RAILWAY AND INDUSTRIAL HISTORY OF THE SOUTH WEST BLACK COUNTRY
Birmingham Daily Post
FRIDAY, 6th., OCTOBER, 1858
THE LATE RAILWAY ACCIDENT NEAR BRETTELL LANE
VERDICT OF MANSLAUGHTER AGAINST COOKE, THE GUARD.
Yesterday the adjourned enquiry into the cause of the late railway accident near Brettell Lane, on the Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton line of railway, was held in the Bell Inn, Brierley Hill, before T. M. Phillips, Esq., Coroner, and the jury, previously empannelled. Mr. A. C. Sherriff the general manager, Mr. Adcock, the secretary, and Mr. Wilson, the engineer, of the Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton Railway were present. Mr. King of the firm of Collis, Bernard and King, of Stourbridge, attended as the legal adviser of the Company, and Mr. Nelson, of the firm of Southall and Nelson, of Birmingham, on behalf of the Skelding family. The Rev. E. C. Perry, of Copperfield, was also in the room.
The time appointed for the commencement of the proceedings was two o’clock, but owing to another engagement which the Coroner had in the district, it was half past two before the business opened.
The Coroner called upon Frederick Cooke, the guard, and enquired if he had any statement to make upon his evidence, which had been read over to him. If he had, it was his duty to take anything that he might say down in writing?
The witness, Cooke, replied that he had no observations to make.
The Coroner to Cooke: Is your solicitor here?
Cooke: No, Sir.
The Coroner: Then I understand that you have no statement to make?
Cooke: Yes, sir.
The Coroner then proceeded to sum up, and in so doing remarked that after the very lengthened time that this inquest had occupied, and the very great attention which they had been given to it as jurymen, for the benefit of the public, he should not occupy their time by any observations which might be unnecessary. The Coroner then directed the attention of the jury to the evidence of the various witnesses which had been brought before them, and read over the depositions of the witnesses who had been called before them, describing the excursion, the accident, and the causes which led to it, and the various opinions entertained upon the same. This having been done, the Coroner, commenting upon the evidence, addressed the Jury in the following brief terms: Now, gentlemen, that is all the evidence that has been taken before you at this enquiry. I must beg of you to divest your minds of anything that you may have heard out of this room, and return your verdict only on such evidence as has been taken on oath before me. It varies as regards the quality of the iron, but I think all the witnesses agree that the iron is of fair quality, and that the breaking of the eye of the shackle must have been the cause of the carriages separating at Round Oak Station. Almost all the scientific men agree in thinking that if Cooke had applied his break in a proper manner when the carriages separated at Round Oak Station that he would have stopped the train and prevented the collision, and avoided the deaths of the several persons who are the subject of this enquiry. If you believe that Cooke could have stopped the train in the ordinary performance of his duty on that occasion, and did not do so, Cooke would be guilty of manslaughter. It is for you, gentlemen, to consider what is your verdict. You have heard the evidence, and if there is any question you want to ask me, I shall be happy to answer you.
A pause then ensued, and
The Coroner followed up the silence by saying to the Jurymen “Perhaps you would like to consider your verdict with a clear room?”
Several of the Jury: We should.
The Coroner and Jury then retired, the time being now four o’clock.
After an absence of two hours and a half, the Jury intimated that they were agreed upon their verdict; and the Coroner took his seat and said: what is your verdict?
The Foreman: We are unanimously of opinion that a verdict of “MANSLAUGHTER” be returned against Frederick Cooke.
The Foreman also remarked: The Jury, in delivering their verdict on this very important enquiry, feel that they are called upon, in performance of their duty to the public, to pronounce their opinion on the general management of the Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton Railway Company, derived from official evidence that has been produced before them in this investigation. We think there is gross insubordinate conduct of their station-masters, and an apparent unconcern of the highest authorities thereto, that sufficient care is not used in selecting materials required, such as chains, shackles, &c., as to the quality of workmanship; that there is irresponsibility of officials in each department of the Company, from the highest to the lowest, and it is the opinion of the Jury that a sufficient number of servants are not employed at various stations to ensure the safety and comfort of the public. The Jury also censure in the strongest terms the practice of allowing the public to ride in a second-class break-carriage, where the break is exposed to the use of passengers, and unprotected by any servant of the Company.
The Coroner: Frederick Cooke. Call him up.
Frederick Cooke, the guard, appeared, and bowed.
The Coroner: Frederick Cooke, the Jury, after carefully considering the evidence in this case, have returned a verdict of Manslaughter against you.
Therefore you stand committed.
Cooke bowed his head seriously.
This finished the business before the Jury, and the protracted proceedings of the enquiry were brought to a termination.
In the streets a little excitement prevailed. A number of people lingered about the place for hours before the end of the inquest, evidencing their deep interest in the result.