Death of June Anne Devaney

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June Anne Devaney
Born 1944
Blackburn, Lancashire, England
Died 15 May 1948 (aged 3)
Queen's Park Hospital, Blackburn, Lancashire England
Cause of death
Head battered against wall
Body discovered
Queen's Park Hospital, Blackburn
Resting place
Blackburn Cemetery Blackburn
Nationality British
Known for Murder victim
Home town Blackburn
Parent(s) Albert and Emily Devaney

June Anne Devaney (1944 – 15 May 1948) was a girl from Blackburn, Lancashire, who was murdered on 15 May 1948, aged 3 years 11 months. Devaney was an inpatient at Queen's Park Hospital when she was abducted from her hospital cot, removed to the grounds of the hospital, sexually assaulted, and murdered by Peter Griffiths. To solve the crime, the police fingerprinted every male over the age of 16 who was in Blackburn on the night of the murder.[1] It was the first time that a mass fingerprinting operation had been undertaken.

Murder and investigation[edit]

June Anne Devaney was recovering from pneumonia in ward CH3 at Queen's Park Hospital, Blackburn. Shortly after midnight on 15 May 1948, nurse Gwendolyn Humphreys (who was in the ward's kitchen) heard a cry coming from the ward. She checked the ward and found nothing wrong, and returned to her duties. At 1:20 am she felt a draught and noticed an open door at the end of the ward. She closed it, and saw that June Anne's cot was empty. Nurse Humphreys made a quick search of the ward and, finding no trace of June Anne, contacted the local police. They arrived at 1:55 am and fully searched the hospital and its grounds, finding the body at approximately 3:15 am next to a boundary wall some 300 feet (91 m) from the ward. As the body had injuries consistent with a beating, the hospital became a crime scene, and the ward was secured and searched. A subsequent post mortem showed that June Anne had been raped and had multiple fractures to the skull, probably from being swung into the wall whilst held by the legs.[2] Under Devaney's cot, a glass water bottle was found along with dirty footmarks which were clearly visible on the highly polished hospital floor.[2][3]

The bottle was examined for fingerprints and was found to have several sets on it. After the hospital staff had been checked against those fingerprints, visitors who had been in the ward were sought for elimination. After everybody who had a legitimate reason for their fingerprints to be on the bottle was accounted for, a set remained that were unidentified. The area where the body was discovered, and knowing that a taxi driver had picked up a man with a local accent close to the hospital on the night of the crime, led Blackburn Police to believe that the crime must have been carried out by a local person.[2][3]

Chief Inspector Capstick, in charge of the investigation, proposed that every male over the age of 16 who was in Blackburn between 14 and 15 May 1948 be fingerprinted. The operation began, and a special card was developed so that prints of the left forefinger, middle finger and ring finger (those that were on the bottle) could be recorded swiftly. The card also recorded the individual's name, address and National Identity Registration Number.[2][3][4]

The task-force was led by Inspector W. Barton and comprised a team of 20 officers who, armed with details from the Electoral Register, set about the districts collecting fingerprints and checking them against the samples. Over 40,000 sets of prints were taken without a match being found. After that, the police concentrated on people who had not been readily available. On 12 August 1948, after taking 46,253 sets of prints, a match was made with Peter Griffiths, a 22-year-old ex-serviceman who lived in Blackburn[2][3] and who worked as a packer at a flour-mill.[5]

The investigation was a milestone in the history of forensic science, the first time mass fingerprinting had been used to solve a crime.[6][7]

Arrest and trial[edit]

Peter Griffiths was arrested close to his home in Blackburn on 13 August 1948 and was taken to Blackburn Police Headquarters. During his first interview, Griffiths readily admitted that he was responsible for the death of Devaney but showed no remorse for his actions. He was charged, and the police went to his house to carry out a search, during which a ticket was found from a local pawnbroker for a suit. The police collected the suit and found that it had bloodstains – it was the suit that Griffiths had been wearing on the night of the crime. Griffiths was remanded into custody until his trial, which began in October 1948 under the direction of Mr Justice Oliver at the assize court at Lancaster.[3]

During the trial, the defence for Griffiths stated that they were not fighting for his freedom, but for his life, as murder was a capital offence in the UK at that time. As Griffiths had pleaded guilty to the offence, all that remained was a question of sanity, and this was voiced by Dr. Alaistair Robertson Grant, who stated for the defence that Griffiths was showing the early signs of schizophrenia, a condition for which he had treated Griffiths' father when he was hospitalised for six months during 1918–1919. Grant stated that Griffiths knew what he was doing, but did not realise that his actions were wrong. This was challenged by the prosecution who produced Dr. F.H. Brisby, the medical officer from Walton Gaol, where Griffiths had been held on remand since 14 August. He stated that Griffiths was sane when he committed the crime, based on his observations of Griffiths during his incarceration.[3]

Griffiths described during the trial how he had entered the hospital and picked up a glass water bottle to use as a weapon if he was challenged. He also described how he lifted Devaney from her cot and carried her down the field, away from the hospital building, with Devaney putting her arms around Griffiths' neck for support. Griffiths made no response when he was asked about the sexual aspect of the assault. After hearing Griffiths' recollection of the events, Grant conceded that Griffiths was of sound mind.[3]

The trial lasted for two days. After 23 minutes of deliberations, the jury returned a guilty verdict and the judge sentenced Griffiths to death, stating "the sentence of the court is that you be taken from here to a place of execution to suffer death by hanging, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul".[3]

Griffiths was hanged at Liverpool Prison on 19 November 1948.[8] Following the conviction of Griffiths, Blackburn police kept a promise, made to the people of Blackburn, to destroy all the sets of fingerprints that had been taken by pulping them at a local papermill, with the local press present to record the destruction.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Freedom of Information: Records released as a result of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests" (PDF). The National Archives. HM Government of the United Kingdom. June 2005. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "A brutal murder begins an unusual investigation". This Day in History — 5/14/1948. History.com. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Woodruff, Lorna. "The Murder of June Anne Devaney". Cottontown.org. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  4. ^ "1939 Register Service". NHS Information Centre. Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  5. ^ "Peter Griffiths" at murderpedia.org
  6. ^ "The Fingerprint Society commemorates 60 years since landmark fingerprint identification". Fpsociety.org.uk. The Fingerprint Society. 2008. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  7. ^ "Sixty years of fingerprints" (VIDEO). BBC News. 20 August 2008. Retrieved 30 September 2012. 
  8. ^ "Peter Griffiths - 1948". BritishExecutions.co.uk. 19 November 1948. Retrieved 27 September 2012.