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The Report of the Trial

The Keep May 2012
The Keep May 2012

The Bedfordshire Times of 20th October 1922 carried the following description of the trial of lance Corporal Baldwin at Bedford Assizes for the manslaughter of Private Wilfred Pickford at Kempston Barracks.

“Arthur William Baldwin, 32, soldier, pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging him with the manslaughter of Wilfred Thomas Pickford. Mr. Richard O’Sullivan conducted the prosecution and the accused was defended by Mr. Allsebrook, instructed by Mr. G. B. Lee Roberts”.

“The story of the case is set out in our report of the Bedford Division Petty Sessions on page 11 [in this it was reported: “Baldwin was a strong, well set-up man, was a bit of a boxer and was not quite sober” as he had downed half the bottle of whiskey in one pull] Evidence was taken of Arthur Pickford, brother of the deceased, George Diprose and Colonel Arthur Parsons, medical officer at the Barracks, who expressed an opinion that death was due to concussion of the brain resulting from a blow on the right temple and forehead”.

“The hearing was adjourned until Thursday morning”.

“On the case being continued on Thursday morning, the prisoner, in evidence on his own behalf, said he had been drinking rum and beer on the 6th October, and drank deeply of a bottle of whiskey in the guard-room. As Pickford came out of the guard-room he brushed against him, and then walked down the steps mumbling “You’re drunk”. He (prisoner) answered “If it pleases my superiors it will have to please you”. Pickford repeated his assertions and witness told him not to argue. Pickford replied by saying he would punch him. He made a swinging blow and he (prisoner) guarded it and hit deceased on his right hand. Deceased then ran away shouting “Don’t Corporal” and he seemed to slip and fall on his right side. Witness walked up to deceased and said “Get up; I only hit you once”. Deceased drew his knees up towards his stomach, and again said “Don’t Corporal”. Witness raised deceased up and his feet slipped from under him and he fell back. When Sergeant Newham got deceased up a “decent” height he fell again, with the right side of his head on the stones. Three of them lifted deceased up, and witness carried him 60 yards. Later he went to deceased’s bed and he looked as if he was asleep”.

“By Mr. O’Sullivan: He was corporal of the guard, and it was a breach of duty to bring spirits into the guard-room. He had been in the Army five years. He was not absolutely drunk at the time of the occurrence. Deceased was about 5 feet 5 inches and he (prisoner) was 6 feet in height, and several stones heavier than deceased”.

“The Judge: Do you tell the jury that this private, who had only been in the regiment a fortnight, struck you, a superior officer? – Prisoner: I guarded it off”.

“Mr. O’Sullivan: Had it ever been suggested to Diprose, who was there, that deceased struck at you? – No, not before”.

“Or that he was taunting you with being drunk? – No; I have not heard it”.

“If you blow did not cause the death of this boy, what do you say caused his death? – I cannot say”.

“The jury returned a verdict of guilty”.

“Superintendent Purser said nothing was known against prisoner, and he had served in France”.

“Adjutant Coe said prisoner’s character in the Army was exemplary, and no charge had ever been made against him. He was suffering from a wound six inches long in his stomach”.

“The Judge said that but for the good character he had been given, prisoner would have had a much more severe sentence. Even with his good character, he would not let it go forth that a non-commissioned officer could strike a private such a cruel, brutal blow, and the least sentence he could pass was one of 12 months’ hard labour”.