HE came from the most distinguished of families who over the years had acted as the Queen's representative as county sheriffs and been elected as members of Pariament but now their good name was at stake.

Sir John Milbanke, the 7th Baronet of Halanby, Yorkshire, stood in the dock at Hampshire Assizes in 1838 accused of attempted murder at a Southampton ball.

But why the case had reached such a stage remains a travesty as the 'victim' George Pocock readily accepted a knife wound to his neck had purely been an accident and there had been no malicious intent.

The incident happened after Sir John had admitted him to the ball of the Society of Odd Fellows although he was not a member. The two men had previously met but did not know each other that well.

However shortly before midnight the two men fell out in a trivial row over a dance.

Pocock told jurors: "He said he was not anxious for my acquaintance and I replied I was equally unambitious as I did not know whether to call his acquaintance an honour or a pleasure."

Sir John left the room but returning within five minutes approached him with a dagger which he had showing to other guests. Seconds later he suffered the knife wound.

Pocock sought to retaliate.

"I went to the fireplace which was a step or two away and seized a poker with which I intended to strike him but was prevented by the bystanders."

The court heard Pocock was examined by Dr Mackay who treated him for a cut about two thirds of an inch in length and about one and a quarter inches in depth.

After the surgeon left, Sir John approached him and apologised.

"He said the occurrence was quite an accident and did not intend to cause an injury. I shook him by the hand and expressed my belief, also, that it was an accident."

And that seemed to be the end of the matter.

Not at all.

Pocock bizarrely changed his mind and demanded the police to arrest Sir John but Pc Bull, who had been summoned to the ball, refused, the officer telling jurors: "Sir John said it was a trifling accident for which he was willing to answer but I didn't take him into custody as Mr Pocock afterwards said afterwards he had no charge to make against him."

Despite that admission, Southampton magistrates sent him for trial at the Lent Assizes which took place on March 6, 1838.

But why was he carrying a knife? Only Inspector J T Enright could only offer anything approaching a plausible explanation - self protection.

"In going to the Rose and Crown to Sir John's residence, a person must pass over some lonely fields with a low neighbourhood but I do not know whether any advice had been given to Sir John it would be as well to carry a knife."

The defendant was not called to give his account but the defence barrister Mr Erle ridiculed the prosecution's case, submitting to jurors in his closing speech: "If there was any intention to do grievous bodily harm, it would have been much deeper and more severe.

"Looking moreover at the slight provocation - a dispute about a dance or some trivial matter - it is certainly insufficient to induce a gentleman who, during a life distinguished for his cheerfulness and urbanity, to commit an act imputing the greatest ferocity.

"The evidence is strongly in favour of the accused; even Mr Pocock himself has expressed his belief almost from the first it was not the intention of Sir John to do him grievous bodily harm and he might be considered a most creditable witness, since in the middle of danger he could make allowance for the excitement of others."

Mr Justice Maude began his summing up by extolling the defendant's good character and qualities before posing one question to jurors: "What motive could he have had to do such this act? The only one to be discovered was an altercation about a dance and it can hardly be supposed that this little circumstance was sufficient to perpetrate a most atrocious crime."

Jurors consulted for a mere few seconds without retiring and acquitted him leaving the family's reputation intact.

The baroncy was created in 1661 and the most celebrated holder was Milbanke's great grandson, Sir John Peniston Milbanke who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in the Boer War when serving as a captain in the Royal Hussars.

Though been shot in the thigh, he rode back to assist one of the regiment whose pony was exhausted. Having dismounted, he placed the man on his own horse under withering gunfire and brought him safely back to camp.

He re-enlisted at the outbreak of the Great War when he was appointed Lt.Col of the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Foresters) but was tragically killed at Gallipoli. His body was never recovered and his medals are held at the King's Royal Hussars Museum in Winchester.

The title however became extinct on the death of the 12th baronet in 1949 and their ancestral home was demolished three years later.