Thursday, 25 February 2021

Drunk Taxi Driver Guilty of Manslaughter

A taxi driver that knocked down a pedestrian whilst under the influence of alcohol was convicted of manslaughter when the victim died of her injuries.

On Christmas Eve 1952 Martha Bretherton, did some last minute shopping but was knocked down as she crossed West Derby Road heading for her home in Schomberg Street. The vehicle that struck her was a taxi cab with two passengers inside and was being driven by 61 year old William Herbert Watts, who immediately pulled over. 

The police were sent for and Watts was taken into custody, where a doctor deemed him as unfit to have proper control over a vehicle. By the time he was fit to be interviewed, he had little recollection of what had happened. The passengers, one of whom had arrived at Lime Street on a train from London, said that earlier in the journey he had mounted a pavement and nearly collided with oncoming traffic whilst overtaking a tramcar.

Martha, who was 71, remained in hospital for five weeks with fractures to her leg, arm, jaw and a haemorrhage. She passed away as a result of her injuries on 30th January 1953. Watts, who had already been remanded on bail charged with drink driving and dangerous driving was rearrested and placed before the magistrates court charged with manslaughter. He was remanded on bail again, but this time with a surety of £20.

At the Liverpool Assizes on 2nd April, Watts pleaded not guilty to the charge. Rose Heilbron Q.C. prosecuting told the court that on getting out of the taxi Watts was unsteady on his feet and smelt of drink. In his own evidence, Watts claimed that Martha had dashed from the pavement in front of his taxi and he could do nothing to avoid her. However he was fond guilty of manslaughter, with the charges of drink driving and dangerous driving remaining on file. 

As he was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for fifteen years, Watts was told by Mr Justice Cassells "You drove your taxicab when You were not fit to drive, and unfit to keep up with the ordinary happenings on the road. It is a pity that you, with your long experience of driving, should have indulged as you must have done in order to get into that state. By your conduct an elderly woman has had her life brought to an end. The court cannot, pass lightly over such conduct."

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Cab Drivers Death Over Fare Argument

A cab driver died when he was poked in the eye following an argument over a fare, but the three year jail sentence for his attacker was reduced on appeal. 

On the evening of 12th May 1913 cab driver Sydney Macdonald was waiting for a fare by the Adelphi Hotel when he got into a verbal argument with Thomas Sykes, a 45 year old office clerk. Witnesses differed with their versions of what happened, but it was agreed that Macdonald ended up with a laceration in his eye caused by Sykes' umbrella. 

Macdonald, who was aged 28 and lived at 4 Dorset Avenue in Tuebrook, was taken to the Royal Infirmary for treatment on the cut. His vision was unaffected but the following day he began to suffer from delirium tremens and two days later he was uncontrollable. In the early hours of the 16th he suffered convulsions and died. A postmortem concluded that death was as a result of delirium tremens, provoked by the eye wound. 

An inquest took place on 26th May, where Macdonald's widow described him as "moderate in his habits" and that he had "never been worse for drink." Another cab driver  thought that Sykes had poked McDonald in the eye with the umbrella after he refused to take a fare for two young women. However a bystander believed Sykes was calling McDonald "Flash Alex" and struck him. Under cross examination, two surgeons accepted that drink played a part in the delirium tremens, but that death was accelerated by the wound. After returning a verdict of manslaughter, Sykes was committed for trial.

Sykes faced trial on Friday the 13th June and unusually for the time, gave evidence himself. He claimed that the women were in need of help and that others had pushed him to the front to get Macdonald to take the fare. He accepted that although he had the umbrella under his arm, he had no idea that it had injured Macdonald. 

The jury considered what Sykes had to say but also took on board the medical evidence, leading to them returning a verdict of guilty. On being sentenced to three years imprisonment, Sykes fainted in the dock. The following month, Sykes' sentence was examined by the Court of Criminal Appeal who ruled it too severe and it was reduced to just twelve months.