THERE was a sharp difference between an inquest jury and the police, one exonerating a soldier over the death of a comrade and the other deeming him responsible.

Thomas Ashmore and fellow private John Spencer, 22, stationed with the Worcestershire Regiment at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight, had been drinking on an evening out in Newport.

But outside the barracks on their return, Spencer once more tried to persuade Ashmore to steal the sergeant’s clothes and desert but he refused, reasoning: “What good would that do me when I have got four years and four months to do?”

But Spencer, fatally, could not resist teasing him as having “a heart as a big as a cat’s”.

Ashmore, incensed, pushed him away. Spencer fell down a couple of steps and banged his head.

The scuffle was overheard by another private John Freeman who got out of bed and saw Spencer lying on the ground.

“I asked what his name was but got no reply,” he told the inquest. “He tried to get up and I lifted him by the shoulders. He groaned but I could get nothing out of him. Blood was issuing from his mouth and ears. When I put my hand on his head, I felt a hole.”

With assistance, Spencer removed his tunic and, carried up the stairs on a blanket, he reassured them that he would be all right and went to bed.

He never spoke another word.

As dawn broke, another soldier, Private Albert Porter, awoke and, seeing Spencer motionless, was immediately concerned.

“He looked rather strange,” he stated. “He was very white and his mouth was open. I lifted his arms and they fell down limp. I felt his face and noticed it was quite cold. He was dead. There was blood on his face.”

An autopsy revealed he had suffered an extensive fracture at the back of the skull and a brain haemorrhage.

He was dying the moment his head hit the concrete step.

“Even if the fracture had been attended to at once, I don’t think the man’s life would have been prolonged,” said Dr Underhill. “The fracture was that extensive.”

The police arrested Ashmore the same morning.

When charged with manslaughter, he replied: “Spencer wanted to fight and I struck him.”

On the way to Newport police station in a cab, he indicated several small cuts on the forefinger on his right hand, telling Sgt Hutchins: “That’s where I struck him. He wanted to break into the sergeant’s quarters and steal some civilian clothes and desert. I would not do it. I struck him in the mouth and he fell down the steps.”

Ashmore was remanded in custody to appear at the inquest three days later on July 3, 1912.

In his summing up, coroner Herbert A Andrews directed jurors that murder could be ruled out during their deliberations and they had to decide whether it was a case of manslaughter or whether Ashmore had acted in self defence.

“Ashmore has said he was struck twice before he retaliated but I am bound to say that I do not think that amounts to self defence. Although a man is allowed to do a great deal in self defence, there must be many elements present to justify his action.”

After defining the law about manslaughter, Matthews posed one further question: “Had this man retreated as far as he could?”

Jurors retired for several minutes before clearing the soldier, their verdict being returned in the following terms: “Death was the result of a fractured skull, caused by a fall resulting from a blow, struck by Thomas Ashmore whom the jury exonerate from all blame.”

The police, however, pursued the manslaughter charge and Ashmore was presented before the town magistrates on July 13 when his lawyer Mr Jacobs urged for the case to be dismissed.

“It is very unlikely that any jury will convict the prisoner,” he submitted. “He has already been in custody for a week and he will always feel that his comrade met his death at his hands which in itself is a considerable punishment. I might add in his favour that he has shown real moral courage in repelling the temptation to desert.”

The magistrates over-ruled him and committed him for trial at Hampshire Assizes.

It didn’t get there.

At the start of the sessions, Mr Justice Bucknill discussed the matter with the grand jury who threw out the bill and he was freed.