Assault on a young woman at Hatfield

Hertfordshire Mercury, 17th April 1915


At Hertford Quarter Sessions, Charles Matthews (42), a labourer, of Hatfield was indicted for inflicting grievous bodily harm upon Dorothy Neal, at Hatfield, on March 21.

Mr J.H. Murphy prosecuted and the prisoner, who pleaded not guilty, was defended by Mr Ronald Walker.  Mr Murphy related the facts as given in evidence.

Dorothy Neal, aged 21, a housemaid in the service of Dr Lovell Drage, said that on Sunday afternoon, March 21, she went out for a walk at about 3 p.m..  She went along the road from Hatfield to Hertford, and before she reached Burnside House, which is some distance along the road, she saw a man.  She met him between the turning leading to Hatfield Hyde and Burnside House.  He was sitting by the roadside and when he spoke she did not understand what he said, and she did not stop.  He had a stick with him.  The witness did not go as far as Burnside House, and she turned back.  She saw the man again as she came back, and he again spoke, but the witness could not understand him, and went on quicker.  She then saw him coming after her and she ran away.  He ran after her, and caught hold of her coat with his stick and pulled her down.  He then hit her across the back, the head, and the face, and then ran away.  She was wearing the coat (produced) at the time, which had a belt at the back, and that is what the defendant caught hold of with his stick.  She screamed when the defendant started beating her, and dropped her umbrella, which was restored to her by a Mr Russell, who came up about 10 minutes later.  The witness’s skirt was torn, and she saw Dr Upcott-Gill regarding her injuries.

Mr Murphy asked her if she could recognize her assailant in court, and she replied: ‘The more I see of the man, the more I think he is the man who assaulted me’.  His Lordship : ‘Do you mean the prisoner?’  ‘Yes, sir’.

Continuing, the witness said that when she met Mr Russell and Mr Starkey near the lodge at Hatfield Park, she made a statement to them.  The man who assaulted her wore dark clothes with something white round his neck and he wore a cap.

Cross-examined, she said that Burnside House was a mile from Hatfield and denied that when she gave evidence at the Police Court she said the man was standing in the road when she first saw him.

Mr Walker pointed out that in the depositions the man was described as ‘standing in the road’ but the witness maintained that she thought she said he was sitting.  He was standing when she returned.

In answer to further questions by Mr Walker the witness said she did not speak to the man because she did not like the look of him, and she did not make it a practice to speak to anyone on the road.  She admitted that at the Police Court she said she could not identify the prisoner.

A suit, cap, etc. were then produced, and the witness in answer to a question by Mr Walker, said they were similar to those her assailant wore.

Dr Upcott-Gill said he saw the last witness on Tuesday, March 23, about 42 hours after the assault.  He examined her, and found swelling and bruising on the left side of the face, particularly the left jaw-bone, considerable swelling and bruising of the left shoulder and upper arm, and bruising without swelling on the right forearm.  There was a good deal of nervous upset too.  The injuries were consistent with the theory that they had been caused by a stick.

Thomas Starkey, of Mill Green, Hatfield, an engineer, said that on the date in question he was out for a walk with Mr Russell on the Hatfield to Hertford road.  He saw the prisoner sitting on the road-side just beyond Burnside House.  On the return journey, when between Burnside and Sawmill Lane, Hatfield, they heard a woman scream.  They ran in that direction and the witness saw a man’s arm with a stick raised in the hand.  He could not see the man because of a bend in the road, and the hedge obstructed his view.  In another second or two they saw a man in a field.  When they got a few yards further they could see the man, apparently hiding, in the field close to the hedge.  When he saw them coming he got up, crossed the road, and eventually disappeared in a plantation.  He ran as fast as he could.  The nearest the witness got to him was about 60 yards.  He was wearing dark clothes.  About 200 yards further down the road they saw the young woman running away.  She was terribly distressed and her face was swollen.  Her hand was bleeding, her hair ruffled, and her skirt torn.  The witness later on identified the prisoner.

In cross-examination the witness said he did not see who was using the stick in the road.  It was about half an hour from the time the witness first saw the man to when he heard the scream.  He may have seen the prisoner before in Hatfield, and he recognized him at the police station as the man he saw that Sunday.  When he was at Hatfield Police Station on the Sunday night with Mr Russell he heard someone suggest that from the description of the man it was Matthews.

Walter Russell, who was with the last witness, gave similar evidence, and said he took particular notice of the man when he was running across the field, because he suspected foul play.  He noticed that the man had a peculiar stooping in his shoulders, and in the way he carried his head when running.  He wore a dark suit, with a white collar or muffler round his neck, and carried a crooked stick.  He identified the prisoner at the police station without the slightest difficulty.

Cross-examined, the witness did not see the man’s face when he ran towards the plantation.  He had not heard the name of Matthews suggested before he went to identify the prisoner.  He identified the man by the peculiarity of his shoulders and head.

Mrs Prime, living at Park Street, Hatfield, said that on March 21 she was out with her children in the perambulator.  She had a daughter in service at Cole Green, and on that afternoon she went to meet her.  Near Burnside House she met Matthews, whom she knew, going towards Hatfield.  He was dressed in dark clothes, and was carrying a rough stick.  He was wearing a light muffler.  The witness met her daughter a short time after she met the prisoner, and then turned back.  They passed the prisoner on their way home.  He was then lying down by the side of the hedge.  Further along the road she met Miss Neal going in the direction of Hertford.

Carlotte Amy Prime, daughter of the last witness, gave similar evidence.

P.C. Hagger said that on March 21 he saw the prisoner at about 10.45 a.m..  He was then wearing dark clothes, a cap, and something white round his neck.  He was arrested at 10.30 p.m. the same night, and he was then wearing different clothes.  At his mother’s house the witness found the clothes produced, which were similar to those which the prisoner was wearing in the morning.

Mrs Maria Matthews, the mother of the prisoner, said that on March 21 her son went out between 10 and 11 in the morning, and the police fetched the suit which he went out in, later that day.  Cross-examined, she said that when the prisoner came in from his walk he changed his clothes, as usual, before he went to attend to his horses.

P.C. Smith, of Essendon, said that on March 21 he saw Matthews on the Sunday afternoon in question, in Essendon, dressed in dark clothes.

Joseph Welch, a labourer, of Mill Green, said that on the day in question he saw Matthews at Mill Green.  He was then going in the direction of Hatfield.

The prisoner gave evidence, in which he said he lived at Hatfield, and on the Sunday in question he went to Essendon, and returned from there about a quarter to three in the afternoon.  When near Burnside he sat down by the road with his back to a tree.  Mr Starkey and Mr Russell passed him going in the direction of Hertford.  A few minutes later he got up and walked towards Hatfield, and he again sat down against a gate.  Just before he got to the gate he passed Mrs Prime and her children.  Whilst he was sitting near the gate Mrs Prime and her elder daughter and children went by towards Hatfield.  The witness did not come back on to the road at all, for he went over ‘the plank’ over the river and through Hatfield Park home.  He had not got a stick with him, and had not carried one for months.  He had never seen Miss Neal until he saw her at Hatfield, and did not hear anyone scream that afternoon.  He admitted that he was wearing the clothes produced at the time.  He went home to tea at a quarter past five.

Cross-examined, he said that he heard a Mr Titmus say he saw him coming down the drive in the park at a quarter to six, but that could not have been right.  It was about 4 miles from Essendon to Hatfield, and he did not hurry.

When pressed as to what he went to Essendon for, he said he had a young lady to see, but he could not see her.  The reason why he did not come back the whole way by road instead of going the furthest way home was to ‘work the time off’.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty.

Mr Murphy said he ought to call the Court’s attention to the prisoner’s past.  He had a list containing about 35 previous convictions.  Many of them were not of a serious kind, but in 1906 he had six months for causing bodily harm.  In 1909, at the Assizes, he had three years for a similar offence, in 1912 he was convicted of a common assault, and in the same year had 18 months for indecent assault.

Inspector Hagger said he had known the prisoner for 20 years, and was very sorry he could not say anything in his favour.  He had 36 convictions against him, principally for assaults, indecent assaults, and inflicting grievous bodily harm, ranging from 1883.  The witness was present at the Court on October 14, 1912, when he was convicted of an indecent assault and sentenced to 18 months’ hard labour.

The Chairman said the Bench felt this was a very bad case indeed, and the prisoner had assaulted this young woman in a most brutal way.  He had a very bad record, and would be sentenced to three years’ penal servitude.


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