Unsolved Murders

Peter Robert Smith

Age: 33

Sex: male

Date: 4 Jan 1951

Place: Prince of Wales Hotel, Southport

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Peter Robert Smith died following a brawl after leaving the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport where he was a hotel porter. He had been assaulted on 31 December 1950 and then taken to hospital where he died from his injuries on 4 January 1951.

A 50-year-old mother and her 27-year-old son were tried for his murder but acquitted. It was heard that Peter Smith had previously had an operation to his skull about 18 years earlier in which part of his skull had been removed and that after the assault on him that whilst he had been carried back to the hotel that he had been dropped and that that might have caused the injuries from which he had died.

At the magistrates court when the case was first heard, it was heard that the blows struck to Peter Smith were said to have been 'hammer-like blows' that had caused him to slump back against a wall and fall to the ground.

The mother had lived in Shaws Road in Birkdale whilst her son had lived in King Street in Southport. The son was an excavation timberman.

Peter Smith had been a house porter at the Prince of Wales Hotel and had lived in Arthur Street in Seaport.

The magistrates hearing heard that he had gone into the buffet-bar at the Prince of Wales Hotel at about 9.20pm on 31 December 1950 with two chambermaids and after about 40 to 55 minutes in there with them they had then gone outside into King Street, at about 10.15pm where, according to the two chambermaids, they heard the mother shouting behind them and then turned to see her coming along followed closely behind by her son.

It was heard that they had been in the hotel and had left a few seconds after Peter Smith in a rush. A witness that saw them leave said 'They were in such a hurry to get out that they got themselves entangled in the revolving door'.

One of the chambermaids then said that the mother then went up to Peter Smith and made a reference to him to the fact that he had tried to get her son sacked from the hotel, it being heard that that was obviously in reference to another of the mother's sons who was working at the hotel at the time. a witness said that they heard the woman say, 'You have complained to the housekeeper about my son. You have been trying to get him the sack'.

The chambermaids said that after the mother made that remark that she then hit Peter Smith in the face several times with her fist.

At the initial hearing it was heard that Peter Smith did nothing at all, one of the chambermaids saying, 'Smith did nothing about that at all. He did not go to hit the woman still less did he retaliate'. At the trial one of the chambermaids said that after the mother had hit Peter Smith that Peter Smith had said, 'I do not know what you are talking about' and had made no attempt to strike anyone throughout the incident.

The chambermaids said that Peter Smith then appeared to become stunned and that the mother then momentarily stopped hitting him and then hit one of the chambermaids, knocking her glasses off her face.

It was claimed then that the son then hit Peter Smith several blows to his face with his fist and that the blows were described as being 'hammerlike' and that Peter Smith had then gone back against the wall and had gradually sunk to the ground. It was said that he had gone down to his haunches and then fallen on to his side on the pavement.

One of the chambermaids said that Peter Smith was then carried unconscious into his bedroom at the hotel bleeding. His face was said to have been covered in blood and puffed up.

The court heard that it was possible that Peter Smith had already been stunned by the time that the son had rained blows onto his face.

One of the chambermaids said that she went to revive Peter Smith after he fell to the ground and that as she was doing so that the mother cried out, 'Look at her beating him up'. However, she said that there was no question that she had been trying to beat Peter Smith up and said that she was just trying to revive him.

At the trial, a man that had helped to carry Peter Smith back to the hotel said that Peter Smith had been being carried away face downwards and that he had twice been dropped on to the pavement. However two other witnesses said that they didn't see Peter Smith dropped at all.

Peter Smith later died on 4 January 1951 following the alleged assault.

The pathologist that carried out the post mortem said that his cause of death was bleeding on a part of the brain as a result of the injuries that he had received, noting that the haemorrhage might have been caused by the injuries to Peter Smith's face.

When the police saw the mother and son the following day, 1 January 1951, they denied any knowledge of the affair whatsoever, saying that they didn't know anything about it. However, after the police continued their investigations the son later admitted having struck Peter Smith, saying, 'Yes, I struck him. He tried to pull one over me and I let him have it'. However, his mother said, I never struck him, but I admit I hit the woman and knocked her glasses off after she had hit me first'.

When the police then took the mother and son off to the police headquarters and gave them the opportunity to make a further statement, the son said, 'Yes, I will tell you what happened', but the mother replied, 'I am making no statement and no admissions until I have seen my solicitor'.

When the son made his statement, he said, 'Last night in the bar there were words spoken over the bar to me where I was drinking on my own. I took no heed until time was shouted. I was still drinking on my own and then he came over to me. He said, 'What about it?'. With me being on duty at the Prince of Wales car park, I said, 'Be a good lad and go home'. But he stood talking and arguing with me. He said, 'Well I will see you outside'. I walked outside and said to him, 'Now, don't be silly, you know I am on duty at this car park. Go home and go to bed'. He drove out to hit me, so with that I defended myself, holding my hands to my face to stop him disfiguring me. I told him to go off and go away. With that I drew out and hit him. I put some people in a car and when I got back I saw his lady friend hitting him with her shoe and saying, 'Get up you silly ---- or I will hit you some more'. I picked him up and helped to carry him into the hotel and then went back to duty'.

Following the statement, later that night, 1 January 1951, at about 10.30pm, the mother and son were both charged with having caused Peter Smith grievous bodily harm, to which the son replied, 'I have made my statement upstairs' and the mother said, 'I did not hit him'.

The following day the mother made a statement, saying, 'I was in the Prince of Wales Hotel in women's company and there was no bother whatsoever. I saw Peter with this woman he goes about with. Peter and I had been good friends and no bothers. I knew no more until I saw my son rushing out and father said, 'He and Peter have been having an argument'. They had gone out five or ten minutes before me. A man was there. When I tried to rush out to stop them he stopped me. I went out and shouted, 'Where's my son?'. A man said, 'There’s a row on', and I saw my son and Peter fighting. I got between them trying to stop them and Peter fell down. I never struck him. I went to the same man and tried to get help for Peter and when I got back his woman friend was striking him on the head with her shoe and telling him to get up. I am not sure it was her shoe, it might have been her handbag. I told her to leave him alone. When she fell down, she lost her glasses and asked me to find them for her. I told father to take him into the hotel.'.

After Peter Smith died the mother and son were charged with his murder and both replied, 'Not guilty, sir'.

The court heard that that prosecution’s case was that the assault was not a public house brawl or a fight in which Peter Smith took part, but a concerted attack by two people, the mother and son, which had inflicted grievous bodily harm and had resulted in his death. It was further heard that it was the prosecution’s case that the attack by the mother and son was entirely without provocation. The prosecution said, 'If these two people together inflicted, without any provocation, grievous bodily harm upon Smith and as a result of the injuries he died that is murder'.

The pathologist that carried out the post mortem on Peter Smith noted that 18 years earlier Peter Smith had had an operation to the back of his skull which had resulted in a large amount of bone being removed, leaving a deficiency of three inches by two inches which was at the time of his death well covered by a fibrous tissue. However, he noted that the operation had had no bearing on his death.

He concluded that the cause of Peter Smith's death was haemorrhage of the brain.

He noted that the effect of the operation would have been to have made an area of his brain more sensitive to injury, due to the absence of protection to the skull in that region, but added that he could not say whether Peter Smith would have been still alive following the assault if he had not had the operation. He also added that it was improbable that his fatal injury resulted from a direct blow from a fist.

He said that if Peter Smith had slumped to the ground as a result of blows from a fist and that there had been some concussive effect to his head, that that could have set up the haemorrhage.

After the medical evidence was heard, the defence asked the prosecution if they still wanted them mother and son to be committed for trial on the murder charge, the prosecution said that they would deal with that matter at the proper time, but noted that in any case, it was a matter for the court to decide.

The mother and son were sent to trial at the  Manchester Assizes on Friday 16 March 1951 but the charges were reduced to manslaughter because of the medical evidence after it was heard that Peter Smith had fallen whilst being carried back to the hotel and that because of his previous head injury he could have received his fatal injury that way and that it was not thought that he would have otherwise have died from the blows that he had received to his face.

The case was dropped by the prosecution after the pathologist gave his medical evidence and it was heard that as Peter Smith had been carried back into the hotel after the assault that he had slipped from the grasp of the people that had been carrying him and he had fallen to the ground.

It was also heard at the trial that Peter Smith had only received two light blows during the fight.

When the judge asked, 'Bearing in mind all the evidence, if there had been no intervening cause, such as a fall by his bearers, would Smith have died?', the pathologist replied, 'No, he would not have died had there not been any intervening fall'. It was after that that the prosecution chose not to take the case any further.

When the judge addressed the jury, he said that although the mother and son had been charged with murder, that that it was not in accordance with the law that they should be found guilty of murder on the evidence that they had heard, noting that that was a matter of law for which he took responsibility.

He then went on to say that a man could be found guilty of manslaughter if he caused the death of a person by an unlawful act, but not such an unlawful act as to justify a finding of murder and then noted that there was some injury to Peter Smith's head that had been caused by some blow or violence to his skull and that he had then died from haemorrhage inside his brain. The judge then noted that he had put the question to the pathologist that assuming that there had been no fall when Peter Smith had been carried back, and assuming that Peter Smith had been carried back into the hotel without incident or accident, would he hve died, and said that the pathologist had replied that he would not have died. He then put it to the jury that they could indicate whether they wished the trial to proceed or whether they found the mother and son not guilty of manslaughter.

The jury then, without leaving the jury-box, returned a verdict of not guilty and the mother and son were discharged.


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


see National Archives - ASSI 52/718, ASSI 86/57

see Aberdeen Evening Express - Friday 16 March 1951

see Liverpool Echo - Tuesday 02 January 1951

see Liverpool Echo - Friday 16 March 1951

see Liverpool Echo - Saturday 03 February 1951

see Liverpool Echo - Wednesday 31 January 1951