After half an hours deliberation the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter. When asked if he had anything to say before sentence Smith replied that he could remember nothing about the incident. Justice Ridley told him that the verdict was right but that it was an 'atrocious crime' and sentence Smith to fourteen years penal servitude.

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