Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Mother Pleads For Her Seaman Son's Killer

A seaman who killed his friend in a fight on a ferry in the Irish Sea was jailed despite the victim's mother pleading for his release as everybody had suffered enough.

In the summer of 1953 two young men who had been away at sea for some time on a voyage to Australia and South America returned to Liverpool and were paid off. One of them was Robert Humphries from Bray in County Wicklow and he invited twenty year old Robert Thomas, of Irlam Road in Bootle, to spend some time with his family. 

On the day they set sail for Dublin aboard the MV Munster, they began drinking at 1130am and continued this on board. At around midnight a fight broke out that led to Humphries going overboard as a result of a push by Thomas, according to some eye witnesses.

Crew members placed Thomas in a straitjacket and passed out. He was lifted onto a stretcher and woke up a few minutes later, repeatedly asking where his friend was. On arrival at Dublin, detectives boarded and arrested Thomas, charging him with murder on the high seas. After his first court appearance he was taken to hospital for treatment on a suspected broken nose.

On 2nd February 1954 Thomas was tried at Dublin's Central Criminal Court, where prosecutors alleged he had drank up to twenty pints of beer. A doctor who had seen him half an hour after the incident told the court he felt Thomas was incapable of forming any intent to murder and that when he came around he had no recollection of what happened.

A key witness was passenger Martin Connolly, who said a fight broke out between five or six men, including Thomas.  He then told how when Humphries tried to pacify him he was pushed away but fell over the rail into the sea. Under cross examination, Connolly described Thomas as 'drunk out of his mind.'

Thomas himself could not remember much about what happened, only that he had got into a fight with some people but insisted he did not touch his friend. He was found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder and there was then a sensational development when Humphries' mother entered the witness box. Rather than call for a tough sentence she said 'There has been trouble enough without any more. No matter what happens now it won't bring my son back so will you please let him go home.' Earlier in the trial Thomas's father had said that the two men were very close and Humphries referred to him and his wife as 'mom' and 'pop'

Mrs Humphries' pleas were ignored by Judge Murnaghan however who sentenced Thomas to six years penal servitude, telling him 'I can not overlook the fact that you allowed yourself to get so drunk that you had your friend killed.' He did grant a certificate of appeal however and the sentence was later reduced to three years.

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