Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Benefit of Doubt For 'Poor Friendless Woman'

A woman whose baby was found strangled in a basket was sentenced to just twelve months in prison after being found guilty only of infanticide.

In the summer of 1908 Alice Spelman, who was originally from Derby, worked at a hotel in the North Wales coastal resort of Llandudno, In the October she went to Liverpool and took lodgings in Vine Street, where she discovered she was pregnant two months later.

Alice took on a job as a general servant in Mill Street in February 1909 and was immediately asked by her mistress if she was pregnant, which she denied. On 6th March Alice was taken ill and taken in a cab to the Workhouse Hospital in Smithdown Road carrying a basket. When this was searched it was found to contain the body of a newborn child, which had a handkerchief tied around its neck with the ends stuffed in the mouth.

A post mortem showed that the baby had lived and died from strangulation and when she was arrested Alice said her mind was blank, all she could remember was that the child was born. When she appeared at the assizes Alice's defence counsel described her as a 'poor friendless woman' and said she had been orphaned at the age of five, with the evidence of strangulation being inconclusive. This was enough to sew the seeds of doubt in the jury and Alice was found guilty only of infanticide, leading to a sentence of just twelve months imprisonment.

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