IT was a card that led to a hotelier clinging to life and a first-class officer facing ruin. Dropped through the letterbox of a retired army sergeant's home, the mail contained a family portrait of a longstanding colleague.

But the facial features troubled James King. He thought there was an uncanny likeness to one of his children. Had his wife Annie been unfaithful and had a child with Charles Bradley? He vehemently denied being the father, as she did at first but later confirmed his fears there had been an affair.

It culminated in what the local press dubbed as 'The Ryde Sensation' with the two men appearing in the dock at Hampshire Assizes in consecutive trials. King was charged with sending a letter threatening to kill Bradley, a sergeant-major in the 12th Howitzer Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. He in turn was accused of attempting to murder his wife at the Crown Hotel in the Isle of Wight resort.

Jurors in 1909 heard the Bradleys and the Kings had been firm friends, the two men having served together at the Deepcut Barracks in Surrey, but shattered at the discovery, King fired off a series of letters in a drunken stupor, accusing Bradley in one of being "a coward and a dirty dog. Not one spark of manhood."

But he insisted to detectives he would never have resorted to violence: "I had some recollection of writing some letters to Bradley but I was too broken hearted to remember what was in them. I had no intent of carrying it out. I only wanted to expose him."

Bradley's brother, Ernest, told the court he went to the Island to determine the truth and told King he did not think he realised the implications of what he had done. He asked him to apologise by either withdrawing the insinuations or signing a document to the effect he was innocent, with the warning his brother was "roaming about" the island with a loaded pistol. But King refused, telling him: "I would rather lose my right hand." Jurors took just five minutes to acquit him before Bradley took his place in the dock.

The court was then told that after King had refused to sign the disclaimer, Bradley's brother went to the police and obtained a warrant seeking his arrest. An hour later, King surrendered himself to the police and as a result Pc Fewtrell went to the Crown Hotel to deliver a message to Mrs King from her husband. She was about to switch on the sitting room light when Bradley, who had been drinking with his brother before they inexplicably became separated, suddenly walked in and immediately shot her in front of the officer, shouting: "She has been advertising me for the last fortnight and I will now advertise the Crown Hotel."

King, who was allowed to give her evidence in a chair because of her poor health, confirmed the card had instigated "unpleasantness" between her and her husband and how Bradley had suddenly produced the revolver. "I saw him take the pistol out of his pocket and shoot me. I fell on the floor."

Corroborating her evidence, Fewtrell said that on being shot, Mrs King threw up her arms and fell. He carried her out of the room and told the officer: "Stop, that's enough, Mr Bradley. I detained him and he continued to mutter, exclaiming, 'Oh, God, whatever made me do it. I had no intention of doing when I came to Ryde this morning." Fewtrell said he continued to mutter something about the Crown Hotel, saying it had ruined him.

In evidence, Bradley said he only carried the revolver for self-protection because King had been threatening to shoot him. He called on Mrs King to deliver a letter from his wife and when he opened the door, he saw her with her hand on the light switch.

"I also saw the constable and in my upset state, I connected the presence of the constable with that of King, and as I had been on guard against him for several days, I had the pistol in my left-hand pocket. I unbuttoned my coat and took out the pistol to put it into my right-hand side pocket and was changing my stick to my other hand when to my horror the pistol went off."

Asked by Mr Justice Bucknill if he had deliberately fired at King or if he had intended to do so, he emphatically stated: "No, I did not. The note I wanted to get from her was refutation of the charges made against me. They were untrue."

Captain Douglas Stewart, of the RFA, told jurors of Bradley's exemplary record and achievements. "He has attained the highest rank possible as a non-commissioned officer. He has the highest possible character a soldier could have."

In his closing speech to the jury, defence barrister Mr Emanuel submitted the prosecution had failed to prove a motive why he had harboured any ill-feeling towards her, but the judge contradicted him by stressing his evidence was not consistent with the theory of an accident. Directing the jury as to the law, he stated: "If you believe the pistol went off accidentally, you must acquit him. The question is: 'Did he intend to shoot her?"

When the jury returned a verdict of guilty, Bradley immediately begged: "I plead for mercy."

The judge lamented it was one of the most painful cases over which he had presided as his previous good character had been shattered. "The evidence fully warranted the verdict for an act which perhaps was committed in an overwhelming passion, perhaps brought about by the fact that you had been told, rightly or wrongly, that the woman had made a confession, believing or knowing it was false against yourself. The sentence I must pass is not just a punishment against you but might act as a deterrent to others, and that sentence must be severe. The sentence will be of ten years penal servitude."