Saturday, 29 October 2016

Knotty Ash Husband Cleared

When a Knotty Ash woman was found dead in her home with a head injury, her husband was charged with killing her but cleared as it couldn't be proved that he had struck a blow on her.

In the early hours of 2nd August 1858 police were called to 110 Thomas Lane in Knotty Ash after 55 year old Mary Charnock, the wife of a tailor named Thomas, appeared to have died in her sleep. However due to some bruising, police had suspicions and kept Thomas in custody while further inquiries were made.

On 4th August an inquest took place before the Coroner Mr C E Driffield. An 82 year old lady called Elizabeth Lyons told how she had been passing the Charnock's home with her son around midnight and heard screams. She continued that her son went in there and witnessed Mary continue to scream, despite being told by her husband not to do so. 

Mrs Lyons went on to say that the husband and wife were screaming at each other and Thomas went to strike his wife, but he didn't see him do so. They then left, at which time Mary was in a cold sweat and not in a good way. Mrs Lyons' son James then repeated his mothers testimony, but admitted he had been worse for liquor at the time so couldn't recall every detail.

A neighbour named Mary Ashcroft said she did not believe Thomas had been violent towards his wife. However Thomas's daughter, also Mary, gave evidence that was somewhat contradictory. She said that she brought her father home from a club and he was drunk, but his mother was sober even though she had been drinking wine. Eleven year old William Charnock, son of Thomas and Mary, recalled returning home at 2am to find his mother quite cold, having been dead for some time. 

A local surgeon Dr Fitzpatrick said he had known Mary for nine years and that she suffered chronic asthma. However, he stated that he had found a mark at the angle of the jaw consistent with being struck with a blunt instrument. He also found effusion of the brain which he believed could not have been caused naturally but instead by concussion caused by a fall or violence. He did accept though that the condition of Mary's heart meant that death from an injury was more likely than if she were a healthy person.

The last witness was the police officer that had taken Thomas into custody, who said he maintained that he had never touched his wife. In summing up Mr Driffield said that the case was definitely not one of murder because if they were satisfied that a blow was struck, it had been in the heat of passion. The jury returned a verdict that death was a result of injuries inflicted, but did not determine on how they came about.

The Coroner was not happy with the verdict, but said he was bound to record it. He told the jury that they were not determining on Thomas's guilt, merely on whether there was sufficient evidence to warrant sending the case to the assizes for further investigation. The foreman of the jury responded by saying the only evidence they considered was that of Elizabeth Lyons, who had seen no blow struck. Mr Driffield then said there was circumstantial evidence to show a blow was struck and ordered that Thomas be detained by police and placed before the magistrates.

On 20th August 56 year old Thomas appeared before the assizes, where daughter Mary gave evidence in his defence. She said that her mother had fallen asleep and they did not realise she was dying. With doubts raised over Mary's health due to her heart problem and nobody able to say they had seen Thomas strike any blow, he was found not guilty and discharged.

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