Penal servitude for cutting wife's throat

Hertfordshire Mercury, 20th February 1915


At Hertfordshire Winter Assizes William Varsey (19), a gardener, was charged with feloniously wounding Sarah Varney, his wife, with intent to kill her, at South Mimms, on December 23.  The prisoner pleaded guilty to the minor count of wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

Mr. Murphy, on behalf of the prosecution, said the prisoner cut his wife’s throat with a razor and, according to the medical evidence, she would have died almost instantaneously had it not been for the first aid rendered by a chemist who happened to be passing at the time.  The history of this man was peculiarly unfortunate with regard to his association with his wife.

In 1912 he threatened to murder her, and said that if she tried to leave him it would only be between six boards, meaning a coffin.  That occurred at Barnet when she applied for a judicial separation and obtained it.  In the following year the prisoner took the pledge and became a total abstainer, and as a result of his improved conduct his wife went back to him and they lived together comfortably for a time, showing that it was the drink that was the cause of the trouble.

But in the next year he seemed to have come to the conclusion that total abstinence was not a state in which he could continue any longer.  Simultaneously with his abandonment of the pledge the prisoner relinquished work and took to his old habits.  In October last his daughter got married and, in order to protect her mother, she got her parents to go and live with her in her new home.

The prisoner’s habits, however, were too much for the son-in-law, who got him to leave.  After that the prisoner continued steadily in his drinking habits, and two days before Christmas he went and asked his wife for his clothes.  She went upstairs to get them, and in the meantime the daughter saw him go to the cupboard where the razor was kept, though she was not aware at the time what he was after.  When his wife came downstairs the prisoner sprang at her and savagely attacked her with the razor, cutting her throat and nearly severing her head.  As already stated someone was at hand to render first aid, otherwise the prisoner would have been in the dock on a much more serious charge.

Mr. Ansell, who was briefed on behalf of the prisoner, said he was afraid that the prisoner’s position was due to drink and worry and he was an emotional and excitable man.  However, he could not hope to succeed with a defence of drunkenness, because the evidence showed that he was not drunk at the time that he committed this act.

The prisoner, when asked if had anything to say, burst into tears, and pleaded piteously for mercy.

His Lordship said: ‘It is too late.  I shall refuse to be merciful.  I don’t believe in the repentance of a man who has done this deed by his own volition when he could have refrained from it.  It was you who got into the drink again; it was you who gave way to violent habits when you need not have done so.  As for the worry, you have brought it all upon yourself.  I regard you as a dangerous man.  In 1912 you used murderous threats against your wife, and after having, for a period, shown that you could abstain from drink and live peaceably, you deliberately broke the pledge and committed this most atrocious crime, doing all you could to deprive your wife of her life.  I have said that I will not be merciful to you, and I will not in respect of the crime itself, but your age being 50 I will not send you to a long term of penal servitude.  Your sentence is five years’ penal servitude’.

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