Child Poisoned at Denaby

November 1909

Mexborough and Swinton Times November 20, 1909

Child Poisoned At Denaby.
While Mother and Lodger Slept. ” Very Stupid Treatment.”
Coroner´s Strong Remarks.

The circumstances attending the death of Louie Howkins ( 3 ), who died in the Fullerton Hospital, Denaby Main, on Saturday, were investigated before the Deputy Coroner and a jury at the Denaby Main Institute, on Tuesday.

The conduct of the two women concerned in the case came in for some strong criticism by the Coroner.

Mr. J. Kenyon Parker, who conducted the inquiry, was about to call Louie Howkins, mother of the child, when the woman took a fainting fit, and had to be removed from the room, Mr. M.V. Simpkins and P.c. Clitheroe attending to her.

The Lodger´s Story.

Eliza Shooter, sworn, said she was a married woman lodging at 43 Barnburgh Street, Denaby Main, where the deceased had lived with her father, Daniel James Howkins and her mother Louie Howkins. The child´s father was a miner.

Witness had been living at the place about two months. She was up with her four-month´s-old baby in the living room all Friday night. She could not tell what was the matter with the child. Mrs. Howkins was in bed upstairs and the husband at work. Witness´s husband stopped up with her on Friday night, and he was at work at present. The baby was crying all the time, and that was why she had stopped downstairs. Witness dropped asleep on the floor after her husband had gone to work at Denaby pit at 5-30. Mr. Howkins came home from Cadeby pit about half-past six, but the children were not down then.

Asleep On The Hearth.

Witness got up and undid the door for him but went to sleep again, and he dropped down asleep on the other side of the hearth. He afterwards said he didn´t hear the children coming down. At ten minutes to eight, witness was awakened, the children being then in the room. The bottle was on the table, and she noticed that some had been taken out of it. When she asked who had taken it, and James replied that he had had a sup, and as Louie had cried out for a drop he gave her some. The bottle belonged to witness, and it contained originally a penny – worth of laudanum. She used it for neuralgia. ( The bottle was produced and the witness pointed out how much it had contained when she last used it ) She had used last on Friday night about ten, and then left it on the chimney piece, although she usually put it in the cupboard. The lad got a chair to reach it from there, as there was one against the fire when witness awoke.

Thought It Was Cough Stuff.

The boy told witness he thought it was cough stuff, and witness called the mother, who said, ” Is she bad ?” the witness replying in the negative.

The mother came down about a quarter-past-eight, and the child was alright till nine o´clock.

The Coroner : Did the little boy complain ?

Witness : Yes, he said he was sick after it.

Did he tell you when he was sick ? No.

Was there any sign of his being sick ? No.

What happened at nine o´clock ?

The little girl got dozy and we gave her salt and water, afterwards ginger and water, and later a pennyworth of new milk. Then she got sick and vomited the milk, after which we took her to Dr. Twigg.

You are sure you have sworn the whole truth ? Yes.

The Doctor´s Evidence.

Dr. Twigg said the child was brought to him at 9-35 on Saturday morning by the mother, who told him she had taken laudanum. He gave her an emetic. The child was not very bad then, although there were signs of narcotic poisoning. She was dozing, and the eyes were contracted. The emetic acted, and the child was taken to the hospital a little after ten, where it got rapidly worse, breathing becoming very bad and threatening to stop. He tried artificial respiration for an hour and twenty minutes. At 12-45 he left the hospital, but was with the child at half-past-two when she died, the cause of death being laudanum poisoning. At the hospital witness was considerably assisted by Mr. Simpkins, ambulance instructor, who tried artificial respiration. The doctor added that children were very susceptible to opium, and two or three drops of the tincture would be sufficient to bring about fatal results.

An Opinion.

The Coroner : If you had been called in at eight o´clock could you have saved the child´s life ?

Witness : I shouldn´t like to say that. I certainly would have had a better chance of doing so.

Did you hear anything about the boy drinking laudanum ?

No, not at the time. I saw him in the house when I went there, and he looked alright then.

Were you told that he had been sick ? No.

The Mother´s Tale.

Mrs. Louie Howkins said the deceased was her daughter, but she was in bed when the affair happened. Witness had three children alive now, aged 8, 5 and two years, and all of them, with deceased, slept in her room.

She believed they went downstairs at half-past-seven or twenty minutes to eight. They were in their night clothes, but they usually went down that way in the morning. Witness was aware that there was a bottle of laudanum in the house. Mrs. Shooter had shouted to her that ” Willie gave Louie the laudanum and had had some himself.”

Witness inquired if the little girl was badly, and Mrs. Shooter answered that she wasn´t. Then the little girl came up, shook her head, and said what ” Willie ” had done. She asked for some bread, and was given a piece. Afterwards the child was badly.

About the boy.

The Coroner : What was done for the boy ?

Nothing, because it did not seem to make any difference at all to him.

Did you understand what he had done ?

Yes, and I smelled his breath, but could not smell anything. He kept telling me he had had some, and that Louie had cried for more.

Did you believe your boy had had some ?

I don´t know what to think. But if he had took bad like the little girl I should have done the same thing for him.

Had the deceased had anything to eat before this happened ?

No, and she only had two little bits when I gave her the bread. She seemed drowsy.

The First Mistake.

The Coroner, summing up, said it was the duty of the jury to bring in a verdict according to the evidence, which showed that Mrs. Shooter used the laudanum on Friday night, afterwards leaving the bottle on the living room mantelpiece. That was the first mistake that was made. People with young children in the house, the Coroner continued, have no business leaving poison about on the mantelpiece, where a child could get to it by climbing on a chair. After that these two children – the eldest of whom was only eight and not old enough to be sworn as a witness, even if he thought it worthwhile to call him – came downstairs ; the boy drank the laudanum, and gave some to the little girl. When Mrs. Shooter woke up she noticed that a quantity – about equal to what was left in the bottle now – had disappeared.

Very Stupid.

She got to know what had taken place, and they all seem to have treated the matter in a very stupid way. Mrs. Shooter called up to the mother, who shouted down, asking if the child was ill. ” Both women, in my opinion,” proceeded the Coroner, ” should have the sense to know that when the quantity of liquid had disappeared, and the two children had drunk it, that the matter was now very serious and dangerous.” At any rate they did not seem to have realised their position, and did nothing until the baby became drowsy, when the homemade remedies were tried to make the child sick. After several attempts, they were successful, and then occurred the first bit of common sense, viz., the husband waking up and telling them to take the child to the doctor.

The jury had heard the doctor´s story. If they took his (the Coroner´s) advice they would now simply bring in an open verdict, and say the child died from laudanum poisoning.

An Accident ?

In one sense they might look on the affair as an accident, but in another sense it was not so. There was a certain amount of carelessness and negligence about the whole thing. He did not suppose anything further would be heard about the matter, but on the evidence they should not pass it over altogether by saying it was an accident. The boy of course, was too young for any criminal responsibility to rest upon him.

The jury returned an open verdict accordingly.

The Coroner : I think that is the proper way of dealing with it.

Both To Blame.

Afterwards the Coroner called the two women to give them the burial form. He asked if the child was insured, and was told that she was. ” You will have to go to the Registrar for the insurance certificate,” he said ; ” and there is no good in going before Thursday. I think you two women are both to blame for this. You ought not to have left the laudanum about as you did.

The women said they were very sorry, and burst into tears.

The Coroner :” I´m not saying you did it on purpose, you know, and I´m not saying you wanted the child to die ; but I think you are both to blame for having the stuff about, and not sending for the doctor in time. You will both realise that. I shan´t pay your expenses ; so you may go now.”

Mr. Simpkins Complimented.

At the conclusion of the enquiry, the Coroner, addressing Mr. W.V. Simpkins, said : ” Mr. Simpkins, you would have been foreman this afternoon, but as you had to attend to Mrs. Howkins (who had fainted), we elected Mr. Milner. I am pleased to hear from Dr. Twigg that you rendered such valuable assistance in the case, and you know ambulance work so well.” The Coroner concluded by remarking that ambulance training was one of the most valuable forms of education.

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