Monday, 23 November 2015

Mother Who Cut Son's Throat Detained

A Toxteth mother who cut her son's throat was found guilty of murder but insane, leading to her being detained as a criminal lunatic.

In 1906 Hannah Powell lived with her husband Thomas, a journeyman boilermaker, eleven year old son Johnny and fourteen year old daughter Christine in Sussex Street. This was situated in Toxteth off Upper Hill Street, on the site of what is now St Patrick's School. Also living there was an elder daughter named Emily and her husband Bill Brodie.

On the night of Saturday 12th May that year Hannah was found drunk in the street by Emily, who helped her to bed alongside Thomas who was already asleep. Around 730 the following morning Christine was woken by screams and saw John on the bed next to her with blood spurting out of his throat. She ran upstairs to fetch Emily, who found a bloodstained razor outside the room.

Hannah had by now left the house, shouting to neighbours that she had cut Johnny's throat as her husband had been nagging her all night. Emily's husband Bill went in search of Hannah and found her in Northumberland Street drinking ginger beer. A policeman who had been called arrived at the scene and Hannah gave herself up. Johnny was taken to the Southern Hospital but he was pronounced dead on arrival, his jugular vein having been severed.

At the Bridewell 52 year old Hannah again admitted what she had done and after appearing before magistrates on the Monday morning she was remanded to Walton gaol. When the trial opened on 3rd August Hannah had to be helped up the stairs from the cells to the dock by two warders. She then spent a minute sobbing before she was able to compose herself to hear the indictment. 

As the prosecuting counsel opened the case, Hannah sat rocking back and forth. There was no doubt that she had killed her son, the only question was to her state of mind at the time. Dr Price from Walton gaol said that he had been examining her since she was taken there, and although she gave coherent answers to questions he could not rule out her being in temporary derangement of mind due to waking suddenly from a drunken sleep. 

In his summing up Mr Justice Kennedy remarked that 'she must have known what she was doing' but also that 'she was subject to slight attacks of melancholia' and had been since another child had burnt to death four years earlier. Without leaving the box, the jury found Hannah guilty of murder but insane at the time of the act. The judge then ordered that she 'be kept in custody as a criminal lunatic until His Majesty's Pleasure be known. Hannah then wept as she was taken back to the cells.

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