26th May 1901

Arson is suspected in a long-running marital dispute

A curious case of arson left the court somewhat perplexed. Marie Le Lievre was accused of setting fire to her brother in law’s house on 26 May 1901. Plenty of evidence pointed to her guilt, including cotton of a type she had owned binding together the torch that had been used to start it, some sooty footprints, freshly trampled potato plants and the fact her husband had fled the family home and taken refuge in the house with his brother.

Then there was the matter of the insults she’d been throwing at him the previous day.

A cast-iron alibi?

But then, how could she possibly have started the fire, which broke out at 2.30 that morning, when witnesses put her at least 45 minutes walk away in her own home? Clearly something was amiss, and even the victim – the brother in law who had lost not only his home but all of his belongings – couldn’t quite get his story straight. He claimed not to have had a clock in the house, yet knew quite well what time certain things had happened throughout the night. The judge, unable to untangle the various stories, referred the matter to the Royal Court.

Surprisingly, given the seriousness of the charge, the Jersey Weekly Press and Independent, which reported the above, didn’t follow up the story as it progressed through the Royal Court. Perhaps this is because the Le Lievres, who appear not to have been happy in their marriage, already appeared quite often in the local papers at the start of the 20th century.

A regular story

The previous February Jean Le Livre, the husband, had been fined £1 or subjected to six days’ hard labour if he could not pay, for hitting her so hard in the street that she fell to the floor with a bleeding face. Three months after the arson hearing, they were back in court after police had been called to their house when he’d been accused of beating her. This time, the fine was set at £2 or fifteen days’ hard labour. He couldn’t pay, but he offered to leave the island if the judge would let him go. When the judge refused, Marie Le Livre paid it for him on the understanding he’d leave her alone in the future.

This could have ended up being a very expensive day for Marie Le Livre, as no sooner had her offer to pay the £2 been considered but the court turned its attention to the next case, in which she was the accused. Not only had she been cavorting around the town naked, banging on peoples’ doors, but she had threatened to disembowel several people with a knife.

Remarkably, she was allowed to walk free on the understanding that she would not do so again.


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Other events that occured in May