Serious Charge against a Conisborough Man – 3. Counsels, Judge and Verdict

May 1901

Speeches of Counsel

Mr Mellor, in addressing the jury, was very brief. He did not suggest that the witnesses for the prosecution, had gone there to commit perjury. They hoped every witness did not commit perjury, but witnesses were mistaken, and the defence, said that in this case, a mistake had been made, and the wrong man had been accused.

The jury had seen the prisoner in the box. He had not denied anything that might tell against him; he had not fenced with the question, but had stood up and told the truth like the honest workingman that he was.

“Good heavens!” Exclaimed Mr Mellor, with a steady sweeping glance, covering every face, every corner of the jury box, “what more could an innocent man do?”

Then he repeated the story of how the prisoner declined to run away when a policeman was sent for, and how he went back to the hotel next morning, and said he did not care a bit whether the prisoner did or did not use the remark attributed to aim, because he was sure the jury would not convict on a remark of that kind.

Mr Beverley sport for 25 minutes. After expressing sympathy with the prosecutrix, and commencing on their evidence as to the attack upon her, he said the serious question for the jury was “Did the prisoner commit the crime?” It was true the prosecutrix in the main recognise him by his voice. That she had opportunity of judging, he thought the jury would agree, because in the garden the man twice made use of an expression which he (counsel) need not repeat.

Coming to what he suggested was really the crux of the case, Counsel commented on the evidence of Fred Lowe, who, he said, was a respectable man, accustomed to the management of a public house, and he submitted that the evidence for the prosecution proved that the prisoner made use of the expression attributed to him in the dram shop.

It was not infrequent that persons were identified by the voice. He suggested that when the prisoner said “Do you think I’ve been committing a rape?” and refused to show his hands, his conscience was picking him because he knew what he had done.

The Summing Up

The learned judge occupied 10 min in summing up. He said the case was of a very serious and peculiar character. Supposing the prisoner had committed the crime it was a very remarkable thing that he should have gone out of the dram shop at that time, because no one in the house could know the prosecutrix had gone into the garden. Someone must have been there, and the crime must have been the result of sudden impulse.

He was bound to say the evidence of the prisoner was quite frank, and he had in fact admitted one of two things which certainly were not favourable to himself. There was nothing to show that the prisoner had been there before. One of the witnesses for the prosecution, said he just knew him by sight at the hotel. If he was not a frequent visitor at the hotel it was not very likely he would know his way about at the back.

The description given of the manner in which the garden was reached from the house was rather complicated, and that therefore, was a probability against the prisoner being the man who made the attack. But, notwithstanding this improbability the prisoner might have done it.

With regard to the observation alleged to have been made by the prisoner in the dram shop, if you used the word, it was somewhat remarkable, but that was not the kind of evidence on which the jury could convict a man of a serious offence. It was possible, having a guilty conscience, he might have said, “Do you think I have been committing a rape?” before any charge of that kind had been made against him, but on the other hand, if he had been guilty, it would have been very foolish of him to thus put his neck into the noose by going back into the house. It was not very probable that if the prisoner had done it he would have made such a statement.

The jury must not assume that because they were four or five witnesses who declared he did not say so that he really did not say so. Undoubtedly, if that was the only evidence against the prisoner he (the learning judge) would tell the jury to disregard it all together. A man might make the remark in positive innocence, without it in any way being an indication of guilt.

With regard to the incident about the hands the learned judge said the evidence was quite as much in favour of the prisoner as against him. In the witness box he had very frankly, and without hesitation, put the worse complexion on the incident himself, and said “My hands were not in my pockets when Lowe spoke to me, and I put them in.” That statement in the witness box did not look like the action of a guilty man.

After describing the evidence as to scratches on the sleeves of the coat as not very good, and not very reliable, the learned judge spoke of the suggestion that the prisoner was a Welshman, and the prosecutrix knew him by his voice.

“Well, I dare say,” he continued, “if you will go into Wales – some of you may have been – you may have heard them talk Welsh, and if a man spoke Welsh there you would not be much stuck with it; if a man spoke Welsh here you might be so with his voice. But we have heard the prisoner, and although he may be a Welshman, I have been there, and a good many other people, and I have heard a good deal of Welsh talk, and I do not know what you think about it – whether you would at once what that man as a Welshman. At any rate, there are a good many Welshmen about her – a good many Welshmen work at the pits in Durham and Yorkshire. I don’t know what you think about it, but I should be very sorry to rely upon that. It seems to me is voice is not at all a peculiar voice, not unnatural, or a voice that is not like the voice of 50 other men work at the same occupation; and besides, there were only two or three word she heard him say that night.”

Continuing, the learning judge said the prosecution had relied upon four pieces of evidence; the remark in the dram shop, the action of putting hands in pockets, the identification by the voice, and the conduct of the prisoner, all of which were weak.

Four pieces of evidence which were equally weak, would not make a strong one. The conduct of the prisoner and be as little like the conduct of a guilty man. It was possible to imagine.

The jury occupied less than a moment in arriving at a decision, and then declared a verdict of “Not Guilty,” and the prisoner was discharged.

The case occupy the court from 10:30 AM to 1:45 PM