Date: 29 Nov 1957
Place: Coventry, west Midlands
Gerald Dennis Runaghan was found drowned in a claypit in Coventry on 29 November 1957.
A 12-year-old boy was later arrested and tried for his manslaughter but was acquitted after it was heard that he had made his statement at 3am without his parents being present, which the judge said he did not think was satisfactory and then directed the jury to find him not guilty. He had initially be charged with Gerald Runaghan's murder.
It was heard that when the 12-year-old boy was questioned early on 1 December 1957 at Wolverhampton police station that he had said that the boy had told him that he had run away from home because he was fed up and wanted to go to Scotland and so he took him to Coventry for questioning.
However, when the statement that the boy had made once they got to Coventry was to be read out the defence objected to the statement that he had made being used in evidence and the judge said, 'I do not think it satisfactory to take a statement at three in the morning from a boy of 12 without his father, mother or anyone else being there. There is a strong onus on the prosecution to say that the statement should be admitted'.
After the prosecution agreed with the position of the judge they offered no more evidence.
Gerald Runaghan had been found in a pond on some waste ground about half a mile from Petitor Crescent.
His mother said that she had returned from shopping with Gerald Runaghan at 4pm on 29 November 1957 and that after putting away some groceries and taking off his outdoor clothes that she went outside to the coal bin to fill a bucket, leaving Gerald Runaghan in the hall.
She said, 'I could not have been more than three minutes before I came back in and my boy wasn't there'. She noted that in the past that he had thought it fun to run round the block and so she went looking for him with the help of another woman but that after they failed to find him that she telephoned the police from a call box.
A 14-year-old schoolboy that had lived in Milverton Road in Coventry said that he had been taking his dog along the river walk at about 4.30pm when he met two boys, one about his own age and a smaller one and said that the bigger boy asked him what the time was and that he told him, 'It's about a quarter to five'. He said that the two boys then went off towards the pit. He said that he did not know the bigger boy and did not think that he would recognise him again and noted that it was getting dusk at the time.
A man that had lived in Milverton Road in Coventry said that he and another man had searched the neighbourhood after a police car had broadcast a description of Gerald Runaghan and that he later recovered his body from the pool just after 10pm. He added that the other man had applied artificial respiration to Gerald Runaghan.
A doctor that was called out soon after said that he went to an ambulance near the pool and gave Gerald Runaghan an injection of coranine, a heart stimulant, but said that upon examination he found Gerald Runaghan to be dead.
A pathologist that examined Gerald Runaghan's body said that he found that he had scratches and abrasions on his knees, thigh and cheek and might have been caused by brushing against the undergrowth and that his cause of death was asphyxia by drowning. He said, 'I believe that occurred very rapidly'.
A policeman that said the 12-year-old boy at his house on 30 November 1957 said that he asked him where he had been at 4.50pm the previous evening and said that he told him, 'I was at home painting', and said that when he asked him whether he knew a very fair-haired lad with freckles that lived on the estate he had replied, 'No'.
However, he said that at 12.10am on 1 December 1957 that a call was received from the railway police at Wolverhampton an that he and another officer went there and found the 12-year-old boy who he then brought back to Coventry. he said that the 12-year-old boy told him that he had been fed up and had decided to go to Scotland.
The policeman said that when he questioned the 12-year-old boy at Holmsdale Road police office about Gerald Runaghan that the 12-year-old boy said, 'I left him near the pool. I took him and pushed him in. Something made me do it, I don't know why. After he was then cautioned he said, 'I will tell you', and then made his statement which was however later disallowed as evidence due the unsatisfactory conditions in which it had been made.
When the 12-year-old boy was later charged with murder and asked whether he had anything to say he said, 'No, thanks. No thanks'.
When the magistrate heard the policeman’s evidence at the magistrates hearing on Wednesday 18 December 1957, he asked the policeman, 'Is it not customary to interview children in the presence of their parents?' the policeman said, 'No, sir'.
After the evidence was heard at the magistrates court the 12-year-old boys counsel said that there was no evidence of mischievous discretion on his part and the representative of the Director Of Public Prosecution said that to commit on a charge of murder, a very much heavier onus was placed on the prosecution to prove intent and to prove that he knew that what he was doing was likely to kill the child and after a retirement the charge was reduced to one of manslaughter and the 12-year-old boy was committed to custody for the following Northampton Assizes on 22 January 1958 where he was subsequently acquitted.
see Birmingham Daily Post - Friday 24 January 1958
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 18 December 1957