Friday, 16 October 2020

Harrington Dock Killing

In 1955 a fight between two dock labourers ended in one of them dead, but the jury accepted the plea that the accused acted in self defence and acquitted him of manslaughter.

At 4.10pm on Wednesday 20th July an unconscious man was found amongst stacks of timber that had been unloaded from a freighter at East Harrington Dock. The man was 41 year old William Clegg Dean, a dock night watchman who lived in a lodging house at 6 Great George Square. 

Dean was a 41 year old labourer who lived in Great George Square. He was taken to the Royal Southern Hospital where he died the following day from a fractured skull, having never regained consciousness. A murder investigation begun when police received a phone call that evening saying "If you think you are smart, investigate the murder of William Clegg Dean". At that time, few people could have been aware of the cause of death.

Hundreds of dockers were interviewed as police pieced together Dean's movements in the 24 hours previous to him being found. It was established that he had not spent the night at his lodgings, but did call in at 9.30am to collect his army pension book. Police believed he may have been attacked somewhere on Sefton Street or the Dock Road and then walked to where he was found, or been dumped there by his attacker. 

There was a breakthrough on the morning of 22nd July when Gerard Digney, a 24 year old labourer, handed himself in at Essex Street police station. He told officers he had only pushed Dean and meant no serious harm. However he was charged with murder due to the gravity of the injuries, with Digney responding "I do not understand it".  The following morning he appeared before magistrates who remanded into custody at Walton gaol. In the public benches at the court was his girlfriend, who he was due to marry the following Saturday.

On 29th July, the day before he should have been getting married, Digney was remanded in custody again. Prosecutors told he court that the fractured skull could not have been caused by the impact of Dean falling to the ground and that Digney's statement could not have been correct. 

Digney was back at the Magistrates' Court on 4th August for a committal hearing. It was heard that Dean, Digney and a third man, Thomas McDonnell, had all been working at Harrington Dock unloading timber, drinking whilst they did so. McDonnell said that Digney had made some derogatory remarks about Dean's decision to drink cheap wine, described by prosecutors as "plonk". A scuffle broke out during which Digney pushed Dean away and punched him on the jaw, causing him to fall. Digney then went to the canteen while McDonnell kept an eye on Dean, who appeared to simply be too drunk to get back up. After an hour he was moved to where he was eventually found and an ambulance called. 

After hearing all the evidence, the examining magistrate Mr Gordon ruled that there was insufficient evidence to charge with murder and reduced it to manslaughter. Digney indicated that he would plead not guilty to manslaughter but was allowed bail on two sureties of £25 each. On 3rd November Digney appeared before the Liverpool Assizes. McDonnell again testified, stating that Digney was under threat and had nowhere to turn, so throwing a punch was his only way out. This was accepted by the jury who found him not guilty. 

Monday, 12 October 2020

Daughter Killer Insane

In the mid 1800s a woman who murdered her daughter then tried to commit suicide was declared insane. 

At 8pm on 17th July 1851 a woman was seen hurrying down Queen Street with a half naked young girl. She was urged to cover her up and she did so, before throwing the poor girl down some steps and running away. A police officer was called and the girl taken to the North Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Two minutes later the same female was seen walking excitedly back and forth along the landing stage before plunging into the River Mersey. She was picked up by a boat and taken to the receiving house, where remedies were given to bring her round. She then started talking incoherently asking why she hadn't been allowed to drown and to be given some arsenic instead. 

The woman was repeatedly questioned and eventually said her name was Mary Powell, that she had murdered her daughter Mary Ann Powell by tying a pinafore around her neck. An examination of her clothing found a pawn ticket bearing the same name and she was kept under close observation until the following morning. 

Mary was resident at the workhouse and had been discharged from the asylum there two months earlier. She was the wife of a clerk who was said to have abused her. 

At the inquest a nurse from the workhouse, Catherine Powell, described Mary as being violent in manner for the first week of her admission, but that this behaviour related to family affairs. After six more weeks she was well and spent some time in the infant nursery due to her youngest child being ill. She was considered sane at the time of her discharge, having previously refused to go when her husband tried to take her out as she said he illtreated her. At this stage her husband interrupted the proceedings and was removed from the room.

The Deputy Coroner told the jury they were not there to try Mary's state of mind and they returned a verdict of wilful murder. It was also added that there should be no charges against anybody in the workhouse, who had acted in accordance with the laws laid down by the Poor Law commissioners. 

On 3rd September Mary appeared before Mr Baron Platt at the South Lancashire Assizes. The jury found not guilty on the grounds of insanity and she was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure. 

Thursday, 1 October 2020

A Fatal Brick Throwing

In 1888 a man was caught up in a neighbour dispute died from his injuries after he was struck by a brick. 

On 22nd July that year George Proctor, a forty year old labourer, spent the afternoon drinking with his wife at the home of a Mrs Douglas in a court off Bevington Street, Vauxhall. Whilst there Douglas had a quarrel with Mary Winston, a 23 year old fish hawker who lived on the opposite side of the court. 

At 10.30pm George and his wife were leaving when he was struck by a brick, thrown from Winston's window. George fell down while Winston, who was married with three young children, danced and sang "I have not missed my aim".

George was carried back into the house and remained unconscious until the next morning. He went to the Northern Hospital where his wound was dressed and remained there three days before returning home to Gordon Street. 

At the beginning of August, George was still complaining of pains of his head and was admitted to Mill Road hospital. As his condition deteriorated he gave a deposition stating he had seen Winston throw the brick. He died on Sunday 5th August and was buried in Everton Cemetery. At an inquest, the doctor who had treated him prior to death said it was as a direct result of the injury. A verdict of manslaughter was returned and Wilson was committed for trial.

At the assizes court on 20th December the defence argued that Winston's windows had been broken earlier in the day by Douglas. It was also suggested that he may have been hit by a brick being thrown by one of his own friends aimed at Winston. This failed to convince the jury however and she was found guilty of manslaughter. 

In light of Whinston having already served two months in gaol on remand, she was sentenced to a further two months imprisonment with hard labour. On her release, she returned to Bevington Street where she and her husband, a dock labourer, remained together and had eight more children.