On Saturday, before G. Troyte-Bullock, Esq., George Coffin, a gamekeeper in the employ of Lord Wolverton, was brought up on remand, charged with assaulting Nelson Cooper, a gipsy, and thereby occasioning actual bodily harm, at Iwerne Minster, on the 24th January last.
The case had excited much interest in the neighbourhood, and the Court was crowded during the hearing. Mr. Robins appeared to prosecute, and Mr. Atkinson defended the prisoner.
Nelson Cooper, the complainant, seemed to be in a very weak state, and had his head well bandaged. He said he was at the Talbot Inn at Iwerne on the evening of the 24th January, and the prisoner was also there. They drank together, and there was some 'chaff' passing between them, in the course of which he (complainant) said he should like to catch a rabbit or two.
He left about 10 o'clock and went toward his camp, which was in Mr. Stevens meadow. Just before he got to his tent, he saw the prisoner and a man named William Wareham. When he heard the men coming he called out to Stanley that Coffin and Wareham were after him.
Something then passed which he could not recollect, but he remembered saying,
'If you strike me I shall strike you'
And he picked up a stick which was lying on the ground. He did not strike the prisoner. Prisoner struck him with some weapon, but he did not know what. He was struck on the head, and became insensible, and did not remember anything more. He had been laid up ever since from the effect of the blow. He had no other weapon in his hand beside the small stick which he picked up.
The complainant was cross-examined by Mr. Atkinson, with a view to show that there had been ill-feeling between the parties; that the camp was on land in the prisoners beat, as keeper, and that the complainant was in reality the aggressor, but his evidence did not appear to be shaken in any material particular. He admitted that, in conversation with Wareham, he had said that he did not wish to press the case.
Thomas Stanley was then called, and said he was a travelling chair-mender, and on the 24th January his tent was close to that of Cooper, in Mr. Stevens field. He was at the Talbot Inn that evening, but left before the others. Between 10 and 11 o'clock he heard Cooper call out
'Tom, there's two men after me.'
He enquired who they were, and Cooper replied,
'Bill Wareham and George Coffin'
And he advised him to come on in. He heard prisoner ask Cooper to leave the meadow and he refused, saying he had Mr. Stevens authority to stay. Prisoner then asked Cooper if he could fight, and Cooper replied
'No, and I don't want to.'
'You'll have to'
and Cooper then said,
'If it comes to that, I suppose I must.'
Witness then heard a blow, and on jumping out of bed and going out, he found Cooper lying on the ground, and saw the prisoner running away. On the 26th January, as he was in the meadow, his little boy picked up the piece of wood produced (part of a 'swingle'), about a yard from the spot where he found Cooper lying. Witness handed the wood to P.C. Poynter. Neither Cooper nor witness had an iron bar belonging to them.
Mr Decimus Carme, surgeon, of Child Okeford, said the complainant was brought to his surgery on the 26th Jan. He had marks of a blow on the left eyebrow, and, though sensible, was evidently suffering from concussion of the brain and from aphasias, or a difficulty in using the right word in expressing himself. He complained of pain in his head, and had slight paralysis of one side of the face, and on protruding his tongue it went over to the right side, instead of straight forward. These symptoms would result from a blow on the head, and consequent injury to the brain. The weapon produced might well cause such an injury. He had attended the complainant up to the present time, and he had been in a very dangerous state.
P.C. Poynter stated that he was about 200 yards from the encampment of Cooper and Stanley at about half past 10 on the night of the 24th January. He heard a voice say,
'What do you want here'
and then other voices, but he could not distinguish what was said. He then heard the sound of a blow being struck, as though hands were struck together, and a woman commenced screaming. He went to the spot at once, and found Nelson Cooper close by his tent, and Stanley and a man named Lawrence helping him in. He noticed that Cooper had a cut over the eyebrow, and he did not answer when he spoke to him. He smelt strongly of drink, and seemed sleepy, and when put into his tent, went off to sleep. Witness saw Cooper about an hour afterwards, and asked if he wished to have a warrant against the prisoner, and he replied,
'No, if I do I will come to you.'
Witness produced the piece of wood which he received from Stanley, and a handle of a 'swingle' which he received from prisoners father.
George Cole said that after their leaving the Talbot Inn he saw the prisoner and William Wareham together. He saw prisoner go into his house and then come out again and rejoin Wareham. They went down the road a little way, and then into a field leading to the gipsy's tent.
Walter Lawrence and witness went round another way to see what would happen. Before they got to the camp, witness heard a blow, and then a groan. Lawrence went to the camp, but witness stayed where he was until Lawrence returned, and they went home together. For the defence, Mr Atkinson contended that the prisoner was merely going his rounds, when he fell in with the gipsy at his encampment; that the complainant used threatening language, and finally struck at the prisoner with either an iron bar or a stick; that the prisoner, acting in self-defence, struck at the complainant with a 'swingle' and the weapons coming into collision, the 'swingle' was broken, and a part of it flew up and struck the complainant on the head.
He called William Wareham for the defence, and tendered sufficient evidence to have him bound over as a witness for the prisoner at the trial.
The prisoner was committed for trial, but was admitted to bail, himself in £40 and two sureties in £20 each.
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The Western Gazette and Flying Post - Friday, 22nd February 1878
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