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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 January, 2004, 10:46 GMT
The case of the murdered ghost
Ghostly image
The ghost was in fact a bricklayer
A ghost club is due to meet in a pub where a man's body was taken 200 years ago when he was shot after being mistaken for a spirit.

Francis Smith began a vigilante patrol in Black Lion Lane, Hammersmith, west London, after hearing reports of a phantom which was haunting a churchyard and attacking passers-by.

When he saw a figure in white appear in the lane he shot him, but it turned out to be a 23-year-old bricklayer and Smith was taken into custody.

His defence at the Old Bailey trial for "wilful murder" started a legal battle which ran for 180 years.

It raised the question of whether someone could be held liable for their actions if they used force as a result of a mistaken belief.

The trial and conviction of Francis Smith for murdering a man he mistook for a ghost illustrates a legal problem not settled for 180 years and one which still generates argument
Barrister Alan Murdie
Barrister Alan Murdie, who wrote about the incident for the latest issue of Justice of the Peace magazine, said the jury initially returned a verdict of manslaughter, apparently accepting claims that he honestly thought he was shooting at a spectre.

But the judge, Lord Chief Baron Macdonald, steered the jury back in the direction of murder, resulting in Smith being sentenced to death.

Legal debate about the self defence issues raised by the Hammersmith Ghost case continued for decades.

"The trial and conviction of Francis Smith for murdering a man he mistook for a ghost illustrates a legal problem not settled for 180 years and one which still generates argument," said Mr Murdie.

"It has played a part in shaping the modern law of self defence."

'Strange goings on'

He added that the point of law was finally settled by a Court of Appeal decision in 1984.

Mr Murdie is chairman of the Ghost Club which was co-founded in 1862 by Charles Dickens.

The club is meeting at the Black Lion Inn in Hammersmith on Saturday night.

Landlord Kevin Sheehy said: "We do have some strange goings on in the pub.

"The chef lives upstairs and has been woken up half a dozen times by someone speaking his name - but there was no-one there."

The pub displays a plaque marking the ghostly incident and a report from The Times newspaper in January 1804.

Locals say the ghost returns to Hammersmith churchyard every 50 years, its last visit being in July 1955.

Smith's death sentence was commuted to one year's hard labour.




SEE ALSO:
Ghosts 'all in the mind'
21 May 03  |  Science/Nature
Britain's favourite haunts
20 Mar 00  |  UK


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