Unsolved Murders

Millicent Hickford Dowsett

Age: 11

Sex: female

Date: 1 Sep 1917

Place: Finchley Road, Golders Green, London

Millicent Hickford Dowsett was run over by a motor delivery car that belonged to Messrs Selfridge's at the junction of Finchley Toad and Temple Fortune Lane in Golders Green on 1 September 1917.

She died almost immediately.

She had lived at 221 Hampstead Way, Garden Suburb.

Her inquest stated that she died from a fracture of the base of the skull due to having been knocked down by a motor van, and that her death had been due to the negligent driving of the driver.

The driver, a woman, was summonsed for her manslaughter before the magistrates at Hendon Petty Sessions, but the Bench came to the opinion that there was not sufficient evidence to warrant them committing her for trial and she was discharged.

At the magistrates hearing the charge stated that the woman had, on 1 September 1917, whilst driving a motor car, ran into two children, killing one, Millicent Dowsett, and seriously injuring the second.

It was stated that on the morning of 1 September 1917, at about 1pm that the woman had been driving the van along Finchley Road in the direction of Finchley at a fast rate, with evidence being called to show that she had been going at about 19mph. It was heard that she had had with her on the van two porters and a young lady and that one of the porters had instructed her to turn and that she had turned as directed into Temple Fortune Lane, crossing the road to the opposite side, and hitting Millicent Dowsett and her friend.

The car then passed over the pavement, through a hedge, and stopped against the wall of some flats.

It was stated that it was evident that the woman had not got the car under proper control when she had turned the corner and stated that it was essential that when turning a corner, that the driver should exercise proper control, so as to be able to pull up to avoid accident.

At the hearing it was heard that the real point was whether the woman was guilty of recklessness or carelessness of such a nature as to bring herself within the charge of manslaughter, it being noted that if she was guilty of reckless driving that that offence would bring her within the charge of manslaughter.

However, the woman's defence submitted that the occurrence was a pure and highly regrettable accident and that no one regretted it more than the woman, but stated that regret was one thing, but that criminal responsibility was quite another thing.

One of the porters in the van, a 35 year old who lived in Star Street, Edgeware Road, stated that on 1 September he had been in the van with the woman, leaving the premises at about 9am and making one call on the Finchley Road. He said that the pace that they had travelled at was about 18mph and that he had ridden on the footboard because it was too stuffy inside.

He said that as they reached Temple Fortune Lane that the driver turned in quickly and that there had been two children standing on the road about two yards from the kerb and that the car knocked them down and then passed over the pavement and through the hedge of a garden and stopped against a building.

He said that he then assisted to pick the children up. He noted that the driver had not sounded the hooter when entering the lane.

Another delivery porter, an man that had lived at 204 Rolls Road in Bermondsey, stated that he had been in the car on 1 September and that he thought that it had been travelling at 20mph along the Finchley Road. He said that he told the woman to turn into Temple Fortune Lane on the right and that on reaching a spot about 120 yards from the lane that he told her again the first on the right. He noted that the woman had not heard him the first time he had told her to turn right and that he repeated his request later.

However, he stated that in his opinion the woman turned into the lane at a speed too fast.

He said that the children had been standing on the pavement and that the car then knocked them down and passed through the hedge.

He said that the woman tried to stop the car before she reached the pavement where the children were standing, but that the car was going too fast and that both the children were knocked down.

When the delivery porter was questioned about his evidence, he stated that he thought that the car had been travelling at 20mph because he had been in the Army and had experience.

He noted that the woman must have seen the children at the same time that he saw them, and added that he could not swear that the woman didn't sound the hooter, but said that he didn't hear it.

He noted that he didn't tell the woman that she was driving too fast as it was not his place to do so.

He added that the woman applied the brakes before the accident.

A woman who lived at Leinster Court Hotel, said that she had been learning to drive and had been sitting next to the driver in the van, to the driver's left. She said that the van had been going along the Finchley Road at about 15mph and that in her opinion it appeared that the driver took the corner into Temple Fortune Lane a little too late, although she said that she had slowed to make the turn and had sounded her hooter. She said that when the hooter was sounded that one of the children turned round and appeared to come towards the car.

She said that it was so sudden and terrible that she could not say whether the children heard the hooter sounded. She added that she didn't see whether the driver attempted to stop the car as her eyes were rivetted on the children, but said that the car did slow down.

She added that she herself was competent to drive a car, but had been allowed to travel on the car in order to gain experience of the traffic.

She noted that as soon as the driver saw the children that she sounded the hooter and that the children moved after the hooter was sounded and that the driver had taken every precaution to avoid the children, and had driven across the road into the hedge to escape them.

However, a 53-year-old carman that had lived in Manor Park Road and employed by Messrs Carter Paterson, said that he had been driving a van along Finchley Road when he saw the car driven by the woman, turn the corner at a rapid pace, too fast to take the corner, and that she saw the car cross right over the path into the garden, striking the two children. He said that he didn't hear a hooter sounded, nor see any slackening to take the corner. He added that he could not swear that the hooter was not sounded, but noted that he didn't see the children move.

A 43-year-old man that had lived in Chalfont Road, Holloway, employed by the Post Office, said that he had been working near Temple Fortune Lane when he saw the car driven by the woman cross the road at a rapid pace into Temple Fortune Lane. He said that the pace was too fast and that the children had been in the road at the time and that they had tried to reach the path for safety, but were knocked down and thrown on to the path.

He noted that the children had just stepped into the road to cross to the other side as the car had come round the corner.

A detective sergeant said that he later visited the scene of the accident just afterwards and took measurements of the wheel tracks, and gave evidence to a sergeant who prepared  a plan of the scene.

A man with the Public Carriage Office, said that when he saw the motor car, that the handbrake was on and that the gear lever was in the neutral position. He noted that the near side tyres were deflated. He said that after other tyres had been substituted  that he tried the car and found that the brakes were in good order and that at a speed of 16 to 18mph that the car could be pulled up with the hand brake, and also the foot brake, in a short distance.

He noted that the corner was one that should be turned with great care and taken slowly, saying that it was a badly designed corner.

When the defence gave evidence, they stated that there was no evidence to commit the woman for trial. They noted that the woman had driven 5,000 miles without accident and without complaint, and that her record showed that she was experienced and careful. He noted that no two witnesses agreed where the children had been standing, and stated that when seeing the danger that she had sounded the hooter and, without caring for her own safety, or an accident to the car, had driven straight on, hoping to avoid them, and that she had done everything she could possibly do.

He added that it was for the prosecution to prove gross and criminal negligence.

After hearing the evidence, the Bench, after a short deliberation, came to the opinion that there was not sufficient evidence to warrant them in committing the woman for trial and said that she was discharged.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Hendon & Finchley Times - Friday 12 October 1917