1911 Child’s death by Burning – Open Verdict

March 1911

March 18th 1911. – Denaby Child´s Death.

Contradictory Evidence At Inquest. Jury Return An Open Verdict.

Police Court Proceedings Foreshadow.

Remarkable evidence was given at an inquest held at the Fullerton Hospital, Denaby Main, on Tuesday afternoon. The inquiry had reference to the death of Benjamin Smith, aged two years and eleven months, which took place in the institution early on Saturday morning.

Mr. J. Kenyon Parker, Deputy Coroner, conducted the inquiry, and P. s. Dyson watched the proceedings on behalf of the police.

The child´s mother, Mrs. Janet Smith, was the first witness. She lives at 93 Blythe Street, New Conisbrough, and is the wife of Benjamin Smith, miner.

She told the Coroner that the child died as the result of burns sustained at about ten minutes to six on Friday evening. The child was alone in the house at the time. Witness was in Mrs. Trow´s next door. Mrs. Trow was baking some bread for her, and she went to see how the baking was progressing. She had left the child in the living room. He could run about, and must have got into the kitchen during her absence. There was a fire in the kitchen, but no fireguard . The fireguard was in the living room.

Mother Heard A Scream.

The Coroner : Knowing that the child could travel about, why did you not put the fireguard by the kitchen fire before you went out ?

Witness : I had only put the fire in the back kitchen quarter of an hour before. I was going to clean out the kitchen almost immediately.

When I was coming away from Mrs. Trow´s I heard a scream, and met my child at the back door, all in flames. I did the best I could. The child was wearing a flannelette jacket and a flannelette petticoat. (The garments, charred almost beyond recognition, were produced ).

Had the child ever played with fire before ?

Yes, he was a very troublesome child. He often threw paper into the fire, and liked to have matches.

Have you punished him for it ?

Yes, only the day before, when he threw marbles behind the fireguard, I punished him.

What did you do when you found him in flames ?

We took the garments off, and had him taken into Mrs. Trow´s. Dr. Hill ordered his removal to hospital.

If he was troublesome, and played with fire, why did you leave him in the house with no fireguard ?

Well, not five minutes before, he asked for a piece of cake, and I gave him some, which I thought would keep him quiet.

Mother´s Denial.

P. s. Dyson : How long were you out of the house before this happened ?

Witness : Not three minutes. How long were you at Mrs. Trow´s ?

Not three minutes, she only told me – – –

Was that the only place you had been to, then ? Yes.

Do you know a Mrs. Platts ? Yes.

Were you not in her house when the child was burnt ?

No ; I was there an hour earlier ; but when this job occurred I was only at Mrs. Trow´s.

Nurse Stead spoke to the child´s admission to the Fullerton Hospital. The little mite was suffering from extensive burns on the left arm, the face, and the lower part of the body. The burns were not deep. He died at two o´clock on Saturday morning, from shock.

Bernard Norton (13), of 34 Balby Street, saw the deceased in flames outside Mrs. Smith´s house about six o´clock on Friday evening. There was no one about. It screamed, and Mrs. Smith and another woman came up. Mrs. Platts had nothing whatever to do with it. He saw the women wrap a white blanket round the child. Mrs. Smith and someone else had dragged off the clothes.

Benjamin Smith, the child´s father, entered the room at this stage.

A. Commotion.

Mrs. Susannah Platts, of 91 Blyth Street, New Conisbrough, swore that on Friday evening, about six o´clock, Mrs. Smith came to her house. ” She stayed for a while in our house,” said Mrs. Platts, ” and while there gave me a commotion, trying to borrow a shilling off me.”

The Coroner : What do you know of the child´s death ?

Witness : Well, while she was with me she heard a scream, and, running out, found the child on fire.

Was she in your house ? Yes.

How long ? About three minutes ; no more.

Was it directly after she went out there was a scream ?

A knock came to our door, and a little boy said a little child was burning.

Do you know the little boy ?

It was a little girl, if I may speak. I can tell her name if you like. Mrs. Smith went out screaming, and I rushed after her. I tore the clothes off the child.

Do you swear that is true ?

Yes, a girl came and told her, her child was burning.

The man Smith, the father of the deceased asked the ” Coroner and gentlemen,” if his wife might leave the room and attend to their baby outside ?

The Coroner : You had better attend to the baby yourself. Your wife is wanted here for a few minutes.

Smith left the room accordingly.

Mother Examined.

Addressing Mrs. Smith, the Coroner asked if it was true she was in Mrs. Platt´s house when the child got on fire ?

” No sir ; I was in Mrs. Trow´s,” was the reply. ” And the people who first got to the child are not here. Mrs. Platts did not go to the child.”

Are these people here ? No.

Why haven´t you brought them ? The police have not asked them to come.

Do you want to correct any of your evidence ?

No, sir. I spoke the truth, I was in Mrs. Trow´s.

Mrs. Platts (interrupting) : No, sir, she was in my house. It´s an untruth, your honour.

The Coroner (to Mrs. Smith) : Were you in Mrs. Platt´s house when the child got on fire ?

No, but I was there an hour before.

Both witnesses were asked to leave the room.

Coroner´s Views.

The Coroner, summing up, said : if you want me to do so, gentlemen, I will adjourn this inquiry and have some of these other people called before you. I do not think you will be any better off when you have heard them.

Young Norton has told you what he saw, to the best of his ability, and you have heard directly contradictory stories from Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Platts, who are evidently not on good terms. There is undoubtedly some personal quarrel between them. Which of them is telling the truth, or which of them is lying, is more than I can tell.

Are you prepared to bring in an open verdict, saying the child died from burns, and leave it to the police or the Guardians, to prosecute the mother of the child for leaving him alone and without a fireguard ?

That seems to me to be the sensible thing to do. Of course, if you want me to thrash the case out, I can get you the evidence of all these women that we have heard mentioned, but that I fear, would not be worth putting down when you had got it.

The jury returned an ” Open Verdict.”

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