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Sileby History
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Murder In Sileby Story

As Pc William Adiel Wilkinson was leaving his home in Sileby, north of Leicester, to go on night patrol, he heard a plaintive call. It was his three-year-old daughter, in a sudden, childish panic, crying: "Daddy, I don't want you to go out again tonight.''Wilkinson swept her up, gave her a kiss, and told her :"I shan't be long, my pet.''

But this time, Daddy should have listened to the girl. That night – May 25, 1903 – was to be the last time he saw her.Pc Wilkinson (32), from Glooston in south Leicestershire, had been a policeman for 10 years, five of them in Sileby.

He was a family man with two young children, a merit stripe for good conduct and a reputation as "a nice fellow who would rather see a man home than lock him up''. But he and fellow Syston policeman Pc Hall had made enemies.

And two of them were shoe hands Thomas Porter (29) and Thomas Preston (25), a pair of chip-on-the-shoulder village hard lads, into poaching and disorderly drinking – they had been convicted of both in the past.

The two waged open verbal warfare on village bobbies Wilkinson and Hall, seeing them as self-important village guardians, conducting vendettas against "real'' locals. Earlier in the year, Porter had accused the two constables of victimisation, and Preston had publicly threatened to "shoot the pair of you''. And so to that fateful night of Monday, May 25, 1903.

At about 11pm, Pc Wilkinson was patrolling the center of Sileby, at the junction of High Street and King Street. He normally met Pc Hall there, before returning home. Instead, weaving gently towards him came village butcher Herbert Middleton, returning home from the Railway Inn.

The two chatted briefly, and then heard rustling, coming from behind gravestones in the churchyard over the road. Wilkinson crossed the street to investigate, and shone his lamp through the churchyard gate calling "who's there?''Suddenly two figures sprang up from behind the gravestones, and a shot rang out in the middle of Sileby.

Under the headline "Terrible Murder At Sileby'', the Daily Mercury of the day recorded what happened next: "Wilkinson staggered back, exclaiming ‘I am shot' and reeling down the road a few steps, fell heavily.'' He had a huge chest wound caused by a quantity of shot fired from very close range. He died in the street.

Middleton ran along High Street, shouting for help. A squad of policeman arrived from Loughborough within the hour, headed by Superintendent Agar.

Suspicion fell straight away on Preston and Porter. Both had been drinking very heavily in Sileby pubs since midday.The feud between them and the two policemen was well known.

And, unbelievably, a well-oiled Porter had told drinking friend Ferdinand Dexter just half an hour before the shooting, that Dexter should go home now and "you may hear about something in the morning''.

The police trooped down the High Street to the house where Preston lived with his parents. The frightened parents said they hadn't seen him all night.

The police continued down Brook Street and into Swan Street, halting at 18, Swan Street, Porter's home, just a few doors from Pc Wilkinson's house. The police broke down the door and came face to face with Porter, standing at the foot of the stairs, mad-eyed drunk, armed with a shotgun.

The Daily Mercury says: "With an air of reckless bravado, Porter said he would shoot the first man who came inside the house.''Superintendent Agar made a tactical retreat, and police surrounded the house.Then began a siege, while the police and a crowd of about 300 waited to see what would happen next.

It become clear that Preston too was in the house – both men would appear at intervals at an upstairs window, yelling abuse. Some of the crowd yelled back – it seemed half the village knew what had happened, and Pc Wilkinson had been generally popular.

Agar sent to a local pub for stout, which was sent into the house "to keep the men calm''. At times, Porter would sit on the window ledge sucking on a pipe, seemingly completely unconcerned. Then at 7am, Porter stuck his head through the window again, fired the gun once into the air, and then smashed it down on to the windowsill, breaking it. The two men were arrested.

The trial of Thomas Porter and Thomas Preston for the murder of Pc Wilkinson opened at Leicester Castle on June 29, 1903. Both men were clearly involved in the crime – but who had actually fired the fatal shot? Superintendent Agar had no doubt. He told the court that at the time the two men had surrendered in Swan Street, the older man, Porter, had confessed to the crime.

He said Porter had told him that they meant to get both policemen (they had thought the local butcher Middleton was Pc Hall), but the gun had misfired. But Porter later changed his tune. He said the last time he saw the gun it was in Preston's hands. "I don't know no more about the poor man's death than a baby just born.''

Preston's large, but far from wealthy family hoped a death sentence might be avoided for him. His nine brothers and sisters used all their savings, amounting to £40, to pay for a good defence counsel. Mr CM McCurdy told the court about Preston's exemplary military record, and Preston himself said he had been very drunk that night, and had only intended to go poaching with Porter.

He insisted that Porter had fired the fatal shot. Porter, on the other hand, chose not to go into the witness box at all. The jury, however, were unconvinced by Preston's defence. They saw the killing as the plan of two men fuelled by drink, and found both Preston and Porter guilty of murder.Both were sentenced to death.

On the Monday before the execution, the two men received the last visits from their relatives. Preston broke down, and sobbed that Porter had fired the gun. Porter, however, told his relatives: "It won't be long now, but I am fully prepared and shall meet it firm.'' The two were hanged at 8am on Tuesday, July 21, a black flag signalling to a large crowd outside Leicester prison that turn-of-the-century justice had been done.

That evening at Sileby church, there was a memorial service for Pc Wilkinson. The Rev AG Townshend reminded the congregation that a feud had ended in a tragedy that had taken three lives from the village.

He said the congregation were to be true Christians from now on, and remember a last message from Thomas Porter to his friends in Sileby. Porter had said: "Tell them to be good lads and stay away from the drink.''


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