A sensitive story next from 1909, which I can’t help but feel there was more to. A warning that this article contains some upsetting content and you should be aware that despite the names being published in papers, I have decided to mask the identity of all surnames.
In February 1909, a miner Francis C of Burnbank found himself on trial in Hamilton Sheriff Court on a charge of assaulting a message girl on the Blantyre Ferme Road.
It was alleged that on 23rd January 1909, Margaret H, a 14 year old message girl from HIgh Blantyre had been returning from taking a message to Priory Pit and between 2 and 3 o’clock in the afternoon, had turned on to the Blantyre Ferme Road to head home. It was still light and not far on her commute, she observed a man sitting on a fence at the side of the road.
This was a lonely part of the highway with no others around and as she walked by, he suddenly leapt from the fence and pounced upon her to her immediate alarm and fright. During the attack, she screamed and struggled and her screaming was prolonged enough for him to eventually run off. Further up the road towards Blantyre, she met some miners who were concerned about the frightened state she was in. The miners were on the way to the pit, but despite this, they listened to her story as she gave a description of her assailant and took time to fetch the police. When officers arrived, she was able to give them a good description and a hunt in the area ended up shortly after with an arrest as the man was charged with the indecent assault.
In court, both assailant and victim were there to give evidence, a tension fuelled appearance for both. Margaret pointed out the man in the court and bravely told all what had happened in some detail as the court clerks looked on with faces more sympathetic that usual.
Then it was the turn of the defence. The main point put forward, was that Francis was not the man, had not been on that road and a witness, who was a colleague of the accused, gave evidence stating he was with his friend at the Priory pithead at the alleged time of incident. Francis denied all knowledge of the girl and the incident and explained that this was clearly a case of mistaken identity, the real assailant obviously bearing some resemblance to him.
The judge agreed and concluded that it would be highly dangerous to place much credence on the girl’s uncorroborated statements. Given lack of witness on her own behalf, the Sheriff dismissed the charge as “not proven”.
I’m left thinking how unresolved this was and how different things would be today. DNA testing, private courtroom appearances, quicker police response and counselling.