2nd November 1894
A hospital worker stood accused of murder
A gruesome attempted murder took place in St Peter Port in October 1894. It led to another man being tried for actual murder the following month.
Charles Greaves had tried to kill his wife by slitting her throat at the poor house where they lived. Officially called a hospital, the poor house was like a workhouse for the island’s poor, and Greaves was employed there as a painter. His wife worked in the laundry, where he attacked her, before running for the front door. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t fast enough, and was apprehended by David Kail, one of the staff who ran the institution house. Greaves now threatened Kail with the same knife he’d used on his wife, but Kail knocked him down by hitting him on the head with his broom.
His wife recovered, but Charles Greaves didn’t. He was taken to hospital and died from his head wound five days later. Unfortunate Kail was charged with his murder, bailed on 27 October, and brought to court to answer the charge on 2 November.
Tried for murder
Kail didn’t deny that he’d hit Greaves with his broom, but he did say he hadn’t intended to strike him on the head: he’d been aiming for the man’s arm.
But his poor aim and the force of the blow were to make his actual intentions irrelevant – all the court was interested in was the outcome. The surgeon who examined Greaves discovered a 4cm (1.5in) fracture in his skull, which could only have been caused by the broom, since it was obvious from its shape and position that it hadn’t happened when Greaves’ head had struck the floor.
Kail’s advocate referred the court to several similar cases, arguing that while his client had killed Greaves, he hadn’t wanted to – he was simply acting in defence of himself and the public.
After the summing up, the Jurats considered the evidence. One determined that Kail was guilty of manslaughter, perhaps because he had hit Greaves harder than he needed, but the others settled on justifiable homicide.
Kail was thus acquitted.