Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A Manslaughter Charge

The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders marching through Bedford 1914/5 [Z1306/12/6/20]

Wednesday 14th October 1914: The magisterial hearing in the case of Private John Fraser, charged with murdering Private Arthur Charker was held today. The Town Clerk, Mr Stimson, had considered the evidence and decided that the charge should be reduced to manslaughter. Private Fraser was granted legal aid.

Most of the evidence repeated that given at the inquest, but a few variations and new facts came to light. Private Frank Macdonald said that Fraser drew back the bayonet and put it into Charker’s stomach, whereas he had previously said that Fraser swung the bayonet. Mr Montague Austin, defending Fraser, put it to Macdonald that he and Charker were attacking Fraser, and that the bayonet stabbing was accidental. Macdonald denied this, saying he had been on his knees at the other side of the Fraser, with his hands gripping the bayonet blade. He believed Charker and Fraser to have been on friendly terms.

Private Hugh Mason said Fraser accused Charker of saying words about him (Mason). Charker lost his temper and he went to put him to bed. Fraser drew his bayonet, stood against the wall, and said he would not be responsible for any man who came near him. Fraser was holding the bayonet in his clenched fist and swung it round. Charker stood by the side of his bed about three yards away. Charker sprang at Fraser and Fraser swung the bayonet into him. The next thing he saw was Charker and Fraser on the floor, and Macdonald on his knees with the blade in his hand. He did agree that Macdonald, Charker and Fraser had been quarrelling before Charker was wounded. After Macdonald pushed Fraser aside with the towel Fraswer hit him twice with the trenching tool.

Private Alexander McKenzie said he saw Fraser and Charker quarrelling, and saw Fraser get a bayonet from under his bed, unsheath it, and say he would not be responsible for any man who came near him. Charker made a grab at the bayonet and was stabbed in the struggle. Private Ian Stewart gave similar evidence but added that Fraser had at first tried to get a rifle off the wall.

Captain Lindesay, RAMC, TF was sent for and found Charker in the Colour-Sergeant’s room. He had a puncture wound in the abdomen and was in a state of collapse. Captain Lindesay advised he should be taken to the County Hospital.

Private Charker’s own statement was taken on Sunday. It was done in a hurry and written notice to the prisoner was not given. The statement was entirely in Private Fraser’s favour:
“I am a private in the Cameron Highlanders, 4th Batt., stationed at Bedford. My billet is at Albert Terrace, Union Street, Bedford. I was last there on Friday night. I could not say who was there. I have a faint remembrance of a disturbance. I do not know what time it was. I could not say what caused the disturbance. I do not remember anything about it. The only thing I remember was getting a stab in the abdomen. I think it was dark at the time. I don’t know who did it. I just remember getting it, that is all. John Fraser was in the same billet. I had not had any quarrel with him. I don’t remember what began the row; that is all I know about it. I had been with him in the evening, drinking with him. I left him to hear the retreat. I have no idea what time it was when I went into the billet. I was quite friendly with him when I parted from him”.
The prisoner pleaded not guilty. He said he came in at 9.30 to 9.40, and McVinish was making a disturbance. Sergeant Poulson tried to get him to bed and saw Charker with a cut over his eye. Someone fetched a towel and Sergeant poulson bathed it. Charker told Mason to go to bed and he (Fraser) told Charker he had enough to do to look after himself. Macdonald hit him across the face with a wet towel, and he (Fraser) struck him over the arm with a trenching tool. He dropped the tool and they started to fight. He asked to be left alone and got the bayonet with the intention of frightening them. He did not mean to do anything with it. Charker gave him a crack on the eye, they got up and Charker fell over the bayonet.

Fraser was committed to trial at the Assizes on Friday.

Source: Beds Times 16/10/14

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