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1905: Boy Shot at Bolney - but was it intentional?

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 06 June 1905


Strange Case at Haywards Heath Petty Sessions.

A peculiar case was that heard yesterday (Monday) at Haywards Heath Petty Sessions before Colonel Campion, C.B. and other Magistrates, when James Alexander Smith, gardener, Bolney, was summoned for wounding Charles Starley, a boy, by shooting him with a gun at Bolney on May 21st. Mr. Lawson Lewis appeared for the police and Mr. H. J. Vinall for the defendant.

Mr. Lewis said the charge was one of extreme gravity, and whatever might have been the act, thoughtless, careless or wrongful, on the part of the boys concerned, there was—thank goodness!—no justification whatever in law for a man to commit such an act as defendant was alleged to have committed.

Buncton Lane Bolney

Charles Starley, 44 Bolney Street, Bolney, said he lived with his grandmother. His age was 16. Jack Chapman was a friend of his. Witness was out with him on Sunday afternoon, May 21st, between 3 and 4 o’clock. They were going home by way of Buncton Lane, and passed defendant’s house. Witness picked up a stone from the road, and threw it at defendant’s cottage, the corner of which it hit. Defendant came out to the road. Witness and Chapman were seven or eight yards away. Defendant asked “Who was it threw that stone?” Witness replied “That’s me.” Defendant went indoors, and witness and his companion ran away down the road towards Bolney. Defendant again came out, carrying a gun. Witness was 60 or 70 yards away when he heard a gun fired and felt that he was shot in the head. When he got through the woods he also felt that he had been shot in the left leg. He informed his grandmother when he got home. Witness was then wearing the clothes produced. He went to the spot afterwards with P.C. Ormond, and was present when the photographs produced were taken.

By Mr. Vinall: Smith asked “Who threw that?” He did not say “Good afternoon” as witness passed the house. He and Smith had been in the same service, and there had been no unfriendliness. He did not see or hear any starlings about. Witness heard the shots rattling round him, but could not say if they were dropping shots. Both were almost together (2ft. apart), and Chapman was not struck. They burst out laughing. Smith had since paid the doctor's bill. He did not apologise for the accident. Although 17 pellets struck him, he did not think he was seriously injured.

John Chapman, boy (16), Mill Cottage, Bolney, corroborated the evidence of the first witness. When defendant came out he asked “Who’s that throwing ?” Starley said “That’s me.” As they were running down the road witness looked back, and saw defendant pointing the gun in their direction. That was just before hearing the report. Immediately afterwards Starley said “I’ve got some.” They both laughed, and went on towards Bolney.

By Mr. Vinall: They ran away immediately they saw Smith come to the door with the gun in his hand. He heard nothing of starlings. He thought the shots were fired at the tree. Witness and Starley were almost close together, but witness was not hurt. The shots seemed to come down from the tree.

Mr. Lewis: The gun was pointed at the tree. Witness had since had some conversation with Smith, but the latter did not ask him to say he fired at the tree. Smith said he wished he had not fired. Starley was with witness.

By Mr. Vinall: Smith did not say to Starley “I am very sorry you were hurt. I was shooting at a starling.”

Mary Starley, widow, of Bolney Street, said her grandson came home on May 21st, about 4.30 p.m., and made a statement. She examined him, and found he was shot very much down the left leg, and she saw a shot in his head, at the back. There were holes and bloodstains in the clothes.

Sidney John O. Dickins, practising at Cowfold, gave evidence of examining the injured boy on Monday, the 22nd ult. He had 20 gunshot wounds in various places, two being on the scalp and 18 on the buttocks and legs, most of them on the left side. Witness extracted one shot from the back of the head. No. 7 shot had probably been used. Witness should say the gun was about 90 yards away when fired. Judging from the wounds, their number and location, he should not think the shots were ricochet shots.

By Mr. Vinall: The injuries could not have been produced by falling shots. The majority of them were skin deep. Defendant had paid his bill. The boy was not in danger, and was all right now.

P.C. Ormond, of Bolney, said he went to defendant on May 22nd. Defendant said “I shot at some starlings. I saw the boys pass through the drive just previously. The shots must have glanced off the tree, I did not know the boy was hurt until the evening.” Defendant indicated the spot from which he fired, and said he fired into the apple tree, 21ft. away. Witness next saw defendant on the 27th of May, when served him with summons. Defendant said “I expected a summons before now,” and then pointed out a larch tree, in the corner of the garden, at which he said he fired. On this occasion he also pointed out another spot from which he said he fired. This was 55ft 3in. from the larch tree. It was yards from where defendant fired to where the boy was when hit. Witness paid a third visit to the premises last Wednesday, and assisted a photographer to take the photographs produced. Witness had searched the larch tree, but found no shot marks. Subsequently examining again, he saw that there were no shot marks on the tree, but he found a litter of branches and two gun wads underneath. They were not there on the first occasion. Witness produced two portions of larch trees cut further down the road, facing the position where Smith stood, and there were shots in them now. He also saw some marks of shots on the right hand side of the road, level to where the boy stood.

By Mr Vinall: There was an apple tree whose branches intermingled with the larch, but witness could not say that was the same apple tree indicated by the defendant.

By Mr. Lawson Lewis: Defendant handed him a cartridge on the 22nd ult. and said it was the same kind of cartridge as he used in his gun. It was a No. 5 shot.

Mr. Vinall then addressed the Bench for the defence, contending that defendant was the victim of circumstances, that he shot at starlings, and that the shots went farther than he intended. Defendant bore an excellent character, and it was beyond the bounds of probability and possibility that a man of his standing should think of taking out a gun and firing it at the lad.

Defendant, sworn, said he lived at the Lodge, Pickwell, Bolney, and was gardener to Mr. Dunsmare. He saw Chapman at the Lodge gate, and asked him what he wanted, but he gave no answer. Witness left his wife speaking to Starley at the gate. He had noticed nothing unusual, and had not seen what the boys were doing. He had not the least annoyance from boys to stone throwing, and he did not hear anything strike the house. The under gardener made a statement to him about the starlings making a row, and witness went for a gun and said “I will settle them.” He had a No. 5 shot cartridge. It would contain from 235 to 240 shots. Witness fired into larch tree about 19ft. or 20ft. up. He did not kill the starlings. The tree was about 45ft. from where he was standing, and the ground sloped to the lane. At the moment he fired at the starlings he did not see anyone at all. After the shot he heard laughter, and he then saw the boys. He saw Starley better than Chapman. He went and put the gun away, and did not know until 7 p.m. that anything bad happened. Witness then met Starley on the London and Brighton road. He said “Good evening.” Starley began to cry, and witness asked him what was the matter. He said he had been shot 17 places. Witness asked him if he had seen a doctor, and he said he had not. Witness told the boy he was shooting starlings. On the following Monday witness again saw Starley, who told him he had seen the doctor. Witness had worked with Starley, and there had not been the slightest unpleasantness. Although he aimed up into the tree, the shots could have struck Starley.

Defendant was subjected to a lengthy cross-examination on the various points of his evidence. He could not say if the story of throwing stone his house was a concoction, but he knew nothing about the incident. He did not know where the boys were when he went to fetch the gun. He did not tell the policeman he fired into the apple tree. The boys did not start running until he fired.

Margaret Smith, wife of the defendant, said she was outside her husband’s cottage, and she saw the boys in the carriage drive. Witness spoke to Starley. She had heard nothing of stones, and had not noticed what the boys were doing. The under gardener and his wife were outside the door. Her husband came out for a pin. Witness heard and saw some dark coloured birds. The under gardener said the birds were making a terrible noise. Witness’s husband said he would settle them. He went and got his gun, and fired up into the tree at the birds. She eard the boys laugh.

By Mr. Lewis: Witness could not say how it was that her husband missed the starlings and hit the boy.

John Milne, under gardener. Sandpit Cottages, Bolney, said he was at defendant’s house. He neither saw nor heard stones. He told Smith that the birds were making a fearful row at the end of the house, and defendant said he would soon settle them. Defendant fired at the starlings, and nothing else.

Isabella Milne, wife of the last witness, said she was at Smith’s cottage. She saw Mrs. Smith go out and speak to Starley. She heard no stone, but heard the birds, and saw defendant fire at two starlings.

By Mr. Lewis: The birds were disturbed! (Laughter).

Thomas Comming Wallace, coachman, Bolney, gave evidence as to measurements.

Mr. Lewis: Have you ever come across these starlings, Mr. Wallace?

Witness: Oh, many a time. (Laughter).

Henry William Henderson Dunsmure, tenant of the Pickwell estate, Bolney, said defendant was a steady, sober, obliging man, and witness gave him the very highest character. He said the small trees the wood would be riddled with shot, a lot of shooting went on there.

Defendant was committed for trial at the next Assizes at Lewes, bail being allowed—himself £20 and one surety of £20.


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