When James Irons installed 35-year-old John Vickers Amos as manager and tenant of the Sun Inn at Bedlington, Northumberland, on January 27th, 1913, he insisted on Amos placing a £30 bond with him as a safeguard against any subsequent stock shortages.
On paying the bond, Amos noticed that Irons did not check the stock with him. He thought little of it until he mentioned it to a customer who happened to be an accountant. The customer told him that stocktaking should have taken place before he took possession: how else could he know what was in the pub when he took over?
Amos realised his mistake, but dismissed it from his mind. Four stocktakings were carried out in the ensuing three months, however, and each showed a deficiency in Irons’s favour. Then the owner wrote expressing dissatisfaction with the way the pub was being run. He pointed out that the stocktakings showed a cumulative deficiency of nearly £46, and said he would
be calling again on APRIL 15th.
Irons had decided that on this visit he would evict Amos and his family and furniture and install a new manager, Richard Grice, paying Amos 30 shillings in lieu of notice, plus a week’s wages and commission. On arriving at Bedlington he went to the police station and told Inspector John Culley that he feared there might be trouble at the inn because of the change-over.
He was right. Amos demanded his £30 bond, and he was upset and annoyed when Irons refused to return it. Police Constable George Mussell arrived and asked if everything was all right. Amos assured him that it was, and in response to a further question he denied having a firearm on the premises. He again asked Irons for the return of his £30, and Irons said he wasn’t prepared to give him another penny because of the stock shortages.
Amos then went upstairs, returned with a gun and shot PC Mussell in the neck, killing him instantly. Then as Irons ran to the police station for help, Amos shot Mrs. Grice in the back of the head as she was about to take refuge in the cellar.
Hearing gunfire, Police Sergeant Andrew Barton hurried to the pub, where Amos confronted him. He asked Amos to put the gun down. Amos told him he’d fire if he came any nearer. The sergeant moved closer. “If you come another
step, I’ll shoot!” Amos warned him.
Barton moved forward again, and Amos shot him twice. The sergeant’s chest received the full blast, and he died within minutes.
Walking to the front of the inn, Amos was confronted by a large crowd. Urged to put down his gun, he replied that it was Irons that he wanted. Then he went round to the rear of the pub and ran off across fields.
Nobody pursued him. Then police reinforcements arrived, a search was launched, and two shots were fired into a culvert where Amos was believed to be hiding. He answered the shots with a shout, saying he was coming out, and a moment later he emerged and surrendered, bleeding from pellet wounds in his head. A large crowd had gathered and they followed the arrested man through the streets to Bedlington police station.
Charged with feloniously killing Constable Mussell, Sergeant Barton and Mrs. Grice, he was nevertheless not without sympathy. The Newcastle Journal noted: “Almost everybody expresses pity for Amos. Rightly or wrongly he is spoken of as a much-tried man.”
At Amos’s trial at Newcastle Assizes the defence claimed that Irons had driven a hard bargain. He had charged Amos so much for each barrel of beer that deficits were inevitable. Then he had turned him and his family out onto the street without even asking if they had a home to go to. As a result, the defence argued, Amos had become so demented that he did not care who or what he shot.
But the judge pointed out that during the shootings Amos had told various people to move away, saying he did not want to harm them. This showed that he was fully aware of what he was doing. Convicted and sentenced to death, John Vickers Amos was hanged on July 29th, 1913.