An amateur footballer who punched a man then kicked him while on the ground was fortunate to be found guilty only of manslaughter after medical evidence indicated the actual death was caused by falling against a wall rather than any blows.
At around 5pm on 6th April 1894 Thomas Jones, a twenty four year old collier who also played for Whiston in the Liverpool & District Football League, went for drink at the Horseshoe Inn. This pub still stands at the corner of Windy Arbour Road and Dragon Lane and is a Tesco Express.
At around 6pm the pub was being lit up and as a customer called Thomas Fildes was pulling down the blinds when he was hit on the side of the face. He asked who had done it and William Travis, a fifty two year old collier who was also Fildes's neighbour, pointed at Jones. Fildes asked Jones why he had hit him and Jones came up to him aggressively, saying he would do it again and pushed Fildes to the ground.
The landlady of the pub, Margaret Briscoe, told Jones and Fildes to leave and they did so via separate doors. Travis left at the same time and returned headed to his home in School Lane, but first called at the Fildes home to tell his mother Catherine and brother Johnson what had happened.
A few minutes later Jones knocked at the door and demanded to see Thomas Fildes, but was told by his mother that he wasn't there. On seeing Travis in the property Jones said 'you will do' and called him to the door, then punched him on the chin. Travis hit a wall then fell down and Jones took his jacket off and continued his aggression, kicking him in the body whilst wearing clogs. Jones then turned around to where his wife was and they both walked off together.
Mrs Fildes went and found a policeman, Constable Ormerod. He arrived and immediately detained Jones, taking him into the house where Travis was lying. Jones admitted hitting him but said he had not intended to cause harm. He then denied it but his wife said it was no use doing so. An unconscious Travis was carried into his house by Johnson Fildes and a Constable Ormerod, who then escorted Jones to Prescot police station.
Dr Charles Barlow was called from Prescot and found Travis to be in a bad way. He was unconscious, his eye was blackened, nose bleeding and he seemed to be paralysed in the limbs. The following morning Dr Barlow returned and found no improvement and Travis died at 430pm that afternoon. Jones was initially charged with 'unlawfully assaulting and causing grievous bodily harm'.
A post mortem was carried out by Dr Barlow and Dr Fox Jackson of Huyton. They found that the internal organs were healthy and that the brain was congested. There were few external marks on the body but the neck was broken. In their opinion, Travis died as a result of his head hitting the wall rather than the kicks to the body.
On the Monday afternoon an inquest opened at the Carr's Hotel before the county coroner Samuel Brighouse. Due to Jones being in custody in Prescot police station, he proposed to move the inquest there once the jury had viewed Travis's body at his home in Dragon Lane.
Widow Alice Travis was so distraught she could hardly speak whilst giving her evidence, in which she insisted that her husband was perfectly sober when he went out and had drank nothing at home. Catherine Fildes said he was a quiet man while her son Johnson expressed shock at what happened, saying that Travis went to Jones expecting to have a chat rather than be assaulted. An elderly passer by testified that he thought Travis was dead after seeing what had happened. The two doctors gave their medical opinion and when Dt Fox Jackson was asked if Travis could have sustained his injuries after being hit in the pub, he replied that it would have been impossible for him to walk home.
In summing up, the Coroner said that there was nothing to suggest Travis had done anything to provoke Jones into his actions. He also pointed out how Jones had gone to School Lane with the intention of doing harm to Fildes, only to pick on Travis instead. Mr Brighouse said that in these circumstances, the jury had no alternative but to return a verdict of wilful murder unless they could be satisfied that there had provocation. He also made it clear that pointing out Jones as the person who first hit Fildes was not sufficient to justify his actions. After ten minutes the jury returned a verdict of wilful murder.
Jones was committed to the assizes on a coroner's warrant and stood trial on 4th May. The Crown opted not to press ahead with the murder charge but instead one of manslaughter. The reason for this is that there had been no previous quarrel between the two men and also that there was no medical evidence of kicks to the body, only the word of witnesses. The defence counsel Mr McConnell did not contest a manslaughter charge, given Jones had admitted striking Travis albeit with no intention to cause harm.
Mr Justice Day directed the jury to find Jones guilty of manslaughter. In mitigation, Mr McConnell said that Jones expressed his regret for what happened and simply wanted a fight. The judge though was not impressed with this and said it was easy to show regret after he realised the implications of his actions. When it came to their being no marks on the body, he suggested that if any kicks were to the stomach, then there would be no bruising.
Prior to passing sentence, Justice Day recalled Dr Barlow and Constable Ormerod. The doctor said death was caused by the fall against the wall and definitely not by the blow from the punch, but did acknowledge there would not have been bruising on the stomach. Constable Ormerod gave a brief rundown of Jones's character, telling the judge he had been bound over for breach of the peace once and had a tendency to drink at weekends and get into arguments. The judge then told Jones he had taken away the life of a fellow creature who was quite harmless and a victim of 'brutal drunken fury'. He then sentenced Jones to three years penal servitude.