Monday, 7 January 2013

7th January 1813: The trial of John Schofield for shooting John Hinchliffe

The only trial held on Thursday 7th January 1813 was that of the cropper John Schofield (aged 21) for maliciously shooting at John Hinchliffe.

Schofield was charged with four counts under 2 different statutes, to which he pleaded not guilty. The charges reflected some uncertainty as to whether or not he acted alone, but probably indicated that the Crown was determined to convict him as an accessory if he could not be convicted as the protagonist.

For the prosecution, James Alan Park painted a picture of Hinchliffe as a ‘respectable and decent’ person (a parish clerk and professional singer) and then set out the events of 22nd July 1812. Park stated that Hinchliffe immediately knew Schofield was outside his home that night because of the sound of his voice (something which the solicitor John Lloyd had intimidated him into ‘remembering’ some months before).

Park went on to contend that Schofield had tried to recruit Hinchliffe into a group of Luddites, and that Hinchliffe had refused, and later mentioned this to others who had brought it to the attention of a local Constable named Blythe. On the night he was shot, one of the men who came to his house said that he had talked about John Schofield with the authorities.

Park then went on to outline how, the morning after the incident, Schofield had fled to London, and that when he was apprehended there later, he started by denying knowing Hinchliffe and then later admitted he knew him well.

Hinchliffe himself was called as the first witness and related what had happened that night. Schofield’s counsel then objected to the indictment on the basis that the indictment did not demonstrate that Schofield had borne Hinchliffe any malice or even threatened him, i.e. that there was no intention on the part of Schofield to shoot Hinchliffe, and that his subsequently flight was not linked to any intention to murder.

Baron Thomson dismissed the objection, saying that the act itself had been malicious, and that it did not need to have been planned. Justice Le Blanc agreed, and said that the Jury must decide at this stage of the case.

Schofield called witnesses to try to prove he was at home at the time Hinchliffe was shot, and then Baron Thomson summed up the case.

Witnesses were then examined: Hinchliffe’s next-door neighbour Thomas Hinchliffe; Francis Freeman a police officer at Whitechapel, where Schofield was taken to when he was arrested; Daniel William, a magistrate there who had examined him; Joseph Scott, a magistrate in the West Riding who examined Schofield on 31st August 1812, and also examined Hinchliffe after he was shot.

John Schofield gave evidence next. He admitted fleeing, but that it was because he was afraid of being taken up for being involved in the shooting, since Constable Blythe had already said to him he would be taken up at some point for his contact with Hinchliffe about the Luddites.

Schofield’s defence had the examinations of Hinchliffe read to the Court, and pointed out that in the one taken on the day after he was shot, Hinchliffe said that he did not know either the man who had shot him or his accomplice. But by the 31st August, he had changed his mind.

Then, witnesses spoke for Schofield. A neighbour, John Jagger, stated that he had seen Schofield at his father’s house that night for a Methodist meeting, and that Schofield and his wife had gone upstairs to bed before he left around 10.30 p.m., an hour before Hinchliffe was shot. Another witness, Charles Barker, gave similar evidence, and also that he seen Schofield at home later around 11.00 p.m. Schofield’s sister, Mary Woodhead, said she had gone to her brother’s home after midnight that night, in order to borrow some medicine for her husband who was ill, and had seen Schofield there.

A neighbour of Hinchliffe’s, John Brooke, said that he had heard Hinchliffe say the day after he was shot that he did not know who had tried to assassinate him.

Several witnesses spoke to the good character of Schofield: Eli Hobson, a clothier; Jonas Sykes; his father, also called John Schofield.

The charges were put to the Jury, and they retired at 5.30 p.m. They returned after half an hour, and found Schofield Not Guilty.

This is from Howell (1823, pp.1035-1063).

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