The Bradford Street scuttler, William Willan had been in plenty of fights but he had no criminal record. He was, after all, only sixteen. But when one Saturday in 1892, he fatally stabbed Peter Kennedy in the side, he not only broke the law, he broke the scuttle code. The point of the fights was to maim, not murder. As Kennedy lay bleeding, Willan fled the scene.
Many in his gang feared the retribution that would follow. They decided to inform on him. This was lucky for the police for they had been largely ineffective in combating the scuttlers. The police were there to deal with professional criminals or market disturbances and pub brawls. Citywide organised gang violence and murder just wasn’t in their remit. As Duncan Broady of the Greater Manchester Police Museum noted; “The police weren’t set up to deal with this scale of outbreak”.
And if a uniformed bobby did turn up to a mass scuttle, they may themselves become the target. They also found that if they quietened one district, fighting would just break out in another.
Fearing the gallows, Willan ran to his friend, Jimmy Hands. Willan gave him his wage packet on condition that Hands stashed the murder weapon for him. He gave him only one instruction “If you get copped, don’t tell on me”.
But the following day, at 3pm, Jimmy Hands walked into Canal Street Police Station in Ancoats and handed in the clasp knife. He told the desk sergeant that the weapon had been used by William Willan to stab Peter Kennedy.
Willan was arrested on the Monday morning. At this stage, the charge was not murder. Peter Kennedy was still in hospital. But his condition deteriorated. He died two weeks later.
William Willan and two of his friends were now charged with murder.