Ford, Sidney

Ford, Sidney           1889 March 30th              Redlynch


Verdict of Manslaughter Against the Parents

In the schoolroom at Redlynch on Monday afternoon a case of shocking neglect of a child named Sidney Arthur Ford (son of Charles and Ann Ford) who died on Saturday last, was inquired into by Mr R A Wilson, Coroner. Mr J T Atkey was foreman of the jury.

The Coroner said that they had met to inquire into the cause of the death of the child. He need only say to them now that of course they would only return a verdict in accordance with the evidence which they had brought before them that day, and they would not take any heed of anything they might have heard before from outside talk in the village. They had to view the body, but he directed the doctors to make a post mortem examination, and they were not quite ready yet. They told him that they would send down in ten minutes or a quarter of an hour.

When a short time had elapsed the jury proceeded to the house to see the body, which presented a shocking spectacle. It was dreadfully emaciated, and on certain portions there were large wounds.

The jury having returned to the schoolroom the evidence was taken.


PC Grant, stationed at Redlynch, said that he saw the father of the child on Saturday morning and he told him that the child was dead. He stated that it died about five o’clock that morning. It was, he said, taken ill between 12 and one o’clock. He thought it would get better, or he would have sent for the doctor. Witness went and saw the child, and proceeded to Dr Whiteley, who returned with him, and witness was present when the doctor examined the child. The child was lying on its back in bed on a moderate sized bedstead downstairs, in the living room. It was in a very dirty state. In fact, it was offensive for any person to stand beside it. There was an old dirty towel or something of that description tied round he child’s loins. Dr Whiteley asked the mother when she changed the child, and she replied that she did so that morning. What was tied round the loins was removed and he saw that there was an accumulation of filth. The father of the child was a carpenter. Witness did not think that he was in constant work at present. Witness was in the cottage about a week ago. The child was then sitting in a chair by the fire.

The Coroner : Have you ever heard that the child was neglected before? I have had no complaints about it. This was the child for neglecting which the mother was prosecuted once before.

Do you know that? Yes, sir, I was stationed here then, sir.

The mother was summoned, you say? Yes, sir.

How long ago? About five years ago, sir, I believe. I would not be certain about the date.

Did the father or mother say anything on Saturday about the child, as to its being ill long or anything? No, sir.

John Ford, shoemaker, living next door to the father of the deceased, said that he had seen the child at times. He thought he last saw it about a month of five weeks ago. It was put up in a chair in a pigstye. He supposed that they put it out for a little air and for it to see people go up and down.

The Coroner : It was then in a chair? Yes, sir.

In the pigstye did you say? Yes, sir.

Were the pigs there? No, sir, I don’t believe so.

Were you close to him? I was working in the garden. He (the child) was comfortably sucking his thumb.

Did you ever go into the house? No, sir.

Do you know anything about the treatment of this child? I do a little.

Tell me what you do know. — I know the woman had been away days and days when her husband has been at work at Charcot and left the children from morning to night.

Do you know how old this child was? I think it was eight years old, sir.

And what was the matter with the child? Always a cripple, sir.

There are other children? Yes, sir. There are five more.

Are they older or younger? One younger. All the rest are older. I think the eldest is about 20 or 21 – 20 last birthday, I suppose.

You were not on good terms, were you? Not very good, sir, but nothing to do with that.

You say that the wife used to go away? Yes, sir, from morning till night, go away as far Landford, Hamptworth, and Whiteparish, all round the country, I don’t know where, sir.

Did she lock up the cottage? No, sir ; there was a boy. I don’t know exactly his age. She left it in his charge, generally, and he would go away to play and the children were left to themselves. I have known her on Saturday night when her husband was gone to town, stand and threaten what she would do with them if they didn’t shut up their crying.

Did you ever hear this particular child complain of want of food? Not much in my presence. I do not think he wanted for much if the other boys were there, because they served him with it.

You never heard the boy, when you were living next door, cry out for food? No, sir, I did not myself.

And you do not know whether he was kept from food? I don’t believe he was, sir.

The witness (who is brother to the father of deceased) said he thought the father of the child had been out of work since Christmas but had been doing little jobs at home.

Barbara Smith, wife of William Smith, an engineer, said that she lived directly opposite Charles Ford. She used to see this child sit outside in the garden under the apple trees.

The Coroner : What, in fine weather? Yes, and when it has been bitterly cold – cold wind.

Have you ever spoken to him? Yes, several times.

Has he said anything to you? No, he has not said anything to me at all. I could never get him to answer any questions I put to him.

Then what do you know about him? I know that his mother has neglected him by being about the roads and the streets so much.

He has never made any complaint to you? I have heard him in the garden sitting and crying for something to eat and I have taken or sent him something.

How long ago was that? In the autumn. Never when the father was about.

More than once have you heard him? O yes! many times.

When you took it? He would take it and eat it as if he was hungry, but I think his father always fed him in the morning before he went away to work, and I think the children would give him anything.

Did the father come home every night? Yes.

Is there else you know? I have heard him cry “mother” when a dog or something has disturbed him, and I have sent one of my children to lift him indoors when there was anything about.

Have you ever spoken to the father? O yes, several times, and of course he said he could not help it, he was not always at home to see to it. I spoke to him about it a few days ago and he told me that he had thoroughly washed the child and given it a bath.

It was a child that could talk properly? O yes! It had all its faculties in that way.

But it was a cripple? It had no feet.

You never said anything to the mother? I have talked to her several times, but only got an impertinent answer.

Eliza Ford, wife of William Ford, said that Charles Ford was her husband’s brother. She had not seen the little boy since July until last Saturday, after he was dead. She found him in a very dreadful state.

Matilda Ford, wife of John Ford, said that she saw the child about 2 months ago sitting out in a chair. Witness lived next door to Charles Ford. She had not been in the house of the latter for 13 months, but could see and hear the children pretty plainly.

The Coroner : You say you saw the child in a chair? Yes sir.

Did you speak to it? No. I did not speak to it. It looked about as usual, pretty cheerful.

Have you ever heard him cry out? I have heard him cry a great many times when the father has not been at home.

What for? I don’t know particularly what for, but it was because he was left alone a great many times.

The Coroner asked the witness whether she had heard the child cry out for food. The witness replied that she had not heard him cry out for food lately, but she expressed an opinion that some time ago he used to be hungry, and on being asked how she knew that he was so, she replied, “Because when I gave him food he ate it.” Asked how long ago that was she said, “I suppose it is nine months.”

The Coroner : Do you think he was taken proper care of? I am sure he was not by the mother.

Why? The woman was always away and he was left in the care of a boy, and he (the elder boy) would like to run and play with the rest.

Did she go out to work? I don’t think so, I know she was “on the wander for drink.”

A Juryman : Did you know the child was ill long? I did not know the child was worse until I heard of its death, but I have said to my husband, “We don’t hear the poor little boy much; it is so quiet.”

George W Whiteley, medical practitioner, said that on Saturday morning about 11 o’clock he was sent for by the father of the child. The father said that the child was dead, and he wished him to come and see it. About 12 months ago witness attended the child for an attack of inflammation of the lungs. Witness went on Saturday to the house. On arriving he found the child dead. It was lying on the bed in the living room downstairs, covered over with a sheet. On taking off the sheet he found the child on its right side with its arms crossed over its chest. The body was slightly warm. On examining it he found that there had been a clean night-dress put over a dirty one. Witness took both off and found a diaper folded over the buttocks. He removed the linen and found a large slough wound extending over the whole of the buttocks. The left thigh bone was bare. There was also a dirty bandage wrapped round the left foot he thought it was the left foot. He removed the bandage and found a large slough wound. Several of the bones of the ankle joint were visible. The child was very much emaciated. The bed was in a filthy condition and the stench was horrible.

The Coroner : Did anything pass? I said to the mother, “Didn’t it suggest itself to you to send for a doctor to see your child?” She said she was not aware the child was in that state.

Proceeding, the witness stated that he made a post mortem examination that (Monday) afternoon in conjunction with Dr Kelland, and he gave the details thereof. The body was much emaciated. There were no bruises or other marks of violence. There was a large slough wound over the sacrum and buttocks. The head of the left hip bone was expressed. A large slough wound over the outer ankle of the left foot, exposing some of the bones. A commencing slough wound on the outer ankle of the right foot. On the removal of the skull cap the membrane of the brain healthy. The brain substance was pale, but free from disease. Chest: A good deal of fluid in the pericardium, The heart itself healthy. The lung contained evidence of previous inflammation. The stomach contained a little frothy mucus. The organ was pale and there was no congestion. There was no trace of food in it. A little dark fluid, grumous, in the large intestine, and only some semi-fluid mucus in the small intestine. The liver large, pale and friable. Spleen and kidneys healthy.

The Coroner : What is your opinion as to the cause of death? The cause of death was exhaustion brought on by the large slough wound and the want of proper and sufficient nourishment.

A Juryman : Was the child capable of taking nourishment? Taking it in small quantities. Before its death probably the child was greatly reduced by the discharge from these large wounds.

The Coroner : Is it your opinion that if medical aid had been called in the child’s life would have been prolonged? Decidedly.

Then I may take it on the contrary that you are of opinion that the not calling in of medical assistance accelerated death? Yes.

The witness afterwards said that there was a contraction of the knee joint and the thighs were contracted and drawn up to the stomach, which would necessarily cause the child to sit on its buttocks. Walking was quite impossible.

A Juryman : How long do you think the wound on the buttocks existed? Two or three months.

It was curable, I suppose? It was preventable in the first place with proper care.

The witness stated that the wound on the child’s ankle was caused by the club feet and constant pressure. If proper attention had been given the wound would have been prevented.

A Juryman : Was there any trace of port wine in the stomach? None.

Another Juryman : Did the wounds originate by neglect or did they start in any other way? There was a tendency to these wounds, but with proper nourishment and care they would not have developed.

Did it want special food? It was a delicate child. Ordinary food for a child of that age would have been quite sufficient.

Another Juryman : There were no traces of any food? No traces in the stomach.

Questioned as to his visits to the child about 12 months ago, Mr Whiteley said that he visited it several days. It was, he said, “always in this sort of half-starved state.” In answer to another question the witness said he believed the child was operated on once or twice, but the deformity was very great.

James Kelland, medical practitioner, of Salisbury, confirmed what Mr Whiteley said as to the filthy state of the bed in which the child was lying. He also confirmed the evidence of the previous witness as regards the post mortem examination.

The Coroner : What do you attribute death to? I could see no sufficient disease of any external organs to account for death. The extreme emaciation and complete absence of any fat over the body, with the absence of food in the stomach, and the large sloughing sores lead me to say that the child had died from exhaustion from bed sores through general neglect and possibly want of food. I say “possibly” because it might have been in such a feeble state of health for some time that it could take but very little.

The Coroner : Are you of opinion from what you have seen that if medical aid had been called in life would have been prolonged? I am of that opinion.

The witness stated that the poor condition in which the child was had a great deal to do with the sores progressing from bad to worse.

A Juryman : You think the sores had been neglected? O! Very much.

Another juryman : Do you think with proper attention to the sores the child would have recovered without medical aid? O Yes! I think if the child had been kept clean and the wounds dressed and it had sufficient food it would probably have been alive and pretty well without medical aid.

The foreman of the jury suggested that the mother of the child should be questioned.

The Coroner said that if the father and mother chose to volunteer a statement about it, he should take it, of course. He did not ask them to be examined, as the question resolved itself into one of criminal neglect. If they chose to volunteer any statement to the jury or him he had no objection to take it. Addressing the parents of the child Mr Wilson told them that he thought they had better not say anything.

Having done so, he addressed the jury. It was, he said, a very distressing case. Of course, as they very well knew, it was the duty of every parent to provide adequate food and clothing, and medical aid for their children. In fact by the common law that had been so since any laws were made at all. If parents neglected children of tender age and thereby caused death they were guilty of manslaughter or murder as the case might be. The law placed on the father or parents the duty of providing, according to his ability, all that was reasonably necessary to a child, including medical aid, if needed. He would read over the evidence they had received and then leave it to them to say whether the evidence warranted the conclusion that the father and mother neglected this child either by not giving sufficient food or by leaving it in such a state that it got worse and worse, and they never got any medical aid. If they thought the evidence warranted that conclusion then it appeared to him that the parents were guilty of manslaughter.

If on the other hand they did not think that the evidence was sufficient of course they would simply return a verdict in accordance with the medical testimony – what they called an open verdict, that the child died from exhaustion brought on by bad sores. Nobody seemed to have ever gone into the cottage to say as to whether this poor child had sufficient food or not. They could not expect poor people or working people when a child was very sick to be able to give the necessary stimulating things that other people had; nevertheless, if they were not able to afford it they must go to the poor law, which would assist them. In the same way in regard to a medical man it would be no answer to say he could not afford one. He could have gone to the poor law and asked for a doctor to be sent. They did not seem to have taken any trouble about the matter at all. Having referred to the evidence at length the Coroner, addressing the jury, said they must be satisfied that it showed not only neglect of reasonable care but that the neglect had the effect of shortening life. With regard to the relative position of the father and mother the law said that frequently the wife was supposed to be acting under the coercion and dominion of her husband, and if in this case it had been shown that in this neglect she was acting by the authority of the husband, or by his orders probably she would not be criminally liable; but if on the other hand she was active in the neglect herself – which appeared very much to be so in this case – she would be so. Still it did not take away the duty of the father to over look and see that his wife did her duty as well as himself, and therefore, if they considered that they were guilty and that their conduct had the effect of accelerating death, and they found them guilty of manslaughter he did not see how they could find the wife guilty without the husband. They both appeared to him to be equally liable.

The jury consulted in private for about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, and when they had come to a decision the Coroner and others re-entered the room. The Coroner, addressing the jury, said, “What do you say caused the death of this child?”

The Foreman : In accordance with the medical evidence we have found a verdict of manslaughter against the parents.

A brother of the deceased child was asked how old the latter was and he stated that he was a little over seven.

Supt Stephens subsequently apprehended the parents and they were brought to Salisbury.


The Prisoners Before the Magistrates

Yesterday (Thursday) morning Charles Ford and Anne Ford were brought up at the County Police Court, Salisbury, before the Earl of Pembroke and Mr F C Fowle, charged with the manslaughter of their child Sidney Arthur Ford. The prisoners had been in prison since their apprehension on Monday.

The evidence was chiefly a repetition of that give at the inquest ; but a few particulars were mentioned.

PC Grant said that Charles Ford, the father, told him that the child was born on the 7th July 1882. After the death of the child Charles Ford said he had done all he could for the child. He got port wine for him at Mr Dunmore’s at Downton.

The case had been on about half-an-hour when Mr H Fulton came into the court and said he had just been asked to defend the man. He thought he ought to have some legal assistance because witnesses should be cross-examined now. Another engagement prevented him attending there but if the Bench would adjourn for a little while he would see what he could do. Mr Fulton left the court and on returning about five minutes afterwards he said Mr G Nodder would attend for him and defend the man.

John Ford, brother of the male prisoner, now qualified his statement about the pig-stye, explaining that it was in a shed leading into the pig-stye that the child was put on one occasion. Witness had seen the child left out in the orchard in very rough weather, when both parents were away. The child, who was unable to move, often cried to be taken in. The man was away at Charcot to work; but the woman was in the habit of begging for this crippled child and spending the money on drink. He had seen her beastly drunk. He had known the woman away all day. A big boy was left in charge but he used to go away to play. Cross-examined by Mr Nodder : The boy left in charge was about twelve or fourteen years old. An opinion had been formed previously by him that the child was being ill-treated, but not by the father. The child was put in the orchard and on fine days. He did not consider the putting of the child in the pig-stye an act of cruelty. He heard the mother ask the child if it would like to be taken in from the orchard, and it said, “Not yet.” He had, however, heard the child cry several times to be taken in. They had not many quarrels, he and his brother Charles; they were not on bad terms. There had been proceedings in that court between him and his brother about property.

Matilda Ford, wife of the last witness. She gave similar evidence, and the cross-examination was exactly similar.

Barbara Smith’s evidence included the following. The last time she saw it (the child) was quite late in the autumn, some time in October. She had told the father and mother of what she had seen. She had told the father that the child had been neglected while he had been away. He said he could not help it, but he felt grateful for what witness had done for the child. She told the mother she ought to look after the cripple child more than the others and ought to wash it. She had observed the child to be in a very dirty state. She also told the mother she ought not to go away drinking as she did, and that she had no business to sell the food that was taken into the house for drink. Witness had seen her receive bread from the baker’s cart, take one half inside the house and the other half she took somewhere into the village. She had seen her do this three or four times. Witness did not speak to her husband about this. During the week in which the child died she had spoken to the husband about the child. He went into witness’s house on business and conversation took place about a perambulator which she had had made for a delicate child of her own. She wanted Ford to make a cucumber frame in exchange for the carriage, and Ford said if the child did not alter it would never want it. She asked him if the child was ill and defendant said it was not very well. Cross-examined, witness stated that the father was very affectionate and the child was very fond of him. As far as she knew he never ill-used the child. Many times he had told he got food for his child and he had washed it. She had no reason to doubt defendant’s statement. The husband went out early in the morning and came home about six o’clock in the evening. The mother remained out very often all day and sometimes she did not return all night, coming home in the morning in a seemingly destitute condition. She had never heard the other children complain of want of food.

Medical men George William Whiteley and James Kelland, repeated their evidence.

The magistrates committed the prisoners for trial, but were willing to admit them to bail, each to be bound in the sum of £10 and find one surety in £10 or two of £5 each. The brother of the male prisoner became surety for him.


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