Preston soldier had blood on belt but acquitted of attack

The Serpentine Lake at Moor Park
The Serpentine Lake at Moor Park
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Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the violent assault of a police officer...

In mid-March 1864, Philip McGowan, a private in the 41st Regiment stationed at Fulwood Barracks, appeared at the Preston police court accused of a violent assault on P.C. Cottam.

The magistrates chaired by Richard Pedder heard that from the constable, who had been in the police force for four months, that he was on duty walking along the path besides the Serpentine Lake on Moor Park in the early hours of the previous Saturday morning.

He was followed by three soldiers, one of whom he heard say would like to kick him. He naturally turned, and requested the soldiers to go away quietly but instead of doing so they threw him down and kicked him.

He said: “One of them proceeded to take off his belt and they beat me in a savage manner until I was insensible. When I recovered I heard one say that he thought they had given me enough, and they set off running towards the Fulwood Barracks.”

Next called was Sarah Leigh, of Shepherd Street, who said she was near the Barracks wall at 2 o’clock in the morning and saw the prisoner and two others get over the wall and come outside. About half an hour later she saw the three soldiers bothering the policeman. The prisoner was one of them and he had his belt off, although she could not swear he struck the officer.

Dr. Moore testified as to examining the constable and finding a wound on his head, his forehead was bruised, his lip laid open and was unable to attend to his duties because of his injuries.

Investigation into the matter had led to the arrest of McGowan due to the identification by Sarah Leigh and bloodstains found on his belt, although no one else had been identified as a culprit. Corporal Harvey, who was in charge of the barracks room in which the prisoner slept on the Friday night told the court he saw McGowan retire to rest at 10 o’clock that night, and saw him again at 5 o’clock in the morning still in his bunk. This being confirmed by Private Hargan who slept in the same room.

When quizzed by the magistrates McGowan, who had denied involvement when arrested, claimed that he was as innocent as a child unborn. After a brief discussion the magistrates informed the accused that he was committed for trial at the next Preston Sessions.

The Easter Quarter Sessions took place in early April before the chairman Mr. T.B. Addison and McGowan, aged 20, pleaded not guilty at his trial. He was represented by Mr. John Addison who made a very argumentative address, strongly denouncing the testimony of Sarah Leigh who he told the court was a prostitute who had made her claims in order to earn favour with the police. He then called several soldier witnesses who testified that McGowan had not left the barracks that night.

The prosecution case put forward by Mr. Kay was that McGowan could well have left the barracks whilst his fellow soldiers slept, that they had closed ranks to give him an alibi and that the evidence of Sarah Leigh was exactly in accordance with what took place.

The chairman then proceeded to give a lengthy summing up commenting on the serious nature of such a crime against a police officer before the jury retired.

The jury consulted for a few minutes and returned a verdict of not guilty. The result was received with applause which was quickly suppressed by the chairman as he told McGowan he was free to go.