Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look back at a rape trial from yesteryear...
On the last Tuesday of August 1850 six Preston youths, William Pendlebury, John Leeming, Thomas Whiteside, Robert Howarth, James Fletcher and Francis Reed, appeared before the magistrates at the Town Hall accused of committing a rape upon Catherine Sherliker, aged 15, on a late July evening.
The prosecution in stating the case said the girl had left her parents’ home at about 7pm at night in the company of another young girl named Mary Ann
While in Fishergate they had attracted the attention of Pendlebury and Whiteside who walked with them as they headed towards
Avenham. Although Sherliker also wished to go back she claimed Pendlebury had prevented her and forcefully took her onwards into a field off Swillbrook leading from Frenchwood to Walton.
The girl claiming that, when there, Whiteside assisted Pendlebury in throwing her down before both criminally assaulted her. Catherine Sherliker then told the court that after her ordeal with Pendlebury and Whiteside she attempted to run away but Pendlebury had chased after her and thrown her to the ground again.
At that point other young men had appeared and while she was held by her hands and feet Whiteside, Pendlebury and up to eight others violated her. While certain that Leeming, a married man, and Joseph Harrison, who had since absconded, were among her attackers she could not be sure of the identity of the others.
When her ordeal ended she had made her way home and told her mother she felt poorly, but did not tell her of the events until the following Monday and the doctor was only called for a week later. In all she had been confined to her bed for three weeks and claimed she was too ashamed and afraid to tell of her ordeal.
After the admission of further evidence it was concluded that there was nothing to incriminate Howarth, Fletcher and Reed who it seems had been implicated by statements from other lads questioned.
After legal discussions it was agreed they should be discharged.
Before Reed left court he was called as a witness and he described having seen about eight youths gathered around Sherliker and that Whiteside and Pendlebury were among them.
When Mary Ann Wilcock was called she told the court she had met Sherliker again at the top of Swillbrook at about 10pm that evening and she seemed quite composed and not crying. Then she stated that the following night she had gone to her house and Sherliker was laughing and talking as if she had been suited.
After considering all the evidence Whiteside, Pendlebury and Leeming were committed for trial at the Liverpool Assizes in mid-
They, along with the newly accused Joseph Harrison, appeared before Mr Baron Alderson accused of feloniously assaulting and ravishing Catherine Sherliker. In defence of the accused their representative Mr Pollock contended that the girl was a consenting party.
After a lengthy hearing it was stated that the details were of a disgusting nature and unfit for publication. The jury after a short consultation returned a not guilty verdict and the prisoners were set at liberty.