Friday, 1 April 2016

Widow and Lodger Cleared of Baby Death

When doctors refused to accept that a child had been stillborn a woman and her lodger were charged with murder. However despite the highly suspicious circumstances surrounding the birth, they were acquitted as doctors at the trial could not unanimously agree on the cause of death.  

In the autumn of 1892 Mary Lunt, a thirty one year old mother of two became widowed when her postman husband died. She lived at Bickerton Street off Lark Lane and in November the following year she took in Thomas Muat as a lodger. Muat was a twenty seven year old policeman who was stationed just around the corner.

On 5th December 1893 Lunt complained of a lung condition and sought assistance from her neighbour Annie Atkins, but did not tell her that she was actually  heavily pregnant. Muat regularly entered her bedroom but told Atkins they should not call for a doctor unless Lunt gave them the go ahead. After being told that Lunt wanted to be left alone for a while, Atkins went home and returned at 11pm to stay until morning as Muat was on night duty for the police. 

The following day Dr Campbell was called and after examining Lunt asked if she had given birth. She admitted that she had, saying she had fallen down the stairs at 7pm the previous evening and that the child, which was stillborn, was now at an undertakers. After the doctor left, Lunt told Atkins that she had now been diagnosed with kidney problems.

Dr Campbell was unhappy with what he saw when he examined the infant and said he needed to consult others.  A full post mortem was carried out at Princes Dock mortuary, with doctors forming the opinion that the child had been born alive and died due to strangulation, suffocation and bleeding. When Lunt was arrested she told police she had felt ill but had no idea of her condition, then said that Muat was the father.

On 30th December Muat, who had been suspended from duty for the previous fortnight, was arrested and taken to the Old Swan bridewell. He denied being the father of the baby and when he was searched an elastic band was found in his trouser pockets.

A committal hearing at the Islington courthouse on 5th January heard evidence from the doctors involved, who agreed that the baby had not been stillborn. The defence solicitor claimed that as Lunt had made no attempt to conceal the birth and Muat was just a lodger then there was no case to answer by either party. The bench though consulted for a few moments and committed both prisoners to the assizes for trial.

The trial opened on Saturday 17th March before Mr Justice Day. Evidence was heard from Annie Atkins and her mother Mary, who had tried to persuade Lunt to call a doctor on the day of the birth. However a juror then took ill and the judge postponed the case until the following Wednesday, when Annie and Mary had to repeat their evidence due to a new jury having been sworn in.

The undertaker who had collected the body stated that there had been no attempt made at concealment. When the detective who arrested Muat was cross examined, he admitted that the elastic band found on his person was the same that police officers would use to wrap around their pocket notebooks. 

Evidence was then given by four doctors. Two, including Dr Campbell, were of the opinion that death was caused by strangulation. However another said that it could have been asphyxiation due to lack of proper afterbirth care. The fourth doctor said that if the birth had been triggered by the fall, this could also have caused complications. 

In summing up, Justice Day asked the jury to consider that after hearing the medical evidence, could they safely say that the death had occurred due to violence. After a few minutes deliberation they returned a verdict of not guilty and both prisoners were discharged.

No comments:

Post a Comment