It seemed the simplest of cases, but it wasn’t. Arthur Beard, a 32-year-old night-watchman, admitted raping and suffocating 13-year-old Ivy Wood at Hyde, Cheshire, on JULY 25th, 1919. He was tried for murder, but his counsel submitted that Beard was so drunk at the time that the verdict should be manslaughter.

The judge, however, told the jury that this defence could succeed only if Beard was too drunk to know what he was doing and that it was wrong. And anyway, the evidence suggested that he was sober.

Beard was duly convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but the appeal court ruled that the jury had been misdirected. The judge had quoted the test in insanity cases, whereas he should have told the jury of the test applied to drunkenness: was Beard too drunk to know that what he was doing was likely to cause serious injury?

The appeal judges therefore overturned Beard’s murder conviction, substituting a manslaughter verdict together with 20 years’ imprisonment. But the attorney-general sent the case to the House of Lords, which ruled that the test of drunkenness was not applicable as Beard had clearly been capable of forming the intention to rape. So the trial judge’s direction had not prevented the jury from reaching a proper verdict, the House of Lords ruled, reversing the appeal court’s decision.

Because of the legal wrangling, however, it had already been decided that Beard would not be executed even if his murder conviction were restored. His death sentence was commuted and, found insane, he was committed to Broadmoor. Two years later he was transferred to prison, and in 1937 he was released on licence, 17 years after his conviction.