An American serviceman who stabbed a man in Prescot shortly after the end of World War 2 was court martialed and jailed for life.
On the night of 26th August 1945 James Canavan was heading to his home in Mines Avenue with his brother in law Martin Mannion. Whilst in Manchester Road they were passed by a couple only for the man to turn around and stab Canavan, who died about two hours later in Whiston hospital.
The attacker was described as six foot tall, of powerful build and coloured, while his companion was just over five foot and blond. An appeal by police led to the female coming forward, identifying herself as Annie Harmon. This led to a search of American military camps taking place and a man named John Scales was arrested.
At the court martial on 12th October, Annie said that she had known Scales for two years and he definitely did not have a knife that night. If he was responsible for the death, she said, it was in self defence and not intentional. Describing the crucial moment, she told the court that either Canavan or Mannion had made a racial slur leading to a struggle and that she had pleaded for Scales to let it go.
A statement was read out that had been made by Scales on the night of the killing, in which he claimed to have had a bayonet held at him, which he tried to seize and stabbed Canavan by accident. However, another serviceman said that he had seen Scales wiping blood off a knife at the camp.
Fellow soldiers told how locals resented American servicemen, especially those who were not white, dating local women. One described how it was absurd to suppose that this had been an unprovoked attack. The prosecution however maintained that even if there was some provocation the reaction was not justified and pressed for the death penalty. After being found guilty Scales, a former art student, was then sentenced to life imprisonment.