Friday, 4 March 2016

Canal Killers Bound Over

Three men who were guilty of manslaughter when a man drowned who they had stripped naked and thrown into a canal were given a huge let off by the judge.

On the afternoon of Sunday 28th August 1892 a carter named William Culshaw was stood on the banks of the Leeds & Liverpool canal near the lock at Lightbody Street. Looking across to the other bank he saw a man being stripped naked by four others. The victim was John Swindells, a nineteen year old youth who lived in Gildart's Gardens, who today would acknowledged as having learning difficulties.

Seconds later Swindells was in the canal and being unable to swim, sank immediately. Two of those who had been seen to strip him jumped in but despite their best efforts could not find him. It was several hours before the body was recovered. 

Four men were arrested; Walter Peloe and John Leicester, who were both twenty four year old labourer, as well as eighteen year old carter Joseph Wilson and twenty one year old labourer Thomas Davies. 

At the inquest Culshaw said he saw the four men throw Swindells into the canal and a verdict of manslaughter was returned. The following day at a committal hearing, the deputy stipendiary magistrate Mr Kinghorn decided that they should instead be considered for  murder charge. By now however Culshaw had changed his mind about what he saw, saying there was a crowd around Swindells and he couldn't be sure if he had been thrown, pushed or fell into the canal. 

Concluding that there had been no intent to kill and that death was as a result of rough horseplay, the men were committed on the lesser charge. Leicester was remanded in custody as he had ran away at the time, but the other three were granted bail in light of having stayed at the scene to try and rescue their victim.

The men appeared at the Liverpool assizes on 9th December. With the exception of Davies, they all pleaded guilty. Satisfied that Davies had not actually pushed or thrown Swindells in, the Crown decided not to proceed against him. In summarising what had happened, the prosecutor Mr McConnell described Swindells as a 'soft lad' who had not resisted the prank that had gone horribly wrong. The victim had even been laughing at what was going on, probably having no idea of the perilous position that he was in.

After the defence counsel stated that the three guilty men were all hard workers of good character, Mr Justice Grantham then showed exceptional leniency. Saying that it was clear there was no intention to cause harm, he bound each of them over 'to come up for judgement when called upon' which is the equivalent of a conditional discharge today.

No comments:

Post a Comment