Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look at a shocking case of police brutality from the 19th century...
On the third Sunday evening of August 1876 PC William Walton was on patrol in Newton Street and entered a tripe shop, the events that followed led to his appearance in the dock at the Preston Quarter Sessions in early January 1877.
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Walton was accused of grievous bodily harm and the unlawfully wounding of labourer James Allen, an elderly man, who suffered a broken leg and was in the Infirmary for four months.
Allen stated that on the night in question he saw PC Walton go into the tripe shop and drag out a man and once in the street began to kick him. On account of this he went up to him saying:“Don’t ill use the man. If he has done anything wrong take him and lock him up.”
The constable responding by saying: “I’ll use thee the same.” Scarcely were the words out of his mouth before the officer kicked his legs from under him, and he fell heavily to the ground.
While he lay on the ground the policeman kicked him violently to the body, and he found when he tried to get up, that his leg was broken.
Another constable attempted to lift him up and he asked him to fetch Dr Rayner. This constable responded by letting him fall to the floor and saying: “To hell with you and Dr Rayner.” Once the constables had departed others conveyed him to the Infirmary.
Both Allen and Mary Wilson, who witnessed the affray positively identified PC Walton as the culprit. She confirmed Allen’s account of the incident and stated that Walton had blown his whistle and another constable had come up and taken two kicks at Allen. This constable telling Walton, who appeared quite drunk, to clear off before the sergeant arrived, which he did.
Despite a lengthy cross- examination the witness remained steadfast with her evidence.
Later Mrs Bickerstaffe of Newton Street testified that on the following Monday night she was asked to go to the Express Inn on Park Road where the prisoner and PC Smith were waiting.
They asked her to go to Mrs Allen, wife of the prosecutor, and arrange some settlement of the matter. Or alternatively go to the police station and swear that Allen had fallen down on the side stones and broken his leg. The constables telling her money was no object. She told them she could not do so as all the neighbours knew she was in bed at the time. These allegations were denied by police witnesses, including P.C. Robert Smith, and Inspector Clarkson who stated that PC Walton appeared sober when his shift ended.
Mr John Addison led the case for the defence, remarking that PC Walton was a man of admirable character, who had always done his duty. Saying that often at dead of night the constables were called to sort out drunken brawls and often a hatred of the police manifested itself. He suggested that the prosecution case was in the most part fabricated and aimed at discrediting the police.
The chairman Mr Higgins, QC, summed up at length and the jury retired for deliberations. After returning once for clarification of the charges, the jury eventually returned with a verdict of guilty of grievous bodily harm. The chairman before passing sentence spoke of his concerns regarding the behaviour of the police, especially PC Smith, who he thought should have also been in the dock. He then told Walton that his brutal conduct was despicable and he sentenced him to 18 months imprisonment with hard labour.
Chief Constable Mr Oglethorpe was determined to see that PC Smith faced the courts. Although he had left the police force and was living in Accrington, Robert Smith was arrested in October 1877 accused of maliciously wounding Mr Allen. At the Preston Sessions in late November Allen told the court that his leg was broken before Smith appeared. In consequence the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.