Monday, 25 January 2016

West Indian Seaman Reprieved

A West Indian seaman who was convicted of murder after stabbing his lover in wartime Liverpool was sentenced to death but reprieved. 

Towards the end of 1940 Willoughby Banks moved into a lodging house in Upper Stanhope Street with Mary Norman, a local woman of mixed race who was separated from her husband. Things were going reasonably well for a year but on 22nd November 1941 Banks and Mary returned home arguing whilst some friends were playing cards in the basement. 

The argument continued and after Banks threw a torch at Mary she responded by pouring beer over him. He then shouted 'I'm going to kill Mollie' and leaped over a table, stabbing her seven or eight times. One of the sailors went for the police whilst others restrained Banks, who was only twenty years old. He appeared in a state of shock, saying 'I don't know what made me do it, will they hang me? She tried to poison me last night, and another she slept with me and another man.'

Banks stood in the dock before Mr Justice Oliver at St George's Hall on 2nd February the following year. Those present gave evidence that Mary had been taunting him but he struck the first blow with the torch. When Banks gave evidence, he had been drinking beer, spirits and wine and remembered nothing about returning home, having to be told what happened when he woke in a cell the next morning, causing him to faint.

The jury found Banks guilty but gave a strong recommendation for mercy. After passing the death sentence the judge said he would pass this recommendation on to the relevant quarters. An appeal against the sentence on the grounds a manslaughter verdict was more appropriate was dismissed and the execution was proviosionally scheduled for 25th March. However nine days beforehand the Home Secretary confirmed that a reprieve had been granted and the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

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