Murderous Assualt on Police

pickaxestonefieldBlantyre is no stranger to a party, or a rammy for that matter, but in the early hours of Sunday 16th September 1883, an evening party at a Stonefield residence escalated into argument and quarrel resulting in some disgraceful scenes. Whilst on duty, Blantyre police Sergeant Stewart and Constable McLeod heard the commotion going on outside the party house and decided to intervene, arresting the two combatants. However, the other people at the party were having none of this and clearly taking sides, struck the Sergeant on the back of the head with a brick. When McLeod dropped his prisoner and came to assist, the police officers were pelted in a fury of stones by some ten people. During the pelting, the Sergeant was struck down and stabbed through the left ear, on the left arm and below the chin, with what could be described as a pocket knife. The police, fearing for their lives, and admitting being outnumbered, left the scene and their prisoners jeered in freedom.

In such days before telephones or police radio, the only way to get back up, was to return to the station, where if you were lucky, other officers would be on duty or could be recalled. At the Blantyre Police Station, the bedraggled officers stumbled in to the shock of their colleagues. Thankfully, luck was on their side and two other officers were unusually on duty that weekend. Constable Morton and a young Constable Bruce from High Blantyre were both in plain clothes, but at least were on hand. The four officers proceeded back to the scene of the disturbance and quickly pinpointed one of the people they had tried to apprehend. Incredibly, as they approached the house, directly opposite Mr Scott’s shop, Irishman John Kane was violently smashing in his mother’s door with a pick axe and was clearly overcome by drink. When the police officers tried to apprehend him, John Kane smashed the sharp end of the pick on to Officer Morton’s skull, in two sharp and quick blows. Kane closed in as Morton fell to the ground clutching his bloodied head. As Kane moved in again, he had to be beaten off by Constable Bruce, a man half his age, and armed with only a small wooden police baton. Upon seeing her “boy” being beaten by officers, Kane’s elderly mother lifted the pick axe and made swinging motions towards the officers. The pick was quickly disarmed by the other officers and Mrs Kane restrained, only making John Kane more angry. With Kane’s mother is custody, Kane did the cowardly thing, and ran away.

The police officers saw quickly that officer Morton was insensible and delirious and decided to head back to the Station with the apprehended lady pensioner. Morton needed medical attention as quickly as possible. On the way there, Morton became unconscious and had to be helped back. This task was made more difficult as by now the house party and spilled out into the street and seeing Mrs Kane being led away, the small crowd decided to pelt the police officers with stones. Back at the Station, Dr Cooper asked for Morton to be transferred to the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow where that evening, upon halfway there, he regained consciousness. The cut to his head was an ugly one and a lot of blood was lost. In an ironic twist of fate, reporters later found out that Morton had only been at the Police Station that evening in his plain clothes, to hand in his notice and leave the police! It was also found out that John Kane, some 2 years earlier had been sentenced to 3 months under the Crime Prevention Act for wielding a pick at another person. Sergeant Stewart was confined to bed and apparently better the next day.

Speaking of which, as Sunday daytime arrived, a huge force from the neighbouring village and promptly apprehended Patrick Kane, John’s brother who had instigated the stone throwing. Mrs Kane was released without charge due to her age. Police Commander McHardy stationed at Coatbridge arrived in Blantyre later in the day to take charge, citing that an example of force should be made and attacks on the police would not be tolerated. The report ends with John Kane still missing, but with the entire surrounding police force looking for him.

On 22n November 1883, the Glasgow Herald reported:

Yesterday at Hamilton Sheriff Court before Sheriff Spens and John Cain, Patrick Cain, and Thomas Cain were tried for breach of the peace, and assault by cutting and stabbing. The libel set forth that on 15th or 16th September, opposite Mrs Scott’s shop, Stonefield, Blantyre, John Cain created a disturbance; (2) Sergeant Stuart and Constabile McLeod having, in the execution of their duty, proceeded to the place, to preserve the public peace, and Sergeant Stuart having to apprehend John Cain, the three accused assaulted him and Constables William Morton and John Bruce having found John Cain, and endeavoured to arrest him, armed with a, miner’s pick, struck Morton two or more blows on the head. In the comment of the evidence it was proved that Stuart was five weeks off duty from his injuries, and that Morton’s life was in danger, while he was 15 days in the Glasgow Western Infirmary, and he still suffered from lightness of the head.

The Fiscal withdrew the charge of assault  against Patrick and Thomas Cain, and the Sheriff directed the jury to find prisoners not guilty of Stabbing.

In summing up his Lordship entered his emphatic protest against such a case as this being tried by a Court whose limit of sentence was only two years. If the case which the procurator presented against John Cain was proved, it was simply an insult that he was not tried in a charge at murder. If Morton had died from the effects of the injuries inflicted on him he (John Cain) would certainly have been tried on that charge and it made no difference whatever on the moral guilt whether Morton recovered or not.

After an absence of ten minutes, the jury unanimously found John Cain guilty as libeled, with the exception of the stabbing and cutting; and Patrick and Thomas Cain guilty of the second charge, with the exception of the stabbing and cutting, and not gu11ty of assault with the pick. Prisoner agent, Mr W. Barclay, writer, having stated In mitigation of sentence that they had each been two months in prison, the Sheriff, addressing John Cain, said it was just as likely as not that he might have been tried on the charge of murder.

He, with five previous charges for breech ef the peace and two for assault, in one of which he was found guilty of, assaulting a policeman with a pick, he came to be tried there was more than he could understand, for it was a case which ought to be punished with a lengthy sentence of penal servitude. His only reason for not inflicting the highest sentence in his case was that in the opinion of the prison authorities it would be dangerous to his health, bodily and mentally. He restricted the sentence to one of twenty-one months imprisonment. He sentenced the other two prisoners each to four months imprisonment.”

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