WHY had the rifle gone off? Had a soldier deliberately shot a corporal for reporting him to his commanding officer or had it been accidentally discharged while being cleaned? Bandsman Richard Edge then replaced the gun in the barracks rack and walked to the guards room to put himself in custody because it had been fired, unaware he had killed his comrade.

Such were the facts placed before jurors when Edge appeared at Hampshire Assizes, charged with the murder of lance Corporal Edwin Tyler, both 23 and members of the King's Royal Rifles who were stationed at Gosport on July 31, 1911.

The prosecution claimed Edge had been rankled when Tyler reported him for missing a roll call because he was drunk. Two other soldiers overheard him muttering a threat to kill Tyler, though they did not take the remark seriously as the pair had become friends after joining the regiment ten years earlier.

Hours later, however, Tyler was dead.

Daily Echo: Picture of an old rifle.

The pair occupied opposite sides of the barracks' dormitory, some 12 yards apart, and the corporal was sitting on his bed when the gun went off. It should not have but Edge had broken an order - cartridges not used on the firing range had to be returned. Instead, Edge retained two and when his gun was examined after the shooting, there was one in it.

When charged, he claimed: "I don't know how it happened. I was cleaning my rifle. We have been chums for years."

Their friendship was underlined at the Assizes on November 9 when witness after witness, even those called by the prosecution, testified to his good character, popularity and easygoing disposition. Even Tyler's brother acknowledged there was no ill-feeling between them.

Looking cool and collected, Edge, dressed in his khaki uniform, had issued a firm 'not guilty' plea when the murder charge was put to him and took a firm interest in the proceedings that were to last just one day.

Giving evidence, he said he could not remember making any threats to kill Tyler. The evening he went out drinking, he looked through his rifle and saw no cartridge in it. The following morning, after reading a paper, he took it from the rack to clean it.

"I had begun to dust it down with a piece of rag and as I was rubbing the bolt, my finger caught the trigger and the rifle discharged. I saw what happened and thought it best to report myself at the guard room. I did not realise I had shot him."

Daily Echo: Barracks in Gosport.

After asserting he had found the cartridges when returning from the range, Lord Alverstone, the Lord Chief Justice, posed a couple of questions.

Judge - "Have you any enmity against the deceased?"

Edge: "No, I had known for nine or ten years as a chum."

Judge - "Can you explain how the cartridges got into your rifle?"

Edge - No."

Defence barrister Gerald Carter emphasised in his closing speech there was no evidence that Edge had pointed the rifle at Tyler. "It was not an aimed shot and on that basis you must not convict him."

Directing jurors as to the law, the judge told them: "You have no alternative but to say whether it is wilful murder or an accident. You must be satisfied the prisoner had the intent to murder before you find him guilty."

They retired for about half an hour before acquitting him. However, as Edge left the dock, the judge delivered a stern warning to him on the perils of drink. "Keep clear of it in the future."