WILLIAM DUFF, schoolteacher, of Macrae’s Flat, hung his head while Mr. Justice Reed made this comment arising out of a charge — on which he was acquitted — of having used obscene language at a dance at Macrae’s Flat on February 19.
Evidently Duff, on the night concerned, became excited and annoyed through being refused a dance, and had used indiscreet language.
In the allegations of the prosecution the language, mentioned was offensive in the extreme.
The language Duff admitted having used was not particularly choice, but it was not obscene.
When the case came before Magistrate Bundle at the Palmerston Police Court on March 29, Lawyer W. G. Hay, who appeared for the accused, elected to be tried by jury.
He characterised the charge as “vicious” and the alleged language as “exaggerated filth,” declaring that “if the very ditches of filth had been searched, worse language could not have been found.”
Was there any cause or provocation? As the long story unfolded it appeared that Macrae’s Flat had come under the grip of a religious feud, so that when a dispute arose as to how money belonging to the sports fund was to be spent, sides were taken.
This bitterness of feeling asserted itself at some public meetings. Duff, the schoolteacher, was stated to have become entangled in the trouble.
The “opposition” included James O’Connell, Kieran O’Connell, William and David Heffernan, the Phelans and others.
On February 19 a cricket dance was held at Macrae’s Flat public hall. Kieran O’Connell was M.C.
Duff was present. There were several non-dancers, including William and Dave Heffernan, George Roy, Robert Harkess, Joe Phelan, David Finnie and others standing in the passage leading to the hall.
During the evening Duff, a powerful young fellow of 23, had approached Miss O’Connell for a dance, but had been refused. This rebuff stung. After dancing with some other girls he went out into the passage at the entrance to the hall which led to the men’s cloakroom.
In his own story Duff remarked that before he left he wanted to let those standing about know just what he thought.
His words were: “They are blimy well mad. They are sub-normal. They are a dirty, narrow-minded crowd and it shows how they have been brought up.”
Duff’s remarks were apparently intended to refer to the women in the hall. Kieran O’Connell interposed, saying: “Don’t say that again! I have relatives in there.”
Duff repeated the words. When O’Connell asked him if it were his sister he was referring to, Duff admitted that he said: “If the cap fits, wear it!”
Several others standing near heard the language. O’Connell challenged Duff to fight, which took place outside the hall. Finally the Heffernans, the Phelans and O’Connell took to Duff and knocked him down in the road, the intervention of a man named Hay ending the matter.
This, according to Duff, was a true version of the affair. Of his witnesses two were in the passage when the “language” was used.
Robert Harkess, a laborer at Macrae’s Flat, said he heard Duff use the language about the women being subnormal and without brains.
In reply to Lawyer Hay, witness said he could not have missed the language from where he stood.
Crown Prosecutor: Is it not a fact that you told Heffernan or O’Connell after the dance that, you heard this language used? — No.
David Finnie said he heard Duff say the women at Macrae’s Flat were sub-normal and blimy well mad.
The allegations of the prosecution were characterised by Lawyer Hay as constituting a vicious charge. It was pointed out by Crown Prosecutor Adams that all these witnesses were in the passage. Some of the witnesses for the defence stated that they did not hear any language.
Duff admitted that he had used some language, and it may have been possible for the language to have been used and not heard by the witnesses for the defence.
According to William Heffernan, farmer, of Macrae’s Flat, Duff came out into the passage. He was right next to his shoulder and said — evidently referring to one of the women — “I hope the little ---- gets ---- and all the diseases that will make the little --- suffer!”
Further offensive language followed, according to Heffernan. Duff, he alleged, said: “There’s not a decent ---- among one of them!”
He considered the language so offensive that he determined to lay a charge on his own account.
Lawyer Hay: Have you any feeling against Duff? — No.
Would you like to see him shifted from Macrae’s? — I wouldn’t like my children to be taught by him.
Did you know since the dance that your brother said. Duff would soon be among the, unemployed?— No.
Heffernan admitted that since the incident he and his party had wanted to get Duff out of his position as schoolteacher, because they thought he was not fit to teach in school.
In reply to Crown Prosecutor Adams, Heffernan said that at a meeting dealing with sporting affairs a motion was carried that St. Patrick’s Day was no day at all and that the sports be held on Anniversary Day. There was a fight on the Monday following the dance.
Kieran O’Connell stated that he heard the accused say: “I have met some rummy women, but these are the rottenest I have ever come across!”
According to Joseph Phelan, he would have been a sorry wreck had Duff carried out his threat.
When he asked him to cut out the language he alleged that Duff said: “I’ll knock your head through the wall.” Duff was also alleged to have said: “I’ll get a ---- dance any way.”
When Kieran O’Connell threatened to put Duff outside, accused said: “It’ll take three like you to put me outside.” Duff admitted having said this.
Similar evidence was given by David Heffernan, who said that neither George Roy nor David Finnie were present at the time.
His Honor said it was perfectly clear that when Duff came out into the passage he had used some improper language in regard to the girls.
It was not sufficient, however, that the words were improper and insulting, but whether they were obscene.
After retiring for a quarter of an hour the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.