Despite overwhelming circumstantial evidence against him, an unfaithful husband accused of killing his wife in Victorian Liverpool did not even have to stand trial.
On Saturday 30th March 1861 two women who lodged in Portland Place off Christian Street went out to the market and returned home in an intoxicated state at around 11pm. One of them, Ann Sheridan, went to bed leaving her husband John sat up drinking with the other, Mary Redman.
At around midnight Ann was woken by another resident, who told her that her husband and Redman were in an 'improper position' in a yard. Ann ran screaming into the street and confronted Sheridan, calling him what the Liverpool Mercury described as 'some of the most disgusting epithets' and tearing his waistcoat open.
Sheridan dragged his wife inside and there were no witnesses as to what happened immediately after this. A few minutes later Redman tried to sneak back in, but was struck by Ann, who then threw mugs at her. Redman ran into the street chased by Ann, who fell over and cut her head, leading to Sheridan lifting her up and laying her down on a sofa in the parlour. The couple were heard arguing throughout the night and on the Sunday afternoon Ann complained of soreness in the head. At around 7pm she became insensible and died the following morning at 9am.
A post mortem revealed that Ann had been a fine and healthy woman, but that death was caused by congestion in the brain as a result of violence. Although the only visible mark was a cut eye, there were twelve bruises on the scalp hidden by her hair.
An inquest was held on 4th April, at which Redman said she had not seen Sheridan hit Ann but did witness him hold her down on a chair to keep her quiet. Mary Southwell, another lodger told how she had heard a thud followed by Ann screaming. A policeman who was passing at 2am heard a thumping sound and a male voice from inside the property shout 'I will kill you before morning'. However as so often happened in those times, he did not intervene in a domestic incident between man and wife.
Sheridan's solicitor had argued that Ann's death was caused either as a result of the fall or by violence from someone else. After the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter the Coroner issued a warrant committing Sheridan to the assizes for trial. Despite the seriousness of the charge though Sheridan was granted bail as he held a respectable position as a bailiff for the county court.
Whether it be the fact that there was no eye witness evidence to who caused the violence, or down to Sheridan's job as a bailiff, he had an amazing let off when he presented himself to the South Lancashire Assizes in St George's Hall on 12th August. The Grand Jury, which consisted of local landed gentry and decided whether cases should be proceeded with, decided that he had no case to answer and threw out the charge without it even going to trial.