No one had any doubt that, when William Ward, 54, found James Smith trying to rob him in the Doncaster doss-house where they lived, he furiously threw Smith down the stairs. No one had any doubt either that Smith was dead when he hit the bottom.
The cause of Smiths death, it was said at Leeds Assizes where Ward was convicted of murder on DECEMBER 5th, 1922, was a fractured skull. As a result, Ward, a tunnel miner, was sentenced to death.
But after the trial the doubts began. It was discovered that a few hours before the fracas on the staircase Smith had had hospital treatment for a cut head, caused by falling off a cart. That fall, and not the staircase fall, doctors suggested, probably caused Smiths fractured skull.
Why then did Smith die when he was thrown down the stairs? No one could be sure, but all agreed now that it probably wasnt Wards fault. So the Appeal Court quashed the conviction, substituted a verdict of manslaughter, and sentenced Ward to 18 months hard labour.