Home Crime Violence Mexboro’ Manslaughter Case – Story of a Fatal Fray

Mexboro’ Manslaughter Case – Story of a Fatal Fray

November 1911

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 11 November 1911

Mexboro’ Manslaughter Case

Lengthy Hearing at Doncaster

More eye-witnesses

Story of a Fatal Fray

At the Doncaster West Riding Police Court on Monday, before Mr. J. W. Hodgson, and other justices, James Cairns, pit corporal, of 64, Loversall Street, New Conisbro’ was brought up in custody on the charge of the manslaughter of John Henry Stanton of Furlong Lane, Bolton, at Mexboro’, on October 28th.

Two Days’ Hearing

The first day’s proceedings began at about 11 a.m. and continued while 6-30 p.m. The court reassembled at 11 a.m. next day.

Mr. A. Blackmore appeared for prisoner.

Mr. George White, architect and surveyor, practicing at Mexboro’, produced a plan of the spot where the accident took place.

O’Brien’s Challenge

William O’Brien, miner, 4, Doncaster Rd, Mexboro’, said he knew prisoner and deceased.  On Saturday 28th October, he went to the Albion Inn at Mexboro’, arriving shortly before 10 o’clock at night.   He went in the singing rooms where there was a large number of customers.  He remembered Stanton coming in at about 10-15 p.m. in company with another man. Cairns came in and sat at the same table as witness. Both Stanton and Cairns seemed quite sober.

Witness and Cairns had a conversation about boxing and fighting. Stanton did not take part in the conversation. Some while afterwards Cairns said “Come outside and I’ll fight you.”  Witness said, “Come on” and walked out of the inn, followed by Stanton.  Witness stood on the roadside in High Street. When outside Stanton tried to persuade the men not to fight. Cairns said he wanted to fight Billy O’Brien, meaning witness.  Cairns struck Stanton without any provocation whatever hitting him on the left side of the face. Both men were sober. Witness went away and returned, finding Stanton groaning on the floor. Witness got some water and sprinkled it on Stanton’s head which was bleeding.  Witness remained with him until he died at quarter to two the next morning.

A Long-Standing Quarrel

Cross-examined by Mr. Blackmore, witness admitted there was a long-standing quarrel between him and Cairns extending over five years. Mr. Blackmore: Cairns is the better man, I think.

Witness: He has got too big.

Mr. Blackmore: When he asked you to come out, did you intend to fight?




Witness: No, I didn’t think he meant fighting. Deceased did not strike Cairns across the mouth.

Mr. Blackmore: Can you swear you saw no blood on Cairns’ face? – Yes, I saw no blood.

There had been a lot of ill-feeling between the men for a long time and in witness’s opinion the feeling was mostly on Cairns side.

Cairns said “Come on” and the men went outside. Witness followed on the advice of Cairns who told him to see “fair play.”

The Other Version

Robert William Lawrence, 8, Edlington Street, New Conisbro’, gave evidence. He said he was intimately acquainted with Cairns, having known him for six or seven years.  He didn’t know the deceased.  At 10-5 p.m. Cairns joined his company at the singing room of the Albion Inn, Witness went to the inn at about 9.50 p.m., he heard a conversation between Cairns and O’Brien, the latter saying “have you any money?” Cairns said he had a shilling or two.  After that O’Brien asked Cairns if he had a pound or two.  Cairns said “I might have a pound or two but nothing for you.”  Following that O’Brien said they would go out and fight for it. When he got outside, Witness noticed Stanton who stood just near the causeway. Witness saw Stanton strike the prisoner Cairns, and Cairns retaliated by striking him on the left side of the face.

A Fetching Up Blow

He characterised the blow as a “fetching-up blow.” Immediately afterwards prisoner gave him another swinging blow on the face, knocking him to the ground. The police came and Cairns walked away with a friend. Witness thought Stanton was insensible. Witness tried to render help. The man had been on the floor 10 minutes when O’Brien appeared on the scene

“Out for Bother”

Cross examined by Mr. Blackmore, Witness said there was some trouble between O’Brien and Cairns. O’Brien always seemed to be out for bother.

Mr. Blackmore: When O’Brien came up to Cairns, did he speak in a friendly manner? – No, sir.  It was O’Brien who challenged him to fight.  Witness never heard Stanton tells Cairns not to be foolish. Cairns struck Stanton two blows in quick succession.  If deceased had wanted to retaliate, he would have to be very smart.

Mr Blackmore: when Stanton hit him on the face, did he appear to be following it up with another blow? – Yes, in self-defence.

In Self-Defence

You say he struck those blows in self-defence? – Yes, sir, he did.

From what you know of O’Brien you think that when he attacks anybody, he always has someone to back him up? – Yes, sir.

Independent Evidence

George Baker, steel-hammer driver, of 33, Frederick Street, Swinton, said that on Saturday night between half-past ten and quarter to eleven he was passing the Albion Inn, Mexboro’, going in the direction of the Montagu Arms.

If He noticed O’Brien, Stanton and another man coming out of the inn. He did not recognise the prisoner. Witness was about four or five feet away from the men. Prisoner struck the deceased on the left side of the face, knocking his pipe out of his mouth. Witness picked up the pipe. Prisoner struck again, causing him to fall on the roadway. It was a hard blow. Stanton got to his feet after the second blow. He was struck again by prisoner and knocked senseless. When Stanton got up, he received another blow. Stanton was making no attempt to attack Cairns and was doing nothing. There were “no words” between Stanton and Cairns. Stanton did nothing by way of provoking or attacking Cairns.

If Supt. Hickes: did Cairns offer to render assistance at all? – No, sir

Was Stanton able to get up after he was knocked down? – No, sir.

No Recognition

Mr Blackmore (cross-examining):  Do you recognise the prisoner? –  No, sir

Who were excited? – O’Brien and the other man.

Was O’Brien taken away before any blows were struck – yes, sir

And after that you saw the first blow struck – yes, sir

Who is telling lies you or O’Brien? -O’Brien says he saw the first blow struck –  I say I saw the first blow struck.

The Butcher’s Evidence

William Liversedge employed by Mrs. Beaumont Buter Mexborough said he resided at 26, Orchard St. He saw the affray at about 10-45 on Saturday evening in question. Stanton was standing in the lane, leaning on a bannister.  He saw Cairns hit Stanton on the face, but did not hear anything said between the men.

Supt Hickes: Do you identify the prisoner as the man who struck the blow? – Yes, sir.

Did you see him get up after he was knocked down? – No, sir; he didn’t get up.

Did you see anyone else strike Stanton besides this man? – No, sir.

Mr. Blackmore (cross-examining) How long elapsed between the time you came to your shop door and the blow being struck? – Directly afterwards.

Did you see O’Brien about? – No, sir.

Medical Evidence

Dr. I. Ram said that on the day in question he was called to 17, Britain Street, Mexboro’, and arrived there are 12-15 a.m. on Sunday morning. The deceased was laid on the sofa, quite unconscious. He was suffering from concussion of the brain, followed by a compression of the brain, due to bleeding. There was an injury on the left side of the face and the skull was fractured.  There was a wound on the left ear. In witness’s opinion the injuries could be caused by a blow. There was also a bruise on the right cheekbone.  He also found a bruise on the left half of the forehead and a wound on the back of the head, which was bleeding.

Witness remained with him until he died at quarter-to-two next morning. The cause of death was fracture of the skull, followed by hemorrhage and compression of the brain.

Dr. J. J. Huey, practicing at Mexboro’ gave evidence in corroboration: On 30th Oct he made a post-mortem examination on the body of deceased at 17, Britain Street, Mexboro’. On the left ear were two lacerated wounds, on the forehead above the eye-brow there was a contused wound. There was a fracture at the base of the skull extending six inches.  In witness’s opinion the fracture at the base of the skull was caused by falling to the ground, and the other injuries might have been caused by blows, He was a well-nourished man.

Cross-examined by Mr. Blackmore, witness said the fracture at the base of the skull was caused by a fall and a blow

Other Eye Witnesses

Edwin Francis Birch, labourer, 33, Walker Street, Swinton, said at 10.45 p.m. on the day in question he was passing the Albion In. He heard Cairns cry “Where is O’Brien?” He saw Cairns strike Stanton a swinging blow which knocked him to the ground. Witness went to the deceased’s assistance. Cairns immediately afterwards disappeared.

Supt. Hickes: When you saw Cairns strike Stanton do you think Stanton had sufficient time to strike back? Witness: No, sir.

Cross-examined by Mr. Blackmore, witness said he only saw one blow struck.

Charles Jervis Gibson, carter, of 27 Wellington Street, Mexboro’, another eye-witness gave evidence. He said he noticed four or five men pushing out of the Albion Inn.  He knew Stanton.  Someone hit Stanton in the face, causing him to stagger to the ground.  He was struck again and again. The third blow was sufficient to knock him off his feet. Mr. Blackmore cross-examining: Whatever the trouble was Stanton was the beginning of that pushing?  – Yes, as far as I saw.

When were you asked to give evidence at this court? – A week last Sunday, And I expect you have read the report of the inquest proceedings in the newspapers – Yes.

Supt Hickes, reading the report in the newspapers has not affected your evidence at all, has it? – Certainly not.

Bertram Horbury (15) residing at Hope Street, Mexboro’, said that on the Saturday night he was passing the Albion Inn on his way to Swinton. He saw O’Brien and Cairns putting up their fists to fight – Stanton came between them and tried to part them.  Cairns hit Stanton with his right hand and knocked him down. There was no one in the lane but the prisoner and deceased. Cairns struck a second blow which knocked him to the middle of the road.  Witness heard Cairns shout “I’ll fight anyone.”  He went into the crowd.  In reply to questions, witness said he had a good look at Cairns. He was not hurt.

“He Is Not Hurt”

Insp. Fairburn, Mexboro; said he was on duty in High Street, Mexboro’ the night in question. He saw a crowd in the vicinity of the Albion and dispersed them.  He then saw Cairns. The man Stanton was lying on the floor insensible and there was blood about the head. There were several people about, and eventually Stanton was moved to Britain Street in a cab. Supt. Hickes: What had become of Cairns? – He had dsappeared.

Witness stated that he had visited Cairns’ home at 64, Loversall Street, Denaby the same evening. He was in bed. He was called up. Witness referred to a disturbance which had taken place on Saturday night. Prisoner replied: he is not hurt, is he? Witness charged him with causing the death of John Henry Stanton. As far as witness knew he was a man of good health.

Bail Refused

This concluded the case for the prosecution. Mr Blackmore applied for bail for the prisoner but it was refused.


Cairns’ Defence

“Not A Fighting Man”

A List Of His Battles

Committed to the Assizes

The hearing was continued on Tuesday morning with Mr. J. W. Hodgson (presiding), Ald. C. D. Nicholson and Mr. W. Green.

Mr. Blackmore in his speech for the defence said that the fatal blow was struck in self-defence; and on that ground the Bench would be bound to dismiss the charge. They would have gathered from the evidence that there had been a feud between O’Brien and Cairns for some years, as a result of a boxing match projected between the two parties, o which it was unable to arrange. Ever since that date O’Brien had had a grudge against Cairns and had sought every opportunity to satisfy that grudge. The Witnesses would tell that as recently as Coronation Day there was an attempt engage Cairns in a fight when O’Brien was backed up by a lot of his friends. Was there one single bit of evidence that was corroborated by another witness?  The conversation in the Albion Inn was not corroborated, in fact it was denied, they had the words of O’Brien who said he was only joking and it was for the magistrates to consider whether it was or not. He said he saw a blow struck.


An Englishman’s Right

Many of the other witnesses said he was not on the scene how could they say his evidence was consistent? He contended that Bakers evidence was not worthy of credence. As regarded Liversidge he stood behind the crowd and as he was a little man, he would not be able to see much. There was not a single witness for the prosecution who had told the same story.  Gibson’s was, perhaps a glimmer of the truth.   If they believed one of the witnesses they had to dis-believe the rest.  That meant they had to commit a man for trial on one witness’s evidence.  First, they had O’Brien who went in the Bulls Head Inn and offered to challenge a man to fight.  He went away disappointed and entered the Albion Inn where he saw Stanton.  As soon as he got Stanton behind him, he started provoking Cairns. Cairns was struck in the mouth.  Did they think Cairns was going to stand there and be provoked?  He defended himself.  What he, Mr. Blackmore….

Prisoner Gives Evidence

Cairns was put in the box on oath.  He said he had known Stanton five or six years, but they had not been very good friends.   The beginning of the trouble was a projected fight, and since he had been on very bad terms with Stanton.  Prisoner said he was a bigger man than O’Brien.  The circumstances under which O’Brien wanted to fight were when he had a lot of people around to encourage him and back him up.  Prisoner had had many a good hiding at the hands of O’Brien’s friends and got tired of going to Mexborough, and at last he gave up going.

On Coronation Day he had a “go” with O’Brien   On Saturday evening, the 28th October, he met O’Brien in the Bulls Head.  Prisoner entered the Albion Inn at 10.5 p.m. and there saw O’Brien with three or four other men who he didn’t know. He sat with his back to O’Brien and asked him to have a drink out of his (prisoner’s) glass. O’Brien put his hands on prisoner’s shoulders and asked him if he had any money. He replied “yes I’ve always got a ‘bob’ or two when I’m working.”  O’Brien asked him if he had any pounds and he said “If I had, I have none for thee.”  O’Brien said “come outside and I’ll fight thee for nowt.”  Prisoner replied “allright.” O’Brien went out of the inn as if he meant to fight. Five or six went out.

Prisoner said to Bob Lawrence “come and see fair play will tha’ Bob?” Prisoner could not say whether they were drunk or not. Prisoner admitted being a “bit excited”. There was a fair crowd at the bottom of the steps but he did not see O’Brien.  Stanton shoved his fist in prisoner’s mouth and caused blood to flow. Prisoner struck him. He thought there was a gang of them going to set about him., so he set about him by striking a blow in the face. The first blow was not a hard blow. He then struck him with his right hand; a striking blow.  The prisoner from first to last struck no more blows. He said “Where is O’Brien, I’ll fight the —-lot of them?”  The statement was not true that he had knocked down Stanton twice.  There were some people in the yard and a crowd on the crossing.

“Not a Fighting Man”

Supt Hicks cross-examining: You mean to say this trouble started between you and O’Brien? – Yes, Sir.

The quarrel began about fighting? – Yes, sir

What did he say? – He said he was a better man than me

Are you a fighting man? – No, sir

Aren’t you very fond of using your fists – No, sir only when I am forced to do.

I put it to you that you have fought many a pitched battle with many men.

I have not fought for money

And then you say you are not a fighting man – I am not sir; I work for my living.

Who have you fought with? – My brother Mick.

Is he a fighting man? – No, sir

Who else have you fought beside your brother Michael? – I don’t know, sir.

Public House Bottles

Mr Hicks: (Sharply) – Now come, I want to know all the names; you will not go out of that box until you have told me.

Prisoner: I have fought Prendergast and Jimmy Lang outside the Montagu Hotel at Mexboro’.

Is Jimmy Lang a fighting man? – He reckons to be.

Who else? –  Jack Glennon.

Any more? – I think that is all sir.

Oh there are some more, I have got them down here you know.

You know Michael Kelly? – Yes, sir I fought him outside the “Drum” at Denaby on St. Patrick’s Day (Laughter).

And Davy Gill? – Once, sir.

Do you always fight outside hotels? – Well he struck me first.

You have done boxing at the Skating Rink, Mexboro’? – Yes sir, I once won one competition.

Were there others there too? – Yes, sir, novices

You were the best of them then? – yes sir

And you still say you aren’t a fighting man? – Yes sir, I work for my living.

You say O’Brien has challenged to fight with you many times when he has had a lot with him? – Yes, sir.

Did you go to Mexboro’ very often? – No, sir.

“Don’t Be So Dense”

Supt. Hickes: Do you mean to tell us seriously that the deceased man was not in that public house? – I don’t know sir.

I want to know whether the man Stanton was in the house or not – I don’t know.

Was Stanton in the same room as you and O’Brien? – I don’t know.

Supt Hickes: Don’t be so dense there is a limit to all patience.  Can you suggest any reason why Stanton should strike you in the mouth? – Not unless he was taking O’Brien’s part.

Why should he take O’Brien’s part? – I don’t know.

According to your statement O’Brien issued the challenge – Yes, and he ought to have fought instead of running away.

You remember the lad, Aubrey giving evidence? – Yes, sir

He says he saw the deceased man putting his hands up

I put it to you – is that right? – No, sir

And you say that is not correct – No sir, it is not.

You say you don’t know whether Stanton was with O’Brien that night? – No, sir

Then why should he take O’Brien’s part outside? – I don’t know.

Had you any trouble with the deceased man? – No, sir.

And then, you can’t state any reason why he should assault you in that way? – No, sir

He struck you a blow in the mouth? – Yes, sir.

Had you any friends about? – Yes.

Did they take any part? – No, sir

What gave you the impression they were going to set about you? –  They have been going to set about me before. I have had to get on a wagonette to get out of the way before.

You don’t fight for a living, do you? – No, sir

Have any of these fights been for money? – No, sir.


Another Boxer’s Story

Lawrence Craven, Sprotboro’ Street, Denaby, a miner, gave evidence. He said he had been out with the prisoner, Cairns, once or twice.  He knew nothing of the trouble between O’Brien and Cairns.  O’Brien’s conduct towards Cairns was that he always wanted to fight. On these occasions O’Brien had always two or three men behind him. Witness was in the Bulls Head Inn, Mexboro’, at about 9-30p.m. on the evening in question

Laurence Craven, Sprotboro’ Street, a miner, gave evidence. He said he had been out with the prisoner, Cairns once or twice.  He knew nothing of the trouble between O’Brien and Cairns.  O’Brien’s conduct towards Cairns was that he always wanted to fight. On these occasions O’Brien had always two or three men behind him.   Witness was in the Bulls Head, Mexboro’ at about 9-30 on the evening in question, and when he had been sat down about two minutes O’Brien came in.  He said “Have you heard about the match?”  Witness said “No, I haven’t.”  He said “Have you any money to make a match?”  O’Brien was then partly drunk and his conversation was Not of a friendly character.  Witness said he was talking for twenty minutes.

Supt. Hickes: And though he was speaking in an unfriendly manner, you talked with him for twenty minutes?”  “Yes, sir.”

Evidence was also given by William Williams, Martin Connelly, Samuel Moore, Joseph Moore and Mrs. Mary Burchall.

After a brief deliberation, the Chairman said prisoner would have to take his trial at the Leeds Assizes on November 20th, bail being allowed.