Liverpool Mercury
Tuesday, 25th June, 1861

The Boy Shot By Volunteers At Wallasey

The adjourned inquest on the body of George Cooper, the boy who was unfortunately shot by a party of volunteers belonging to the 3rd Cheshire Rifles (Captain Chambres), whilst practising on the shore at Wallasey, on the 8th instant, was resumed on Friday, at the Black Horse Public House, Wallasey, before Mr. Henry Churton, coroner. Major Manners, district inspector of volunteers, who had been in communication with the War Office respecting the Wallasey rifle range, was in attendance, although not officially.

The Coroner, in opening the proceedings, reminded the jury that the inquest was adjourned in order that the shooting ground and targets might be inspected by someone appointed by Government. He thought it right to have the ground inspected, inasmuch Captain Chambres was under the impression that the targets were not safe in their present position, and that consequently there might be a recurrence of the fearful accident that had happened a fortnight ago. He had received two letters on the subject from the War Office, the first, dated the 18th instant, intimating that Major Manners had been requested to survey the ground, and to report upon the circumstances under which the accident had occurred. The second letter, which he had received that morning, enclosed Major Manners' report, which had been furnished to the Secretary of War. It was stated in the communication that, in consequence of Major Manners' report, instructions had been given to discontinue the use of the range pending the adoption of proper measures for securing the safety of the public. The report (continued the coroner) would satisfy them of the dangerous nature of the ground from the present position of the targets, and it would appear from the report of Major Manners that he coincided with the opinions offered at their last meeting, not only with regard to the position of the targets, but also as to the very indiscretion of employing a boy of the age of the deceased to occupy such an important position on the ground. He had no doubt that the jury would coincide with Major Manners' report, and after hearing it read he felt convinced they would consider it right and proper to return a verdict of accidental death, because he was of opinion that they could attribute blame to anyone who might have taken upon himself any responsibility on that occasion. With regard to the party responsible, they would recollect that Captain Chambres spontaneously, and much to his credit and honour, took that responsibility upon himself; and he might further state that it was immaterial to the jury to know by whom the fatal shot was fired, although that was impossible to ascertain; but whoever fired the shot, Captain Chambres, as the superior officer, became responsible. They would, however, recollect that Captain Chambres complied in every respect with the particular rules which had reference to extra target shooting. He saw that the signals were hoisted; the ground was clear, and persons were employed to keep it clear; and it was only the unfortunate boy's moving from a place of safety to one of danger that gave rise to the sad occurrence. Captain Chambres was not aware that the boy had place himself within the range of the firing. However, it had been proved since the occurrence that the lad had unconsciously, because he was not able to see the firing party, and those who were firing were unable to see him; so that the whole affair was a pure accident. Therefore, after hearing Major Manners' report, the jury would return a verdict of "Accidental death," exculpating all parties from the slightest blame. He then read the report, as follows:-

Sir,-- In compliance with instructions in your communication of the 15th instant, received last night, I have the honour to acquaint you, for the information of his lordship the Secretary for War, that I have this day investigated the circumstances under which the accident occurred at Wallasey and having also carefully inspected the range on that occasion, I beg to report that --

1. All the precautions prescribed for the range were used, and even an additional danger flag.
2. The volunteers and others forming the firing party on the evening of the 8th instant were suing the appointed Government practice range and target fixed for the regular troops, and were under proper control and in military formation.
3. With regard to the precautions which have been considered necessary for this range I am of the opinion that as the targets are at present placed, none would render the ground safe, as the immediate proximity of the targets to a large tract of low sand hills, constantly frequented, renders accidents similar to the late unfortunate one extremely probable. >>>

4. There is no butt behind the targets nor are there mantalets for markers; and the targets should, in my opinion, have been placed considerably more towards the sea, thereby obviating every chance of the existing danger.
5. I have examined Captain Chambres, 3rd C.R.V. (who was the senior officer present); Captain Grey, 4th C.A.V., Mr. Cooper (father of the boy), a lad named Howard, who was with the boy when he was shot, and am of the opinion that the accident was occasioned by the boy in cautiously getting out of his place from behind a low bank of sand when in charge of the distant danger flag (under any circumstance, from being in the line of fire, a position of extreme danger), and the selection of a child of such an age for the very responsible duties of attending a danger flag.
In conclusion, I have also the honour to state that I have taken it upon myself, pending further instructions, to order the targets to be lowered, and enclosing an account of the inquest. -- I have the honour to be &c.
Major and Inspector of Volunteers
Palatine Club, Liverpool, June 18th 1861.

The Coroner then remarked that Major Manners appeared to have investigated everything that they might have to say in reference to the matter. He was of opinion that the targets were improperly placed; that the boy was of too tender an age to be placed in such a responsible position, and that if the unfortunate lad had not moved from the position in which he was fist placed, the accident would not have happened. Whether the jury would append anything to their verdict was a matter for their consideration; but having the prompt assistance of Major Manners, who had taken upon himself the removal of the targets, he would not urge them to add anything to their verdict of "Accidental death." The coroner then tendered his grateful thanks to Captain Chambres for the handsome manner in which he facilitated their proceedings from the commencement of the inquiry. He had evidently shown an earnest anxiety that such accidents should not recur. He had shown great interest, and no doubt a painful interest, in what had occurred, and he (the coroner) felt extremely obliged to him and his officers for this assistance in promoting the inquiry, which he trusted would tend to the public good. They all knew that the volunteers movement was one of the great importance to this country; it had become, he hoped, a permanent institution, and it now numbered in its ranks all classes of the community, from the peer down to the peasant; and it was only right and proper that those who originated and joined the movement should become effective men -- good rifle shots; and in order to be good rifle shots they must be provided with safe and proper grounds for practice; and feeling, as he did, the importance of the movement, they would enter into his views that the only object of their meeting was to further this great movement and to render rifle practice safe to the public. They all very well knew that in England there was often times, owing to our great population, much difficulty in selecting safe ground; they also knew that in that locality, which was frequented by so many persons from the manufacturing districts, and also from the undulating nature of the ground, it was impossible to keep the range clear; but if the targets were placed in the position that was suggested at their previous inquiry, the practice might be continued with safety to the public.

Major Manners remarked that no blame could be attributed to the volunteers, for the ground had been used by the regular troops for years, and the volunteers had no power to move the targets.

The Coroner said that was his reason for writing to the War Office. What had been done had, no doubt, been done under proper advice, and the targets were thought safe and secure, but it turned to be otherwise.
Major Manners observed that he could place the targets where they would be perfectly safe, providing the public would agree to it.

A Juryman -- Keep off the shore.
Major Manners -- Yes; by placing the targets a little to the left; but then it would interfere with the public riding and walking on the shore.

The Coroner had no doubt, from the letter he had received from the War office, that the targets would be placed in a position that would render shooting perfectly safe to the public.

The jury then returned a verdict of "Accidental death," and the inquiry terminated.

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