Sunday, 6 October 2019

A Garston Tragedy

A Garston father who killed his toddler son whilst drunk was so overcome with grief that he died just two months after being sentenced to seven years in gaol.

On Monday 26th August 1912 James Gibbons, a 39 year old shunter for the London & North Western Railway Company went out drinking at the King Street Vaults with some fellow employees. After two hours, he returned to the home in Saunby Street where he lived with his wife and three children. He had some supper and went to bed, lying alongside the youngest John, who was two and a half.

Around 11pm Mrs Gibbons heard crying and went upstairs to investigate. She saw her husband asleep but was horrified to see John's throat had been cut. She ran into the street to raise the alarm and withing minutes two police officers were on the scene. Closer examination showed that the head had almost been severed and the poor child was beyond help. A razor blade was next to the bed.

James was woken and on seeing the body, told the officers that he would go quietly. Ashe was being taken to the Bridewell he said "This is what drink does for you. My mind is a blank".

An inquest heard how James was "worn and dejected" and had his head bowed during the proceedings. His wife's brother told that although James was prone to drink, he was attached to the children, especially John. The barman from the King Street Vaults said he had drank four pints, but was in a sober position when he departed and "remained quite capable of being served". However two neighbours described how James staggered into the street laughing and couldn't find his door key. They did acknowledge that he loved his children and often played with them. 

Although the inquest returned a verdict of manslaughter, the Stipendiary Magistrate committed James for trial at the assizes on a charge of murder. On 7th November, the jury found James guilty of the lesser charge, with a strong recommendation for mercy. This was on the basis that he was so drunk that he was irresponsible for his actions. After being sentenced to seven years penal servitude, James collapsed and had to be carried to the cells.

The health of James continued to deteriorate in Walton gaol and just two months after he was sentenced, he died on 18th January 1913. The site of Saunby Street is now occupied by Saunby Close.

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