Tuesday 29 November 2022

Homicide Charge in Venezuela

In 1927 a ship's captain from Liverpool spent a horrifying two months in a Venezuelan prison. He had been charged with homicide after his vessel collided with another, leading to the death of a crew member.  

On 7th April that year Percy Brining was in command of the Leyland liner Ninian, which was being escorted by a pilot into the port of Puerta Cabella. The Ninian collided with a smaller mooring boat, injuring three men. Brining was taken into custody with the matter initially expected to be settled by way of compensation. At first Brining was under house arrest at the residence of the British consul, however he was sent to a common prison five days later when one of the men, who had been struck by a propeller, died.  Although he was provided with furniture by the consulate, the stench was overwhelming and he regularly saw prisoners whipped or dragged along by chains attached to their feet. 

Fifty year old Brining had been with the Leyland Line for twenty four years, thirteen of them as a captain. Working with the Navigators and General Insurance Company, steps were taken to ensure he had the best possible defence. However it was feared he may be on remand for up to five years awaiting trial. Pressure to secure his release on bail was put on the Foreign Office by Liverpool's Lord Mayor Sir Frederick Charles Bowring, while the matter was also raised in the House of Commons. Six weeks after his arrest, his wife was worried sick at her home 14 Harlech Road, Blundellsands, having still not heard any direct news from him.

By the middle of June the Leyland Line's insurers had paid compensation of £240 to the widow of the deceased man. Brining was released back to the British consul's house to remain there until a decision had been made on any charges. Although prosecutors pressed ahead with the homicide case, at the beginning of July a judge did not take long to acquit Brining, allowing him to leave the country. His ordeal was finally over on 2nd August when he left for Europe on a French steamer. Much of the fifteen day voyage was spent receiving treatment for sores which had developed due to lack of clean air or exercise. Two weeks later he had a tearful reunion with his wife in St Nazaire. He told a Liverpool Echo reporter that he daren't use the exercise due to the number of 'cut throats' who walked there. 

On Saturday 20th August Brining finally arrived in Liverpool. His sense of duty meant he reported for work at his employer's James Street offices on the following Monday, where he was promptly given three months holiday to get over his ordeal. The Foreign Office continued to fight on his behalf, believing his ordeal was a dangerous precedent to other mercantile seamen. Two years later he was given £500 in compensation, after funds were received from the Venezuelan government 

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