Published: 10/09/2008 00:00 - Updated: 30/11/2011 14:16

Scrap dealer cleared of attempted murder

Benjamin Wilson
Benjamin Wilson

A SCRAP dealer living in Kingussie has been cleared at the High Court in Inverness of attempting to murder a man with a hammer. It took the jury nearly two-hours to return the majority not guilty verdict for Benjamin Wilson on Monday at the culmination of the four-day trial. The 47-year-old insisted he had been defending himself from James McPhee, who suffered a fractured skull in the fracas after being hit on the head in the alleged hammer attack. Wilson, whose address in court was given as 2 Mill Road, Kingussie, denied assaulting Mr McPhee to his severe injury and permanent disfigurement and attempting to murder him. He had lodged a special defence of self-defence, claiming that it was he who was attacked by Mr McPhee. Mr Wilson declined to comment as he walked free from the court. It has been alleged that the attack happened on September 5, last year, at Brackletter Caravan Site, Spean Bridge, where both men lived with their families at the time. Giving his evidence, Wilson said he had worked with violent criminals on behalf of the court service to try stop bigotry against travellers. His valuable efforts had seen him being invited to the opening of The Scottish Parliament and to the Queen's garden party. Wilson said he had been playing outside his caravan pitch with his son after 9pm on September 4 when he heard Mr McPhee, whose caravan pitch was only a short distance away, shouting abuse and screaming his name. He claimed Mr McPhee came towards his pitch and said to him: "I wanted to see how hard you really are." Wilson said he told Mr McPhee to go home but shortly afterwards Mr McPhee, an unemployed landscape gardener, swung his loppers (shears) at Wilson. They caught Wilson on the arm and on the nose, causing it to bleed. The two men ended up wrestling on the ground and Wilson's son threw the loppers into the grass. Wilson eventually got Mr McPhee in a head lock and Mr McPhee's father came along and took his son home. However, the following morning trouble started again when Wilson picked up the loppers and went to Mr McPhee's pitch to return them. Wilson told the court that Mr McPhee came running out of his caravan with an ornamental brass and flintlock musket in his hands and challenged him to a fight. The accused claimed Mr McPhee hit him with the barrel of the gun on his head and then Mr McPhee's wife got hold of the loppers and began striking him on the back with them. The two men grabbed each others jackets and struggled with each other. Wilson then claimed he saw Mr McPhee reach into his pocket. He thought Mr McPhee was going to pull out a screwdriver so he pulled a socket wrench from his own back pocket and struck the other man in the face. Wilson said he had not intended to hit Mr McPhee in the face but somewhere lower, like his arm. Mr McPhee suffered a fractured skull, bruising to his brain and a cut ear in the incident. Thirty-six-year-old Laurence Knighton, a local police constable at the time of the trouble, arrived on the scene after a 999 call had been made. He told the court he saw a bloody handprint on the side of Mr McPhee's caravan and blood on the step leading up to it. Mrs McPhee told the court that several times during the incident she had believed that her husband was going to be killed. The court heard that her husband had been drinking heavily since hearing of the death of his uncle. In his evidence on Wednesday, Mr McPhee admitted his behaviour had got out of hand. Recalling events, Mr McPhee said he was sitting in his caravan when he spotted Wilson walking over with the loppers he had dropped the previous evening. "I got up and walked towards him to ask if we could forget about what had happened but he never said anything," Mr McPhee said. He explained to the court he had been carrying the one-metre-long musket because he had forgotten to put it down when he moved it away from the caravan door. Mr McPhee said his wife had come to the door of the caravan at that point and urged the pair to behave like adults. "Mr Wilson said he was going to do it there and tried to hit me with the loppers. He was swinging them over his head," he claimed. "We wrestled for about two minutes. He tried to brain me with the loppers then my wife separated us and told us to behave. Then Mr Wilson withdrew something from the back of his jacket and I heard my wife shout, 'He's got a hammer. Look out.' "He hit me on the left side of my head and I tried to grab the hammer but I failed because I was dizzy." Advocate depute Sarah Livingston asked him: "When you were hit for the second time, where were you?" Mr McPhee said he had been unarmed on the ground when this happened. Mrs McPhee called an ambulance for her husband and he convinced her to say nothing about the alleged assault and they agreed to tell anyone who asked that the injury was the result of a fall. However, Mr McPhee later told staff at Beford Hospital he had been hit with a hammer. The court later heard from Richard Creed, a consultant surgeon who treated Mr McPhee. He recalled that Mr McPhee's skull appeared to have been fractured and that he was suffering from headaches, dizziness and "his family were a little worried his level of consiousness had decreased". Mr McPhee was discharged from hospital, against medical advice, to attend his uncle's funeral but was soon re-admitted. A scan revealed a bruise on the surface of his brain and experts at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow were asked to inspect his x-rays. Mr Creed told the court that in his opinion the blows Mr McPhee suffered were very close to a spot that could have ended his life. As a condition of bail, Wilson had to move away from the site at Brackletter. It is understood that he moved to the Market Stance in Kingussie where the family stayed in a caravan. They were moved on to the local authority's travelling people's site at Newtonmore before his wife was housed by Highland Council at the address in Kingussie in April, and Wilson moved in too.

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