Unsolved Murders

Peter Elliot

Age: 63

Sex: male

Date: 9 Dec 1947

Place: East Hope Farm, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland

Peter Elliot was found dead with two gunshot wounds in a field on East Hope Farm, Berwick about 350 yards from his home.

The coroner returned a verdict of accidental death but described it as a puzzling case with very meagre evidence.

Peter Elliot was the licensee of the Meadow House Inn in Berwick. He had earlier on in his life been involved with salmon fishing and had later taken up business on his own behalf as a blacksmith until 1935 when he took over the Meadow House Inn.

Peter Elliot had been out shooting at the time.

His daughter said that when he didn't come home for his dinner, she shouted out for him, but that when she got no reply, she went out looking for him, taken her dog with her. She said that when they crossed a nearby field her dog went off and wouldn’t leave a certain spot and that when she went to where the dog was she saw Peter Elliot lying on the ground with shotgun wounds to his head and stomach and his gun laying nearby.

A doctor that went out to see him said that he was first called out to Meadow House Inn and then went out to a field some distance away where he saw Peter Elliot's body lying on his back on the ground. He said that he later made a detailed examination of his body at the mortuary and found two gunshot wounds, one in the neck and head and the other in his abdomen. He noted that the edges of his abdominal wound and the clothing in that area were blackened.

When Peter Elliot's daughter gave evidence at the inquest, she said, 'I had just got off the 11am bus from Berwick near the Inn. He was walking across a field away from the Inn. The gun was under his right arm. It was the same field in which he was found dead. I went straight into the house. I never heard any noise of a gun being fired. Just after one o'clock I went to call my father for his dinner and found him lying dead'

A police inspector that went out to see Peter Elliot's body said that he found him lying in the corner of a field on East Hope Farm. He said that there was a wire fence with barbed wire on top and that Peter Elliot was lying about four feet away from it. He said that the fingers of his left hand were clasped around the barrels of a double-barrelled 16-bore shotgun, noting that the butt was in a diagonal position away from his body and that the safety catch was at the off position and that there were two spent cartridges in the breech.

He said that there were no signs of a struggle nor any evidence to show whether Peter Elliot had tried to climb over the fence.

He noted that his body was lying between 300 and 400 yards from Meadow House Inn.

When the coroner summed up he said that it was one of the most puzzling inquests he had ever held, stating that they were having to draw inferences and conclusions from what was very meagre evidence.

He said that there were three possible verdicts, suicide, accident or an open one.

The coroner said that he had excluded the possibility of suicide as there was no evidence to show that Peter Elliot had threatened to take his life.

He then said that he did not like an open verdict as it was to his mind a very incomplete one.

He then went on to record a finding of accidental death, stating that he was satisfied that the first wound inflicted was the abdominal one and that it was possible that Peter Elliot had slipped and the gun gone off and that after the first wound, in his agony, he had then pulled the gun round, causing the second barrel to go off. The coroner went on to add that alternatively, Peter Elliot might have been carrying the gun in the unusual position with the muzzle to his front and that the trigger could have been caught in his game bag and that as the butt hit the ground that that the second shot might have been caused to be fired, inflicting the fatal wound.

An earlier newspaper article from 29 May 1947, from over six months earlier, referred to another Peter Elliot who had been living at Meadow House in Berwick, although he was referred to as a telephone engineer who appeared to be working away from Meadow House. Whilst not directly relevant to the death of Peter Elliot the farmer it is included for its 'coincidental' value. It was reported that Peter Elliot had raised the alarm after discovering three fires on his way home from work on the Tuesday evening 27 May 1947. It was reported that after helping to extinguish the first fire in Bell's Field, he had discovered another fire about 200 yards further along the road and that then, after returning home, his mother had drawn his attention to a third blaze about half a mile from their home for which he summoned the police and the fire brigade. The third fire involved three unthreshed stacks of wheat just off the Great North Road beyond Highfields Estate which were destroyed by the blaze and were said to have been valued at about £500. They had belonged to the farmer at Steps-of-Grace Farm. It was further noted that two other small fires had also been found alight in the same district on the Sunday. An 80-year-old Naval pensioner was arrested shortly after and charged with setting fire to the three stacks of grain at Steps-of-Grace Farm. The police said that when they first saw the Naval pensioner at his cottage, he had denied all knowledge of the fires, but later admitted to the offences, stating, 'I did it but I don't know why'. Whilst at his cottage the police found at least two gallons of paraffin and three gill bottles of methylated spirits in his room, noting that the Naval pensioner had been endeavouring to cook a meal on a primus stove.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see The Berwick Advertiser - Thursday 18 December 1947

see The Berwick Advertiser - Thursday 29 May 1947