Unsolved Murders

William Joseph Ward

Age: 19

Sex: male

Date: 29 Nov 1920

Place: Parliament Street, Liverpool

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

William Joseph Ward was shot during the Sinn Fein incendiary outrages in Liverpool.

Two men were charged with his murder but acquitted at the Liverpool Assizes on 5 February 1921. The man that was alleged to have fired the shot was a 19-year-old plasterer whilst the other man was a 28-year-old dock labourer.

William Ward was shot in Parliament Street in Liverpool on 29 November 1920 while assisting the police with some fires that were being set around the docks.

He was found lying in the middle of the roadway with a wound in his left breast from which blood was flowing and was taken to the Southern Hospital where he was pronounced to be extinct.

It was heard that a chain of fires had been set around the Liverpool docks on the night of 27 November 1920 by Sinn Fein members and that whilst the fires were in progress, William Ward and some other people saw two men in a warehouse doorway in Parliament Street who they suspected of attempting to fire the premises. It was said that when they challenged them, they ran off in opposite directions and that whilst being chased, one of them, the plasterer, turned at fired at his pursuers, hitting William Ward and killing him.

The man that had run off in the other direction, the dock labourer was overtaken and overpowered and arrested but the other man, the plasterer, that was alleged to have fired the shot was not arrested until a month later.

A dock labourer that gave evidence said that at about 8.50pm on 27 November 1920, he had been with two friends when he witnessed two warehouses on fire in Jordan Street. He said that they then walked into Parliament Street where they noticed two men in a warehouse doorway and another man walking about on the opposite side of the road, noting that when the man that was on the opposite side of the road saw him and his companions he whistled to the men tin the doorway.

He said that he then went back to Jordan Street where he communicated what he had seen with the police and said that they then returned to Parliament Street and saw a man running away. He said that the policeman that he was with then shouted, 'Cop that man', and that he then ran after the man and hit him on the head, stating that the man knocked his head on the wall and then fell to the ground and that the policemen then came along. The dock labourer later identified the man that he had chased and grappled as the 28-year-old dock labourer who was tried and acquitted for William Ward's murder.

A scaler that had been with the dock labourer that had given chase said that after his friend had caught the dock labourer, he went over to the warehouse door and saw a drum of oil. However, at the trial he noted that he had been asked 15 times to identify the men that he had seen in the doorway but had been unable to.

A man who also saw the two men in the doorway of the warehouse in Parliament Street said that a man came by and asked them where they were going. He said that he told the man that they were going for the police but said that the man that had asked him where they were going made no reply. The man said that when he returned with the policeman, the policeman went up to the two men who were still in the doorway of the warehouse and asked them, 'What are you doing here?' and said that one of them replied that they were waiting for a girl. He said then, that as the policeman went towards them, the two men ran away, the dock labourer running up Parliament Street and the other man running down Parliament Street.

A newspaper boy said that he and some other youths, including William Ward, chased the other man down Parliament Street and that as they did so, the man that they were chasing turned round and fired a revolver at them and that William Ward dropped.

However, the newspaper boy said that he was unable to identify the man that had fired the revolver but noted that he was a bit smaller than the dock labourer who had run the other way.

When the dock labourer who was chased and caught was challenged by the police as to whether he was Irish, he said that he was and added, 'We are doing here what they are doing over there in Ireland'.

At the trial the defence said that there was no evidence against the dock labourer, only surmise, and stated that the plasterer had been at a dance on the night of the shooting and that not only did he have nothing to do with the fires, but that he was not a Sinn Feiner, nor had anything to do with any Irish organisations.

When the dock labourer gave evidence, he said that he had had neither bolt-cutters nor any firearm, or had any idea that any of the other men in Parliament Street were armed and said that he had been a silent spectator of all that took place. He added that he was a Sinn Feiner and supposed that he had been all his life and added that he was an Irishman. At the trial, when he was asked whether he had any sympathy with the methods of murder or violence he replied, 'No, Sinn Fein does not embrace violence'. When he was asked what the objective of Sinn Fein was, he said, 'By peaceful constitutional means to obtain freedom for Ireland'. When he was asked whether that included setting fire to warehouses, he replied, 'Yes, that is not violence'.

The fires on the Saturday night had destroyed a number of cotton and timber warehouses, with seven fires being started in Bootle and eleven others in various parts of Liverpool. It was said that gangs of men had been allotted to target each building marked out for destruction, each of which had been given bolt-cutters to cut padlocks on the doors. It was said that after that the gangs then entered the buildings and soaked goods within with petrol or paraffin and set fire to it with a match.

It was said that each of the gangs had tins of paraffin and a large quantity of rags, sacks and other inflammable material with them and that it was thought that motor cars must have been used to convey the petrol to the warehouses that were mapped out for destruction.

It was noted that the biggest fire was in Jordan Street where two cotton warehouses were practically burnt out and that two other six-storey warehouses were set fire to in Tapley Street although they were saved. Several timber yards were also targeted and the doors to a warehouse in Vulcan Street were also found to be on fire with a pair of bolt cutters found nearby. It was noted that whilst many of the fires were suppressed in the early stages, some warehouses burned through the night and were completely gutted.

The first fire was notified to the authorities at 8.27pm in Vulcan Street where a cotton warehouse was set on fire, but the fire brigade managed to contain the fire to two floors. The second fire reported was in Derby Road at 8.27pm where a timber yard was set on fire, but it was put out by 11pm. Another fire was reported as being started about the same time in Sandhills and then shortly after another at a cotton warehouse in Tapley Street where the firemen later found two-quart bottles of petrol and a pair of bolt-cutters. Shortly after, the two fires, which were described as being the most destructive, were reported in Jordan Street, the fires not being extinguished until 7am the following morning.

It was reported that London was taking no chances against the outrages and that 8ft high barricades were erected at Downing Street as well as King Charles Street, with gates large enough to allow cars to pass through. It was noted that the barricades were commissioned after recent raids in Ireland revealed that plans were being made to damage government buildings. The Houses of Parliament were also closed to the public.

Whilst the full extent of the damage was not initially known, it was said to have on aggregate to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

William Ward was named earlier on in the investigation as Daniel Ward.


*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.


see Western Daily Press - Friday 04 February 1921, p8

see Londonderry Sentinel - Saturday 05 February 1921

see Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Monday 29 November 1920

see Western Daily Press - Monday 29 November 1920

see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Monday 29 November 1920

see Dundee Courier - Monday 29 November 1920

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Monday 29 November 1920

see Sheffield Evening Telegraph - Monday 29 November 1920

see Edinburgh Evening News - Monday 29 November 1920

see Derby Daily Telegraph - Monday 29 November 1920