Each month, we take a look back at one of the most infamous crimes in Worcestershire's history. This time, we revisit the case of the tramp accused of a murder in a public toilet.

IN the decades following the Second World War, one of the great ‘characters’ on the Worcester legal scene was a solicitor by the name of Hugh McNaught. A dapper, bustling man, he would often arrive in magistrates court in a great hurry, in some disarray and with a huge raft of files and papers under his arm.

 His forte, or so it seemed to the world weary seen-it-all-before court reporters of the local press, was the hopeless cause. Whether by accident or design, McNaught appeared to get the clients other firms shied away from. Yet to hear him plead the case for a serial offender who had been up before the bench so many times he was virtually on first name terms with the magistrates, was to witness an expert in action. So it was no surprise when he stepped up to take on the case of a 39-year-old tramp charged with murder.

 The year was 1961 and just before midnight on Saturday, April 8, Irish labourer Patrick Mulligan was seen staggering along Commandery Road, not far from Worcester Cathedral. Given the hour and the day, passers-by assumed he was drunk, until Mulligan collapsed on the pavement with blood streaming from a wound in his chest. He was rushed to Worcester Royal Infirmary but died without regaining consciousness.

 Police were able to follow a trail of blood from where the 22-year-old was found, back to the public toilets in Bath Road, where it appeared he had been stabbed. Three demolition workers were initially charged with Mulligan’s murder but the case against them was soon dropped and police began a nationwide search for a tramp seen near the toilets around the time of the attack. He was described as around 50, 6ft tall and the owner of a distinctive tartan cushion found in the toilets.

Detective Superintendent Hawkins of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad arrived in Worcester to help the local force, which was then still Worcester City Constabulary, and there were appeals for witnesses on national television and in the press. Then on May 10, just over a month after the Worcester murder, a man appeared at Mansion House Magistrates Court in London charged with begging.

 When Clifford Newsham of no fixed abode was released later that day, waiting for him were Det Supt Hawkins and Chief Inspector William Paterson of Worcester City Police. Despite his protestations he had never been to Worcester in his life, Newsham was charged with Mulligan’s murder. Legal aid was granted for his defence and that’s when Hugh McNaught entered the fray. He immediately set the cat among the pigeons by applying for bail, despite the charge being murder and the accused having nowhere to go. Needless to say he didn’t get it, but some interesting points were raised. McNaught pointed out the police had previously claimed they were looking for a 50-year-old man at least 6ft tall, whereas Newsham was 39 and considerably shorter. He had been arrested following the publication of an identikit image, which the solicitor referred to as “pictures built up with an American contraption”.

 McNaught went even further. Newsham, he said, was willing to have a photo of himself published nationally, so that anyone who could prove his alibi that he was in London at the time of the crime could come forward. The solicitor added: “There is, of course, an enormous risk to this since all the prosecution needs to do is prove that Newsham was in Worcester at the relevant time and place and widespread publication of his picture might jog a few memories.”

The police opposed bail and the magistrates agreed. Newsham’s committal proceedings at Worcester Magistrates Court lasted three days and produced, according to McNaught, “the most amazing mass of contradictory evidence that has ever been put before a court”. The problem for the prosecution was that although there were several positive identifications of Newsham in and near the toilets at the time of the attack, it had no forensic evidence.

 West Midlands Forensic Laboratory in Birmingham could find nothing on Newsham’s person, cushion or clothing to connect him to the attack and he bore no signs of a recent struggle.

 Despite the conflicting evidence, Newsham was committed to stand trial for Mulligan’s murder at the next Stafford Assizes. But there the defence produced a trump card. A senior transport policemen testified seeing Newsham at a railway station a long way from Worcester at the time of the crime and the case collapsed. It was arguably Hugh McNaught’s finest legal hour.