ON December 29, 1888 the mutilated body of an eight-year-old boy was found at the back of Mellor Street in Manningham.

The gruesome case became linked with notorious Victorian killer Jack the Ripper, leading to fears that the Whitechapel murderer was prowling the streets of Bradford.

On the morning of December 27, young John Gill left his house to accompany milkman William Barrett on his round. Barrett later claimed that the boy had left him before his last call, which was near his home.

But John never got home. His parents, neighbours and the police searched for him and, two days after he went missing, his body was found by a local butcher near some stables. According to press reports of the time, the body had been mutilated, leading to theories that the killer may have been influenced by the Whitechapel murders.

In 2006 former T&A journalist Mike Priestley, in a feature about a book called Foul Deeds & Suspicious Deaths In and Around Bradford by Stephen Wade, wrote that Gill’’s corpse “was found in a Bradford street mutilated in the manner of the victims of Jack the Ripper”.

The shocking child murder caused widespread outrage in Bradford, with many people visiting the scene of the crime. There was a fear that the famous serial killer had moved from the East End of London to Bradford, and that poor John Gill might be the first of a series of victims.

But by noon on December 29, 1888 William Barrett, aged 23, had been arrested and charged with the murder of John Gill.

Evidence gathered by police, and reports that he was the last person to have seen John alive, suggested that Barrett was the killer. Those who knew the milkman, however, said he was of good character and the last person to be a murderer.

Within a fortnight of his arrest, despite the police being certain of Barrett’s guilt and the Bradford Coroner subsequently naming him as responsible for the killing, magistrates set him free. A case was prepared for a trial at Leeds Assize but withdrawn by the prosecution on the first day. No jury was ever given the opportunity to hear all the evidence.

Now this 19th century trial is being recreated, giving present day members of the public the opportunity to sit on the jury, hear the evidence and decide whether or not the defendant William Barrett should be given his freedom - or sent to the gallows.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: James Withers, who was Bradford Chief Constable at the time of the caseJames Withers, who was Bradford Chief Constable at the time of the case (Image: Bradford Police Museum)

Two Trial by Jury events, organised by Bradford Police Museum, volunteers will recreate the John Gill murder trial in the Victorian courtroom at City Hall - giving the ‘jury’ chance to sit in the same courtroom where William Barrett appeared in January 1889.

The trial was first recreated last November, and was booked up within 48 hours. Another Trial by Jury event took place in December and also sold out, leading the museum to plan further events.

Says Bradford Police Museum Director Dr Martin Baines: “We are giving a jury the opportunity to hear all the evidence and immerse themselves in this truly macabre, real-life murder trial from Bradford’s hidden history.

“Our court event is not a recreation of the original committal which failed, but an imagined trial, heard before a jury, as if the case had gone to court based on evidence available at the time, where Barratt would have faced the death penalty.

“It will allow members of the public to decide whether William Barrett should have been acquitted or sent to the gallows.”

Bradford Police Museum, located in City Hall, provides a fascinating insight into the history of policing, criminal justice, civic enforcement and the development of crime and punishment in Bradford from the early 19th century onwards.

The museum is on the site of the city’s original 19th century police station, which operated from 1874 to 1974.

Its fascinating gallery explores the city’s story of policing from the inception of the Bradford Borough Police force in 1848 through to the present day. Items on display include truncheons, uniforms, swords, crime scene exhibits, radio equipment and photographs covering 150 years of policing in Bradford. The museum also has a fleet of vintage police vehicles.

Visits to the museum include guided tours of the Victorian cells, where TV’s Peaky Blinders and The ABC Murders was filmed, and the courtroom, built in 1873, which formed part of the original police station. Visitors can stand in the cell where Harry Houdini escaped, as part of a stunt in the early 20th century while he was in Bradford thrilling audiences at St George’s Hall.

Last year the Police Museum launched a new exhibition looking at the relationship between the police and minority ethnic communities in Bradford from 1974 to 2006. Diversity and Policing: A Shared History explores the work of Bradford police in areas such as community engagement and forced marriage, and how its pioneering initiatives went on to become national best practice.

The exhibition, which be taken out to community venues, starts with the force re-structure in 1974, when Bradford City Police became West Yorkshire Police and community constables were deployed on beats in local communities.

It looks at the introduction of community liaison officers, the Inner City Initiative, forerunner of the Neighbourhood Policing Team, and international links with Pakistan, Kashmir and India from 1999-2006.

Bradford Police Museum is managed by the charity Under the Clock Bradford and run by volunteers, including retired police officers.

* The Trial by Jury events will take place on Friday, February 2 and Friday, March 1, both from 7pm-9pm. Not recommended for anyone aged under 18. To book tickets go to eventbrite.co.uk/e/trial-by-jury