British legal history was made in 1957 when a man charged with murder was granted bail. When he returned to court for his trial, he was found not guilty.
On the morning of Tuesday 16th April 1957 Thomas Harding visited Dr Gibson's surgery at 170 Upper Parliament Street and reported that his wife was ill. 36 year old Harding was actually divorced but had been living with Veronica Chen, a barmaid aged 31, for three years. Most of these were at 128 Falkner Street but for the past few weeks they had been at 239 Smithdown Lane.
At 1pm Dr Gibson called at their home and found 31 year old Veronica unconscious. He arranged for her to be taken to Sefton General Hospital but she never came around and died shortly before midnight. The matter was referred to the Coroner and detectives arrested Harding the following morning. He was taken to Prescot Street police station, where he made a statement that the previous Friday evening, Veronica had returned home drunk and with bruises on her face.
Further enquiries were made and when Harding was told by detectives were not satisfied with his explanation, he admitted striking Veronica with the back of his hand, causing her to stagger and hit her head against the wall. An hour after making this admission, the postmortem results were returned, which showed Veronica had died of a cerebral haemorrhage following a skull fracture, and had received several blows to the head.
Confronted with this new information, Harding replied that he wanted to make a full statement as to what had happened. He said that Veronica had returned home 'rotten drunk' and refused to say where she had been, leading to him hitting her several times and throwing her on the bed. On being told that he would be charged with murder, Harding stated "I admit hitting her harder than I ever hit her before because I lost my temper, but I did not think she would die."
Harding was remanded in custody for seven days when he appeared at the Magistrates' Court on the morning of 18th April. When he was committed for trial at the Crown Court on 31st May, his defence counsel suggested that there had been no intent to cause serious harm and as such it was a case of manslaughter. The magistrate however said that the murder charge must stand and it was up to the prosecution to decide at the Assizes if they would accept a lesser plea.
On 11th July British legal history was made when Harding was granted bail, the first time ever for a defendant charged with murder. Judge Laski, after hearing representations and reading documents, said that this was not a capital murder charge (meaning that Harding would not face the death penalty) and as such was willing to grant bail providing adequate sureties were arranged. Harding was then released pending his trial in November.
At the Crown Court on 5th November, Harding pleaded not guilty to murder and was defended by leading Q.C. Rose Heilbron. Medical evidence showed that the skull fracture could not have been caused by a fist, but more likely by falling against a wall. This, coupled with Heilbron's submissions that there had been no intent to cause serious harm, led to the jury finding Harding not guilty. With the Crown having gone solely for the murder charge, Harding was freed. He died just two years later and was buried in a public grave in Allerton cemetery.