On Monday, March 29th, 1886, at Axbridge Petty Sessions, Henry Dibble, farmer, of Loxton, was charged with unlawfully assaulting and beating the Rev. John Hessay Wilkinson, rector of Christon, at Loxton, on March 6th. He was further charged with assaulting and beating Charles House, farmer, of Christon, at the same time and place. The magistrates were Col. Luttrell, Major Law, Rev. J.A. Yatman, Messrs. Edwards and Somers. Mr. J.H. Clifton represented the Rev. J.H. Wilkinson and Mr. Webster appeared for Mr. H. Dibble. The defendant had pleaded not guilty to both charges.
An account of the hearing was printed in the Weston Mercury and Somersetshire Herald in April 1886 and is précised as follows. The account stated that Mr. Clifton for the prosecution had begun the proceedings by outlining the Rev. Wilkinson's case:-
On the day of the alleged assault the minutes of a previous meeting were read by Mr. Wade, who was the clerk to the School Board, Mr. Wilkinson protested against them as they included several objectionable matters which ought not to have appeared. These matters referred to the complainant, who said that the meeting was an informal one under the Education Act, which ruled that three persons must attend to form a quorum. Mr. Wilkinson went on to say that it was his duty to the ratepayers to see that there were no irregularities or illegalities in the proceedings of the Board, which he thought was the case in the present instance. Mr. Dibble had remarked "You're a liar." Mr. Wilkinson did not retort having regard to his sacred office (laughter in the courtroom) and went on to imply that he thought that ratepayers' money was being misappropriated. Mr. Dibble then had said, "So you call me a thief?" Mr. Wilkinson had replied in the negative. At this the defendant had jumped up and walked over to Mr. Wilkinson, took up the complainants walking stick, flourished it over his head, laid it down, doubled his fists and began to strike him about the head and face. Mr. Wilkinson, unable to protect himself, retreated into a corner whereupon the defendant followed him and struck him several more times before knocking him against the wall. Mr. House, apparently one of the gentlest creatures in the world, then ran up behind Mr. Dibble, and said to him "Don't go on like that." The defendant then turned upon Mr. House and struck him several times, then he had turned back to Mr. Wilkinson and battered him again. By this time the rector was bleeding profusely and his head was badly bruised.
The account then reported that Mr. Clifton had called for the highest penalty for such violence as had characterised the defendant's conduct. He had lamented the fact that the chairman of the Board, Mr. Erasmus Galton, who, he was told, was a man of peace, did not interfere. He thought that from his silence "it afforded him a bit of fun." Mr. Clifton went on to infer that perhaps Mr. Galton did not interfere because the defendant was getting so angry that he was liable to hit anyone.
The Rev. J.H. Wilkinson was called to the witness box and confirmed Mr. Clifton's report of the events. He said he had been very stunned by the blows, had bled a lot and his head had been bruised. He stated that during the meeting he had not been aggressive in any way to the defendant. He added that when Mr. House was being hit two women came into the room crying "Murder".
Mr. Webster had then commenced to cross-examine the witness. He asked Mr. Wilkinson if he had made himself objectionable time after time at various meetings. The witness replied that he might have made himself objectionable, because he often objected to the proceedings. He was then asked if he had ever called the members of the Board robbers, thieves or liars. The witness admitted that he had once called a member of the Board a liar, because the member had told a lie. He had not made use of violent and abusive language, nor had he accused the Chairman and Clerk of the Board of receiving money in the shape of a 'dab in the hand'
On further cross-examination Mr. Wilkinson was asked if he went into the Boardroom and sat down with his hat on. Mr. Wilkinson thought that he may have gone into the room wearing his hat but took it off when he sat down. He was then asked if he sat at the table with the other members of the Board, and he replied that he was sitting away from the table, at the place where he usually sat. The witness was then asked if he carried on interrupting in order to prevent the business of the Board being carried out. He replied that he had not.
Mr. Charles House was the next in the witness box, he confirmed Mr. Wilkinson's account of the fight, and said that he could not remember the Rev. Wilkinson using rather strong language. He said that he had been struck by the defendant four or five times about the head, and had given him no provocation.
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