THE DUNGEON MILL DROWNING FATALITY.
On Tuesday afternoon Mr. W. Barstow, J.P., district county coroner, and a jury, of whom Mr. Edward Webster was elected foreman, held an enquiry, at the Shoulder of Mutton Inn, Lockwood, into the circumstances attending the death of Maud Ellis, aged eight years, daughter of Harry Ellis, brewer's labourer, residing at 25, Dog Hall, Woodfield Road, Lockwood, who was drowned in the river Holme, near Dungeon Mill, on the previous Thursday under circumstances detailed in the following evidence. Mr. A.J. Slocombe, clerk to the South Crosland Board, and Mr. Rushforth, a member of the Board, represented that body, in whose district the accident had occurred, and Miss Keighley, who had shown much sympathy with the parents in their sorrow, was also present during the enquiry.
Harry Ellis, father of the deceased, gave evidence of identification, and stated that the last time he saw his daughter alive was at eight o'clock on the previous Thursday morning. She was a scholar at Armitage Bridge Church Day Schools. On Thursday evening, about a quarter to five, his daughter Annie, aged seven, accompanied by another girl, came home and said, "Oh, mamma, Maud's fallen into the water." He at once ran to the river at the top side of Dungeon Mill, where it was said his daughter had fallen in, followed by his wife and others, but could not see anything of the deceased, whose cap, however, he saw on the bank. He informed a West Riding policeman from Honley, who happened to be passing at the time, and he said he would give information to the authorities. Every effort was made to recover the body, but they were not attended with success until Monday afternoon, when the body was recovered about a quarter of a mile from the place where the accident happened.
Police Sergeant Callaghan explained that the accident occurred about a quarter of a mile outside the borough boundaries, close on half a mile from the school, and that the body was recovered about 70 yards inside the borough.
It was stated by a juror that there was a rail about a yard high separating the river from the footpath, and a small child might walk into the river underneath this rail.
Police Sergeant Callaghan said that trees were growing between the path and the river, but there were wide gaps. This was a public footpath, and was the nearest way home for the deceased. At the place where the child was supposed to have fallen in, the footpath was about four feet from the river.
In reply to Mr. Slocombe the witness (Ellis) said he had only lived in the neighbourhood since a fortnight before last Christmas. He did not know that the fence from the damstakes up to the Dungeon Mill (which was at present of stone) was originally a post and rail fence similar to the one where the accident happened.
Annie Sykes (11), of Dog Hall, said she was returning home from school on Thursday evening with the deceased and the deceased's sister (Annie). Deceased said she was going to dip a piece of dough, which she had had given at school, into the water, but witness told her not to do so as there was plenty of water at home. Deceased got under the rail, stooped down to the water and overbalanced and fell in. They caught hold of her feet as she was falling in and tried to pull her out, but they could not do so, and were obliged to let her go. They ran to tell the father of the deceased who returned to the place to try to get her out.
By Mr. Slocombe — She did not see the deceased get under the rail because she (witness) was walking away thinking the deceased was following. The deceased would have to stoop to get under the rail.
Robinson Dyson, teazer and fettler, of Moor Bottom Road, Lockwood, said that on Monday he and John William Mellor, of Salford, went out in a boat to search for the deceased. Mellor was rowing the boat and he (witness) was dragging with a hook. About 20 minutes past three o'clock they found the body under Dungeon Wood. It was conveyed to the side and Sergeant Callaghan, who arrived shortly afterwards, had it conveyed home.
By Mr. Slocombe — He remembered that the fence between the damstakes and Dungeon Mill was similar in character to the one where the accident happened until Mr. Edward Shaw, the owner, substituted the present stone wall. The rail at the place indicated was sufficient to keep people away from the river unless they went purposely underneath it.
The Coroner — On the other hand there is nothing to prevent them getting in.
Miss Keighley — It is dangerous for children, and so many people say so.
Annie Buckley, widow, of St. Stephen's Place, Lockwood, gave evidence as to the laying out of the body.
Miss Keighley said that someone who went along Dungeon Lane regularly had frequently to call children from the bank of the river, especially during the hawthorn season. The fence was certainly not sufficient to keep children out of the river. She did not wish to cast any blame on the Local Board, but she thought something might be done to prevent such a sad occurrence happening in the future.
Mr. Slocombe said he was there by the direction of the South Crosland Local Board in order to remove a mistaken impression as to the position and action of the Local Board with regard to the fence where this accident occurred. He first denied an allegation made in a letter to the press by the secretary of the Ratepayers' Association to the effect that, though the attention of the Board was called to the dangerous character of the fence at the point where this accident happened in March last, they had done nothing, and produced a receipted bill to show that £2 10s. had been spent upon it. He pointed out that there was no legal liability upon the Board, and that they were unable to ascertain any facts in relation to the fence. There was very little liability attaching to the owners of the land, but they had, as an undoubted fact up to two years ago, a fence of an exactly similar character to the one where the accident occurred and which extended for a distance of 250 yards along the whole length from the damstakes up to Dungeon Mill ; and that this fence was removed by the owner of the adjoining land, and a good substantial stone fence substituted. It was a fair inference, therefore, that the fence complained of was placed there by the owners of the adjoining land. The Local Board, however, decided — though there was no legal liability upon them to do so — to go outside their legal position, and, as an act of supererogation, to take steps to prevent people falling into the river. The Local Board exceedingly regretted this very sad accident, and he was there to express their deep sorrow, as well as to remove a very great misconception as to the liability of the Local Board, and to remove what was undoubtedly a very false statement made in the letter to which he had referred, and which gentlemen connected with the Ratepayers' Association said was written without the authority of the members, and on the personal responsibility of the secretary.
The Coroner said that if persons strayed from a footpath they must take the consequences. The Local Board could not be held responsible for any injury or death that might ensue. The fence was sufficient for the purpose of preventing people straying from the footpath, though no doubt it would be much better if a wall were erected.
Mr. Slocombe said there was no duty upon the Local Board in law to do this, and he had no doubt there was no duty upon the owner of the adjoining land. He pointed out on behalf of the Local Board that before the erection of the damstakes, by which they did not benefit, the river was shallow and practically harmless. It was in the deep part above the damstake where this child lost her life
Sergeant Callaghan made a statement denying certain rumours which he said had been afloat to the effect that the police had not used every effort to recover the body, and asserting that the exact contrary was the case.
Ultimately the jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death," and appended a rider earnestly recommending that a proper stonewall be immediately erected between the river Holme and Dungeon footpath in lieu of the present post and rail fence.
The Coroner promised that steps should be taken to ascertain who was the owner of the land adjoining, and that the recommendation should be forwarded to him.