Fatal shooting at Oddington – November 1928

On the afternoon of Sunday 4 November 1928 a motorist was approaching Oddington when he found a boy lying seriously injured in the road. He was told by other boys that he had collapsed after a gun-shot. The motorist took the boy to the doctor at Islip but he died before he could receive medical attention.


The boy was Eric James Herbert, aged 12, the son of Mary Herbert, of Oddington. His father, Edward George Herbert, had died of cancer in April of that year.


The serious nature of the incident is reflected in the fact that the police investigation immediately came under the control of the Chief Constable, Capt. Arbuthnot. It was established that the person who fired the gun was Ralph Cecil Simpson, age 18, a farm worker.


An inquest was opened at Oddington on Tuesday 6 November before the Coroner, Mr A.H. Franklin, and a jury. The Chief Constable represented the police and Simpson was represented by Mr Stockton, solicitor. Mary Herbert gave evidence that Eric was her 12 year old son, who she had last seen after they had lunch on the Sunday.


The next witness was John Collett, of Manor Farm, Oddington. He told of how he had instructed Maurice Hemmings, a pupil on his farm, and Simpson, to scare crows from a bean field on Grange Lane. He provided them with a shot-gun and four cartridges. They had initially gone to the field at 12 noon, returning to the farm for lunch. After lunch Simpson went back out with the gun on his own. At 3.30pm Simpson returned to say that there had been an accident. He was very upset and Mr Collett was unable to get a proper explanation from him.


Roy Long, age 13, of Oddington told of how he was out for a walk with another boy, Joe Bosher, age 8, and saw Eric Herbert and other boys playing in the road. They first saw Simpson in Mr Collett’s field known as Big Meadow, walking along with a gun on his shoulder. They had later gone into the field known as Home Ground, where they came across Simpson. From there he fired at crows in Mr Haynes’ field, on the other side of Oddington Lane. Soon after he fired again at more crows, which were in Mr Haynes’ field. The two boys went through a gap in the hedge to see if Simpson had shot any of the crows. They then saw Eric Herbert lying in the road. They went back into Home Ground and told Simpson that he had shot the boy.  Simpson went through the gap and to the Herbert boy. He picked him up and at that stage Roy Long ran home to tell his mother.


Eric  Herbert had been in the company of his brother, Cyril Playfair Herbert, aged 11, and Fred Long. The latter two had decided to go through the gap in the hedge to join the other boys in Home Ground but Eric declined to do so. Cyril gave damning evidence, which was that he had heard Simpson say, “Let’s shoot this young Herbert.” He saw him put a cartridge in the gun and aim at Eric, who was on the road. Eric tried to dodge out of the way and use a tree as cover. Simpson then fired and Cyril saw his brother fall to the ground.


The Coroner adjourned the inquest, following which Simpson was taken into custody. Later that day he appeared before a Magistrate, charged that “he did feloniously kill and slay on Eric James Herbert.” He was released on bail to reappear at the adjourned hearing.


On 22 November 1928 there was a full hearing before the Magistrates at Bicester. In giving his evidence Ralph Simpson told of coming from Glympton, leaving school at the age of 14, following which he had worked on a farm in Sussex for two years before being employed by John Collett. Since childhood he had been almost blind in one eye. On the morning of the accident Maurice Hemmings had the gun, as he (Simpson) had no experience. In the afternoon he had returned alone to the bean field before coming back into the fields nearer the village. He was joined by Roy Long and Joe Bosher and it was then they saw the crows in Mr Haynes’ field. He put a cartridge in the gun and was in the process of raising the barrel when the gun went off. He was then facing the hedge and he had no idea that there was anyone on the other side. It was only when Roy Long told him that he had shot someone that he went to road and saw Eric Herbert lying there. He picked him up, laid him down again and ran back to Manor Farm. He denied having said, “Let’s shoot this young Herbert.” He denied that he could see Eric Herbert through the hedge before he fired the shot. Counsel for the defendant invited the Magistrates to use their discretion not to commit for trial if they were satisfied that a prima facie case had not been made out. He stressed that the evidence against the defendant came from two boys, Roy Long and Cyril Herbert. Their versions of events differed considerably and he suggested that Cyril Herbert had been influenced in what he said by discussions with his mother and older brother. After retiring for 40 minutes the Magistrates’ decision was that there was insufficient evidence on which to commit the defendant for trial. The case was therefore dismissed.