Pegram, Leonard Thomas
Hertfordshire Mercury, 9th October 1915
Two young soldiers, Charles Arthur Stonell and Henry Charles Want, belonging to the R.F.A. stationed at Widford, who had been in custody for a fortnight on a charge of murdering Leonard Thomas Pegram, a gardener, of Hunsdon, on September 18, were brought before the Ware Bench on Tuesday. The Magistrates present were: Messrs. J. H. Buxton (In the chair), S. Croft, A. G. Sandeman, A. H. Rogers, A. L. Ashwell and R. P. Rhodes.
Mr Harold Harker appeared on behalf of the public prosecutor, and Lieut. Ross, a member of the staff of the 60th London Division, a solicitor, represented the military authorities and appeared on behalf of the prisoners.
Mr Harker in opening the case for the prosecution said the two prisoners were charged with the wilful murder of Leonard Pegram on September 18. It was a case which required very close investigation, and the two principal questions to which he should have to direct the attention of the Bench were whether Charles Stonell or Henry Want inflicted upon Leonard Pegram, a wound from which he died, or whether both of them were concerned in the killing of the deceased. Dependent upon those questions would be the question whether the offence they committed amounted to murder or manslaughter. He did not think that the Magistrates would have any doubt that the deceased did receive a fatal blow from someone.
On the Saturday evening in question at about 8 o’clock a party, which consisted of the deceased, two of his brothers, (William and Sergt.-Major Frank Pegram), two female cousins and a soldier friend, arrived at the White Swan Inn in Widford. At the same time a party of soldiers billeted in the village, including the prisoners and a soldier named Johnson, were outside the White Swan. Sergt.-Major Pegram left the public-house and went to the lavatory outside, where he and the soldier Johnson met. As far as the prosecution was concerned what happened between those two men did not matter. That there was some trouble between them there could be no doubt, a trouble which engendered a considerable amount of feeling amongst the soldiers; but whatever happened it appeared that after Sergt.-Major Pegram went back into the White Swan, the soldier Johnson, and his chums imagined they had a grievance against Sergt.-Major Pegram, and they took steps to lay a complaint to that effect.
The upshot of it all was that a party of 30 or 40 soldiers gathered outside the inn with the intention of getting hold of Sergt.-Major Pegram. He got safely away by the back door, but his brother, the deceased, came out of the White Swan and was recognized as one of the party with the Sergt.-Major. Someone shouted, ‘there he is’, and some soldiers followed him, knocked off his hat, and and chased him up the road. Two of the soldiers who chased him were the prisoners. They chased him for a distance of some 300 yards and a few minutes afterwards, the dead body of Leonard Pegram was found lying in the road. They had not been able to find any actual eye-witness of what occurred, but lying beside the body a glass bottle was found, and the suggestion of the prosecution was that Leonard Pegram was struck on the head with that bottle by one or other of the prisoners.
The next day the two prisoners were arrested. Charles Stonell made a statement to Gunner Johnson and afterwards made a statement to to Supt Handley. In his statement to Supt Handley, amongst other things Stonell said, ‘I saw a civilian come out of the White Swan, and we recognized him as the man that came to the lavatory and called for the Sergt.-Major. Somebody shouted out, ‘follow him up’. I walked after him, and some others followed. When the civilian had got just past the Bell Inn, I was close to him, and put my arm out to stop him. He said it was nothing to do with him and started running. I ran after him, followed by Henry Want, and caught him at the place where he was found. He again said, ‘it was nothing at all to do with me’ and struck at me, but he did not hit me. I went to strike him back, but he fell on the ground and started crying. Just then the bottle was thrown by someone behind me. It came close by my leg and hit the man on the head. Henry Want was a few yards behind me. I became frightened and ran back to the crowd outside the White Swan. I then went into the Bell Inn.’
That statement was read to Henry Want and he then made a statement, in the course of which he said, ‘a great lot of our fellows followed the civilian (the deceased) up the road, including Stonell and myself. Stonell caught him at the Bell Inn and struck at him. The civilian then ran away and Stonell after him. I said to him, ‘for goodness sake, Stonell, throw it up. We don’t want any trouble’. Whether he heard me or not I don’t know, but he followed the man to the spot where he was found. There the man stopped, and again said he had nothing to do with the affair. Stonell knocked him down, and at the time the blow was struck, I was quite 20 or 30 yards away with others, one of them being a man in the battery at Much Hadham. I remained until Charles Stonell returned and said to us, ‘I will leave him there boys; he has fainted as far as I know’. We walked back to the Bell Inn and had a few drinks and a sing-song’.
The Bench might think with regard to Henry Want that he had not actually a hand in the killing of this man. There was a discrepancy between the statements of the two prisoners and one of the witnesses, Stevens, as to what actually occurred. Want stated that during the time this affair took place there was another man (Stevens) with him, but Stevens’ evidence was opposed to that; he said that he was up the road but that Henry Want was never with him. Stevens’ evidence bore out the statement of Stonell, viz., that neither Want nor Stonell went back with Stevens. At the same time Stevens seemed to have been near enough to have seen the man lying in the road, because he said he saw a dark object lying there, before returning to the village.
On the point as to whether it was manslaughter or murder the bench might take the view there was some ground for provocation. His (counsel’s) contention was that the first quarrel was a separate affair and a new position arose when the prisoners came on the scene. It was a position in which they wanted somebody’s blood – there was a feeling of revenge – and that was the feeling with which these men chased Leonard Pegram for 300 yards, and after over-taking him, one or the other delivered the blow that caused his death. He did not say their intention when they rushed up the road was to kill this man; their intention was to clout him out of a feeling of revenge for what had been done by someone else to their pal. If that were so he contended there was no provocation. That being the position he contended that if either one or other of these men delivered at the deceased a heavy blow with a dangerous weapon such as a glass bottle, and he died from the injury inflicted, it amounted to murder and the onus rested upon the defence to satisfy the court that it should be reduced to the lower charge of manslaughter. With regard to Henry Want, he would say at once that from the first he had given a consistent story of his movements, but Stonell’s statement stopped short at the critical point. Stonell carried the story up to the point where he admitted he stopped the deceased, and said nothing as to what happened after that.
Dr.Ethelbert Collins, the Coroner, was the first witness called and he produced the depositions he took at the inquest. He was asked by counsel for the prosecution as to what his opinion was as to how the blow was struck, and he refused to give his opinion, stating that he was there as the coroner and not as an expert medical man. Dr Willians, who made the post-mortem examination, was there for that purpose.
Counsel said he had information that the Coroner was present at the examination, and had already expressed an opinion as to how the blow was struck. He added: ‘When the witness gets before a High Court Judge I think he will find that as a medical man in a charge of murder like this he is expected to to give every assistance he can, and for this gentleman to take the attitude that because he is coroner he can refuse to give evidence is wrong.
The Magistrates’ Clerk (Mr J. Chalmers-Hunt) : ‘It is on the deposition that he was present at the post-mortem examination, so that the judge will know’.
Counsel: ‘Perhaps he will condescend to answer the judge’.
Lieut. Ross (to the coroner): ‘Did you ask Stonell at the inquest if he wished to give evidence?’ ‘I did.’ ‘And did he reply: ‘No’?’ ‘Yes’. ‘Did you then say: ‘I am going to call you’?’. ‘Yes.’ ‘And you called him and took his evidence?’ ‘Yes’.
Dr F. T. Willians was examined at considerable length as to the injuries he found and his theory as to how they were caused. He was of opinion that the deceased was standing up when he received the blow, firstly, because of the position of the wound; secondly, because of the way the bottle would have had to be held if he was lying down when struck; and, thirdly, because there were no marks of abrasion on the other side of the head, as there would have been if he had received the blow while lying on the ground. He did not think the wound was caused by a kick, or that the bottle was thrown at him.
Dr Collins was then recalled, and this time answered the questions put to him by counsel for the prosecution. He was of opinion, he said that the deceased was standing in an upright position.
In cross-examination the witness said that the injury could have been inflicted when he was lying down, but the deceased would have had to be lying on his left side and his assailant would have had to be bending over him. The injury could have been caused by the bottle being thrown at his head, but it was highly improbable.
Then followed the several other witnesses whose evidence has been fully reported in out columns: Albert Tidey, a driver in the Artillery stationed at Widford, who found the deceased dead in the road and helped to carry him to the guard-room; Mrs Emily Thake, who heard someone say ‘Get up you — or else I’ll kill you’, and afterwards stumbled over the dead body; William Pegram, brother of the deceased, who was with him just before the affair happened; Pc Gray, who saw the deceased come out of the public-house, but did not see the prisoners follow him because his attention was taken up with the threats of the crowd of soldiers; Pc Hare, who said the crowd threatened to rush the public-house; Mrs Felstead, who saw two soldiers running after a civilian; Joseph Arthur Stevens and Walter Charles Copeland, artillerymen stationed at Much Hadham, who ran up the road after the soldiers who chased the civilian, but did not see the blow struck, and could not identify either of the prisoners.
Supt Handley stated that just before midnight on September 18 he went to Widford to make inquiries about the death of Leonard Pegram, and on the following day arrested Charles Stonell and charged him with the murder of Pegram, to which he made no reply. Later in the day he arrested Henry Want on the same charge, and he replied, ‘never, sir; never, sir’. They were taken to the Ware Police Station and formally charged together. Henry Want replied, ‘I will reserve my defence’ and Stonell made no reply. On September 20th, Stonell asked to make a statement, already referred to, and afterwards Want made his statement, which had been put in.
William Pegram was recalled, and identified the hat produced. It had a black crepe band round it, which the deceased was wearing for his brother who had been killed in France.
This closed the case for the prosecution.
Lieut. Ross submitted that there was no evidence against Henry Want which could justify the Magistrates in sending him for trial. There was no evidence that he ever approached the deceased or touched him. Any statement which Stonell had made was not evidence against Want.
After five minutes consideration the Bench decided that there was insufficient evidence to warrant Want’s committal, and he was discharged.
Counsel for the prosecution then addressed the Bench on the charge against the other prisoner, and argued that prima facie there was a case of murder.
Lieut. Ross contended that there was no evidence of premeditation on the part of Stonell that he intended to kill, and Stonell denied that he killed the deceased. He suggested that the charge should be manslaughter and not murder.
The Chairman: ‘What about the remark ‘I will kill you’?’. Lieut. Ross, ‘amongst this class of people such an expression is common, but is not meant. A mother often said to her child, ‘If you don’t do so-and-so I will kill you’ but she never meant it’.
The Bench decided that they would commit Stonell for trial on the reduced charge of manslaughter.
Lieut. Ross said the prisoner would plead not guilty, and reserved his defence. He applied for bail, stating that the prisoner would be taken back to his unit and be deprived of his liberty.
Supt Handley said that whilst this charge was hanging over the prisoner’s head it would not be fair either to to him or the people of Widford that he should return there.
Lieut. Ross suggested that that he might be sent to another unit, but without instructions from the commanding officer he could not undertake to say where the prisoner would go. He would prefer to postpone his application for a week.
It was decided to commit the prisoner to St Albans prison, but bail would be subsequently allowed if two substantial sureties of £50 could be found, and the prisoner £100.
The case lasted over six hours.