Date: 26 Jun 1940
Place: Hulme, Manchester
Agnes Blears and May Dowdall were shot during an altercation outside the Unicorn Inn in Hulme n 26 June 1940 at about 10.30pm.
A 37-year-old soldier was tried for their manslaughter but acquitted.
He admitted loading his rifle because of the threatening attitude of some men but said that he fired it accidently. The bullet was fired downwards and hit the pavement but ricocheted off and hit Agnes Blears and May Dowdall killing them both.
At his trial the prosecution said, 'If a man chooses to fool about with a lethal weapon and as a result two people lose their lives, that in my submission is clearly a case of manslaughter'.
The soldiers defence stated that whilst it was the prosecutions suggestion that the soldier had attempted to interfere in a fight between two men, and, in order to make some show of force, had loaded his rifle, adopted a threatening attitude and then fired downwards at the pavement resulting in the bullet ricocheting off the pavement and hitting the two women, that 'It was not suggested that for a minute that the soldier had any idea such a thing would happen'.
The soldier denied having any intention of firing his rifle, stating that his foot had slipped off the kerb. He said that he thought that he had loaded it safely following the threatening attitude of the men. He said, 'I accidently pressed the trigger. I was amazed when the rifle fired'.
He said that he did not know any of the women or men involved in the fight.
It was heard that the fight took place outside the Inn at about 10.30pm at which time Agnes Blears was leaving the Inn with a friend and May Dowdall and some of her friends were approaching the Inn and crossed the street to see what was happening.
The soldier said that he tried to stop the fight, putting his rifle between the two men to separate them. It was heard that the men involved in the fight resented the soldier’s interference and so the soldier backed away and loaded his rifle. It was heard that he fumbled with the breach and had apparently only just finished loading it when it went off.
It was said that the bullet seemed to have struck May Dowdall on the right side of her chest and then left by the left side before striking Agnes Blears. The bullet struck Agnes Blears in the chest and made a circular movement before coming back out on the same side and hit a third woman in the shoulder, passing through, and then grazed the right side of a fourth girl who was standing nearby.
One of the men that had been fighting said that as the soldier stepped back about three paces that there was an explosion. He said that the soldier had previously said, 'There is one in the breach'. He added, 'Everybody thought the soldier was kidding. I did'.
The police found part of the bullet afterwards.
A policeman said that when he examined the rifle, he found that a cut-out in it, used to prevent cartridges from entering the breach, was not in place.
Agnes Blears was from Dalton Street in Hulme and May Dowdall was from Darnley Street in Old Trafford.
see Newcastle Evening Chronicle - Saturday 13 July 1940, p1
see Shepton Mallet Journal - Friday 19 July 1940
see Manchester Evening News - Thursday 04 July 1940
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Saturday 13 July 1940
see Liverpool Echo - Saturday 13 July 1940
see Newcastle Evening Chronicle - Saturday 13 July 1940
see Western Daily Press - Monday 15 July 1940
see Derby Daily Telegraph - Saturday 13 July 1940