HE delivered his evidence in a clear and concise manner, a complete contrast to his sobbing confession he had killed his mother whose drinking had spiralled so much out of control that on medical advice she was to be moved into the local workhouse.

William Hopkins, 27, stuffed one end of the handkerchief into her mouth and then strangled her with the other after she had apparently begged him to do so. Within minutes, he surrendered to the police, telling a constable: "I have come to give myself up. Lock me up."

But had he intended to do it or was it a tragic accident in trying to frighten her away from a dissolute living that was wrecking her life?

It was the issue for jurors to determine when Hopkins stood trial at Hampshire Assizes on November 1, 1912, for murder. With Mary Ann Hopkins's sad background and cause of death not in contention, prosecutor S H Emanual took a mere eight minutes to make his opening statement.

It was a crowded household, the two central characters plus the defendant's sister, brother-in-law and his two children occupying the premises in Southampton Street, Ringwood. Hopkins, 67, known to family and friends as Grannie, so abused alcohol it had gradually taken over her once happy and comfortable demeanour.

On that fateful day, July 9, he killed her in her bedroom. "What happened then, one can only know from what the prisoner said," Emanual declared. "On coming downstairs afterwards, he said to his sister 'I have done it.' His sister asked 'What have you done?' He replied 'I have strangled mother. She drove me to do it, prayed for me to do it and I have done it."

Hopkins, a collar cutter, then went directly to the police station. Returning with a doctor and the police superintendent, he led them to his mother's bedroom where she lay on her back under bedclothes with a pocket handkerchief protruding from her mouth and a pillow covering her face.

"You will be satisfied to know the handkerchief was not sufficient enough to cause her to suffocate but sufficient to prevent her cries from being heard. In truth, there is only one verdict you must come to, and that is one of murder."

Thomas Moore, Hopkins's brother-in-law, was a crucial witness, impressing upon the jury of the love between mother and son, despite her addiction to drink.

Bournemouth Echo: Ringwood, as featured on an old FGO Stuart postcard.

"She was very food of him," G W Ricketts for the defence asked.

"Very fond," he replied. Q. "Was he a good son to her?"

A." Always a very good son to her."

The barrister switched his cross-examination to her mental state.

Q. "Had she ever threatened to commit suicide?"

A. "Yes, a good many times."

Q. "You had heard her?"

A. "Yes, repeatedly. Five or six times in a night she has said that."

Q. "Did she try and commit suicide the day before she died?"

A " She asked for the rope?"

Q "Did she go out to drown herself."

A "Yes, William asked me to go and stop her. I stopped her and she returned to the house. She did not want to go to the workhouse. She cried and they cried."

The Crown next called Dr Charles Cressey who confirmed Mrs Hopkins had died from strangulation which could not have been self-inflicted, and though she was weak and wasted, it would have taken "a fair amount" of strength to break the thyroid cartilage.

Ricketts then questioned him about the defendant's state. Cressey said he had been in a highly excited and hysterical condition the day before her death. "He was crying and running up and down. On the day of the occurrence, he was in a lethargic condition owing to the reaction from the excitement of the day before." He concurred with the barrister's suggestion that the stress he had been under, coupled with his "unstable inheritance," had rendered him liable to mental confusion.

Q. "Supposing she had pressed him to kill her and supposing he, in a moment of irritation, had wished to frighten her by appearing to comply with her request, was he in a position to judge how much pressure he was exercising or how long it would be safe to exercise it without killing her?"

A "No."

Q. "Do you think his mind was in such a state that he did not know the danger of the force he was exercising?"

A "His mind might have been in such a state that he could not judge the danger he was doing."

Cressey concluded his evidence by confirming his mother was on the verge of delirium tremens and he had advised her removal to the workhouse.

Hopkins then entered the witness box, describing how his mother had been drinking heavily for eight weeks which greatly upset him and affected his eating and sleeping. She would come into his bedroom, attack him and complain. She did not want to go the workhouse and smashed things in the house.

That morning, he felt very tired after sleeping in a chair. He kissed her, asked her how she was, and hoped she would get on better. After he went downstairs, she began running round her room and he tried to persuade to get back into bed. She became quiet and he returned downstairs. He gave his sister Bessie money to get some milk and then went to see his mother again.

Sitting on her bed, he spoke to her in "a kindly way" that she would get better if she left the drink alone. "She turned very awkward, snatched a handkerchief out of my pocket and begged me to strangle her. She placed one end in her mouth and began to tie the other around her neck. I pulled the two ends of the handkerchief and went downstairs."

"Did you intend to strangle your mother?" Ricketts asked, to which he firmly replied: "No. I did it intending to frighten her."

Bournemouth Echo:

Hopkins said he then went downstairs for a cup of tea and when he returned, he found his mother dead.

Q. "Had you any expectation of finding her dead?"

A "None whatever. I told Bessie I had strangled her. But I was so frightened that I gave myself up to the police."

Under cross-examination, Hopkins admitted his mother's begging to kill her had "exasperated" him. However, he strongly denied tying the handkerchief around her neck but he did give one end a hard pull.

Emanual asked: "What was it that led you to say she drove you to do it?" Hopkins answered: "Worry, trouble and excitement. There were other things as well."

Q. "You never intended to do it."

A "no."

Emanual suggested that if that was the case, why had he not told that to his sister, the police and the magistrates? Even when charged with murder, he had failed to say he had not intended to kill her. Hopkins replied: " I was very excited, and when before the magistrates, I was so worn out that I could not speak."

In his closing speech, Ricketts told jurors the defendant had been always been prepared to admit manslaughter, and he had not been the kind of son who with "malice aforethought" would wilfully kill his mother. For two months, he had been irritable, excitable and hysterical and having given up drink, he more acutely felt his mother's condition.

"He did what he did in a fit of temper and wishing only to frighten her out of the dreadful condition she was in. He did it to show what strangulation was like but he never intended to put her to death."

The jury was absent for about 20 minutes before acquitting Hopkins of murder but guilty of manslaughter. Asked if he had anything to say before the sentence was pronounced, Hopkins, leaning upon the dock with his forearms and hands clasped, simply replied: "no."

Mr Justice Bucknill told him: "No one would have been surprised if you had been found guilty of wilful murder. You have had a narrow escape. You exasperated her and she exasperated you. I am not finding fault with the jury's verdict. The only sensible way to understand it is to give you the benefit of the doubt and that you might have acted on impulse and with no intention to kill her. I am bound to pass a severe sentence.

"The doctor says in his opinion this fracture could not have been inflicted by the woman and that there must have been severe force to inflict the fracture. It is the only explained by him by the pressure of the cartilage upon the backbone and any thinking man must know what pressure what might mean. The sentence of this court is that you go penal servitude for ten years."