Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Liverpool Soldier Kills Officer With Shovel

A Liverpool soldier who took a dislike to one of his officers killed him with a shovel, leading to him being sentenced to death but later reprieved.

On 5th September 1941 Thomas Leatherbarrow, a 29 year old trooper based at Kirbymoorside in North Yorkshire, was in the mess which was under the charge of Corporal Cyril Johnson. When Leatherbarrow replied that he was not on duty when asked Johnson was ordered out of the mess, leading to him going for a drink with three other soldiers at a nearby hotel.

Kirkbymoorside by Benjamin WW Hughes
All four spoke badly about Johnson, leading to Leatherbarrow asking one to accompany him to the mess and beat him up, a request that was declined. When they returned to the camp at 1030pm Leatherbarrow then began loading his rifle but it was taken off him by one of the others. Having already drank four pints of beer and three shots of rum, Leatherbarrow then started drinking sherry and offered it around, but the other soldiers opted to go to bed.

About midnight a sergeant was woken by the sound of bangs and running water from Johnson's room. This turned out to be Leatherbarrow washing his clothes to get rid of  the blood. He then quickly roused one of his friends pleading for help, saying that he had hit Johnson with a shovel and that the corporal was dead. Johnson was in fact just unconscious and after being taken to hospital where x-rays showed a fractured skull, he made some progress to recovery and came round 48 hours later.

A few weeks later after being taken to another hospital Johnson developed meningitis and died on 5th October. Leatherbarrow, a married father of three whose home was at Longfield Road in Litherland, claimed to have no recollection of the night and had no idea why he was in the guard room when he woke up the morning after.

On 11th December Leatherbarrow appeared at the Leeds assizes, where his defence counsel suggested he was too drunk to form an opinion and that manslaughter would be a more appropriate charge. The judge appeared to back this in summing up, but the jury found him guilty of murder with a strong recommendation for mercy. Leatherbarrow was sentenced to death in the usual fashion, but without even having to appeal the Home Secretary acted upon the recommendation and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.

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