The Men Who Wore Straw Helmets
Policing Luton 1840-1974
T J Madigan
Published by The Book Castle 1993
Original price £ 8. 95p
ISBN 1 871199 11 5
This is the biography of Luton’s own police force, a story that turns full circle. The beginings of Luton’s policing can be traced as far back as the 1830s when a single parish constable on duty in the day and two nightwatchmen were responsible for policing the 4,000 inhabitants. In 1840 the population, now grown to 7,000 policed by three officers, Luton became part of the Bedfordshire force. But the township continued to grow and the population increased to a little over 23,000 served by twenty two officers when its borough status enabled it to police itself from 1876. For over seventy years the borough happily governed its own affairs until the force became merged with the county in 1947, following the mass post-war amalgamations of smaller forces.
Later, with county borough status gained, the Luton County Borough force emerged briefly from 1964 to 1966, only to end with another amalgamation and the borough again being policed by the surrounding county of Bedfordshire. At least the force bore the name Bedfordshire & Luton Constabulary keeping the borough’s policing ancestry intact. Finally, as a result of local Government reorganisation, Luton lost its policing ‘identity’ altogether in 1974, when the county’s police became styled the Bedfordshire Police.
The sub-title indicates the content while the reference to ‘the men who wore straw hats’ is an affectionate reminder of Luton’s history as the world centre for the straw hat trade and the fact that the borough force wore straw helmets in the summer months. Indeed straw helmets are pictured on the front cover and at various strategic points throughout the book.
The author, Tom Madigan, was particularly well qualified to write such a history having served in all of Luton’s five police forces, under nine of its chief constables and wearing five different hat badges in the process. His researches brought to light an excellent selection of photographs which are incorporated into the history.
Like most city and borough forces with histories covering the growth of the industrial revolution, the population and infrastructure increased enormously. The consequent growth and development of Luton is charted as is that of its police following on, sometimes, slightly behind events. The author captures the various police authorities attempts to remain abreast of the times and independent of outside influences.
Tom Madigan’s book is an example of how to write a force history. It falls into four parts with chapters set out in chronological order unfolding as Luton and its police force area grew in size and changed in character over twelve decades. Thematic chapters deal with the more notable crimes, as do particular topics which justify sections of the book to themselves. Mr Madigan has resisted the temptation to include every pay scale and crime statistic, other than where they are particularly pertinent, allowing the story to flow. Not only is it a ‘good read’ in its own right but, to the delight of genealogists, a work of reference with an appendix listing all who served from the earliest times to 1947.
Crime in Hertfordshire Vol 2 Murder and Misdemeanours
Edition: Vol 2
Author: Simon Walker
Publishers: The Book Castle
Publication Date: 2003
Publisher’s Title Information
Murder and Misdemeanours during the last Four Centuries.
This volume is a collection of detailed accounts of crimes drawn from across the county, from 1602 to 1939. Locations include Hatfield, Hemel Hempstead, Hoddesdon, Berkhamsted, St Albans, Ware, Hitchin, Datchworth and Bishops Stortford - some of the incidents may be familiar, most will be new to the reader. The rape of Maria Wells by her own father, and the publicity given to her testimony in court, was a tragedy for all concerned. Did Jane Norcott commit suicide, or was it murder? Why did Mary Boddy stab five-year-old George Hitch?
Included too are lesser offences, such as theft and poaching, though in the past these have attracted serious penalties in their own right. There is a chapter on highway robbery. Child cruelty, counterfeiting and "riding a horse whilst under the influence of alcohol" all appear in this book.
But this is more than just a collection of bloody crime; it provides an insight into the way in which many of our Hertfordshire forebears lived their lives.
This collection is complementary to my earlier book, Crime in Hertfordshire: Latin and Disorder. That volume dealt with the development of law and order from the Anglo-Saxon period to the mid twentieth century; how the law and the courts developed and functioned; the punishments inflicted on offenders; and how the forces of law enforcement grew from hue and cry to the police forces we are familiar with today.
This book is a compilation of cases either from Hertfordshire or with a very close Hertfordshire connection. One or two are quite well known, most are less so. The last chapter contains miscellaneous cases about which there is not sufficient information available to form a chapter in their own right, but which are sufficiently interesting to be worthy of inclusion.
Of necessity the bulk of the cases date from the 17th century onward, as the records of early crimes are imperfect. For many years magistrates tried minor offences and few if any records were kept. In some cases Manor Courts tried trivial offenders, but for the most part they interested themselves in matters of land transfer and the like. More serious offenders appeared at the Quarter Sessions or Assize Courts, but even here the record keeping was meagre: presentments and indictments exist, sometimes with the verdict and sentence recorded, sometimes not. Some records are missing altogether. Gaol records tell us who was in gaol, and for what offence, but unless corresponding court records exist, they tell us nothing of the story behind the crime.
Later, pamphleteers and publishers of broadsheets did a roaring trade in cheap accounts of the more sensational cases, often in graphic and gory detail. Sometimes they were accurate, sometimes not. Nonetheless they are an invaluable source of information, not just about a particular crime, but also the attitudes of the time. In some respects people have little changed - the love of sensationalism is an obvious example. In other ways they seem very different. Belief in the supernatural, attitudes towards poverty and the cruelty visited upon offenders spring to mind.
With the development of newspapers we frequently find the same case reported in different publications, allowing comparisons to be made. Like the broadsheets and pamphlets, the reports were often in great detail, but now much more reliable. Later court records too are far more complete than their predecessors.
In the past, as now, most crimes were of a petty nature. Various forms of theft predominated, accounting for between two thirds and three quarters of appearances before the courts. The major differences were the type of goods
Murder and Misdemeanour in Hertfordshire
stolen and the sentences handed down by the courts. To be representative, ideally a large selection of petty thefts of minor items should be included. Whilst these minor offences are interesting in themselves, not least in the light they throw upon social history, the sensational crime beckons, and most of the offences in this book fall into that category. I have nonetheless found space for some of these petty cases in the final chapter.
If pamphlets and newspapers are to be believed, many a prisoner executed did three things; he confessed to his crime; he wrote or made an address to the public at large exhorting them to learn by his example; and thirdly, and less surprisingly, he turned to religion. In many of these confessions and addresses the prisoner suddenly acquired a remarkable erudition, which leads one to suspect that the confessions and addresses are fabricated, or at least influenced, by the authorities - frequently the chaplain of the gaol where the convicted person awaited execution.
There has to be some concern about the guilt of offenders in the early days, when forensic science was either non-existent or in its infancy. How many innocent people were convicted on evidence that would today be considered highly suspect? It is only quite recently that courts have recognised that most people's power of observation is poor. In the past, if a witness was prepared to swear in court that he recognised the man in the dock, that was usually good enough for the jury. And if a police officer said that the defendant had confessed, why then, it must be true.
On the other side of the coin, many crimes must have gone unrecognised as such, and guilty people escaped justice. It is interesting to speculate how modern techniques would have aided the constables, watchmen and the early police forces. Imagine how useful genetic analysis of samples would have been, for example, in the case of the gang rape of Sarah Dye.
The truth will never be known, but the suspicion must be that many innocent people were convicted, whilst many guilty people went free. The safety of modern convictions is not perfect, but it is better than ever it was in the past.
I have kept place-names and spellings as they appear in the sources consulted. In most cases they are the same, or at least similar, but occasionally villages have been swallowed up and roads demolished or re-named.
Of particular interest is the role of the public house in cases of violent or sudden death. In several of the cases in this book the body was taken, not to a mortuary or doctor's surgery, but to the local public house. Many of the initial inquest hearings were held there too. This may seem strange, but then many magistrates' courts, and even ecclesiastical courts, were also held in pubs. Before the formation of the county police, they even served on occasion as temporary lock ups for prisoners. Why was this? The answer is simple: if not the pub, then what other building could be used? In many smaller communities the only alternatives were private houses and farms. Thus the pub becomes the logical choice. Added to that fact, what more convivial location for what was often a sombre business? The practice fell into disuse following the Licensing Act of 1902, which stipulated that inquests were not to be held in licensed premises unless there was nowhere else to hold them.
All the maps in this book are reproduced from the Ordnance Surveys of the period 1833-1835. They were updated at different times through the nineteenth century, with the addition of such features as railways. Whilst they are not always contemporary with the events described, for consistency I chose to use the same surveys throughout. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw growth in population and urbanisation, but in a rural county like Hertfordshire these were not as significant as they were in the industrial midlands or London, nor the explosive expansion of the twentieth century. Most of the features, whether of landscape or town, survived and appear on the maps.
Author: Paul Heslop
Publishers: The Book Castle
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher's Title Information
This is a book about crime and punishment in Hertfordshire. It spans from the time when perpetrators were hanged for murder almost up to the present day. Cases. range from the 19th century killing of Constable Benjamin Snow, to the murder of retired Colonel Robert Workman at Furneux Pelham in 2004. There's the case of Mary Ansell, hanged in 1899 for poisoning her sister, a chapter on the infamous Coronation Riot at Watford in 1902, and two 'domestic' murders, at Rickmansworth and Waltham Cross, when Charles Coleman and George Anderson were hanged, Hertfordshire's last executions. There's the Brickel Wood case, when 26-year old Janet Oven was shot dead on her way to work, and the murder of Jessie Freeman, 71, by a schoolboy, Donald Litton, at Redbourn. Two murders in the 1950s remain undetected: the 'Kid Gloves' case near Leverstock Green, and Anne Noblett of Marshalls Heath. The case of Duffy and Mulcahy, the so-called Railway killers, is included, along with two others of national notoriety: the kidnap and murder of Muriel McKay, and the rape and murder of Janie Shepherd, whose body was discovered on Nomansland Common, near Wheathampstead. There's the case of 20-year old Nicola Brazier, abducted, raped and shot dead near Wormley, and Graham Young, who poisoned his workmates. More recent cases include the killing of PC Frank Mason at Hemel Hempstead, and 81-year old Joan Macan, murdered in her garden at Ashridge. In many of the latter cases information has been obtained first-hand from detectives who were involved in the investigation.
Paul Heslop was a policeman for over thirty years. His experience and understanding of the criminal justice system give authority to his unbiased assessment and analysis of the cases in this book, which should entertain the reader and provide food for thought.
Writing a casebook of murder is not an easy task. To anyone who has never tried to write one, it may seem as if the only aim is to summarise each crime. Not so. A successful book in that sub-genre of true crime needs to have much more. There is always a wider story, wrapped around each crime. That needs to be explained. Then there are other elements such as the forensics involved and the nature of the police officers who have to take on the case. A crime after all, spins a web of human actions, and on both sides of the law.
Paul Heslop has mastered that craft. He is a former policeman and has served in Hertfordshire, so he knows the geography and topography behind the stories at first hand. That is also important in this writing, because the reader needs to be taken into an imaginative journey, with the visual experience dictated and explained as the narrative progresses. This again Heslop has the skills to do very ably indeed.
The book begins with some Victorian cases and some of these are fragmentary in their sources, but nevertheless, the dramatic interest is there. But things really warm up when we reach 1921, with the murder of an old lady by a thirteen-year-old boy, Donald Litton. Heslop brings out the legal issues very clearly and explains the attitudes to such anomalous events at the time, when of course, hanging was a capital offence. The teenager escaped the noose but experienced 'His Majesty’s Pleasure.'
In the case of the so-called 'Kid Gloves Murder' of 1956 we have an unsolved mystery - surely the category of crime-writing that most readers love to absorb, often with the rather optimistic wish that they may solve it. But apart from this nasty killing on a deserted country road, Heslop brings out the nature of 'two firsts' in detective work: the use of an identification parade of cars and the help given by a graphic artist from London in producing a kind of Identikit of a man seen by some schoolboys, who watched the awful events happening.
There are always very complex crimes that tend to arise in these collections too, and Heslop has one of the most infamous killers of modern times 'on his patch' so to speak, for this book. The man in question is Graham Young, the poisoner. This was a man whose life ended in Broadmoor, convicted of poisoning his father, sister and a school friend. To write that kind of story demands another level of narrative, with a richer texture, and Heslop does this by steadily bringing out the sheer panic and paranoia that happens when there is a suspected ‘killer bug’ in a workplace, as was the case when Young worked at a Bovington company that made photographic instruments.
One of the most challenging aspects of writing a crime casebook is how to present the material. Often, a murder story (in the days of hanging) had its own innate structure: crime, followed by investigation, then followed by arrest and trial, and finally the events on the scaffold. Paul Heslop opts to have a 'Verdic' coda for each crime and that helps the reader to maintain a grasp on often very complex cases.
The images are a workable mix of generic and local pictures and of portraits balanced by significant locations linked to the crimes. They have been sensibly placed and they add to the reading pleasure of what is a remarkably interesting book on crime history, rooted in a place that has seen some very significant investigations. I look forward to reading more from Paul Heslop.
Crime In Hertfordshire Vol. 1 Law And Disorder
Author: Simon Walker
Publishers: The Book Castle
Authoritative, detailed survey of the changing legal process over many centuries.
This is an example of local history at its best: pleasantly readable, meticulously researched, attractively presented and, because we all have some knowledge or experience of law and disorder, likely to appeal to readers well beyond the boundaries of Hertfordshire.
The story Simon Walker tells is fascinating. He takes us from the laws of the Anglo-Saxons, vaguely familiar to older readers from early history lessons, or perhaps the wit and word-play of "1066 and All That", through medieval law enforcement with its sanctuary, benefit of clergy and often brutal punishments, to the gradually evolving system as we know it today. Examples and illustrations throughout are taken from the records of Hertfordshire towns.
A useful glossary is appended, and a comprehensive list of sources. The author's interest in his subject has opened its windows for a wider public. A good read!
Author: Len Woodley
Publishers: The Book Castle, Dunstable.
Price £8.99 RRP UK
Publication Date: 2003
Publishers Description of the Book
Included in this book are accounts of fourteen murders that have occurred within the County of Buckinghamshire, plus one from central Europe, The Author was a Police officer for thirty years, serving in both uniform and C.I.D
Peaceful Buckinghamshire! Who would have thought there would be even one murder in that pastoral corner of England? Len Woodley’s Deadly Deeds recounts fourteen capital crimes committed there from the early Victorian age to the modern eighties. After a lengthy career in the Bucks Constabulary and a stint as a Coroner’s Assistant, Woodley’s post-retirement hobby is researching old murders. In this volume, he presents some killings yet unsolved, some macabre events and a few murders that would be an easy solve for the armchair detective.
This volume of Buckinghamshire murders shows that capital crimes are not strictly the purview of those we think of as "the criminal class". The opening chapter describes the killing in Slough of Sarah Hart in 1845, a crime for which her wealthy lover was executed. In fact, many of the incidents described by Woodley as "Deadly Deeds", were crimes of the moment or extraordinary acts by ordinary people.
While the constabulary of the times were completely un-used to law breaking at this level, according to Woodley’s research they always got their man. This is PC Plod at his best, painstakingly and patiently slogging toward an arrest. We see investigators sometimes benefiting from lucky breaks, but usually just plodding along without the Hollywood style of flashy investigation and amazingly brilliant deductive powers of fiction.
This is light reading which would never satisfy the true detective enthusiasts, those who delight in the more gory details and complicated plots of the almost-perfect crime. Woodley has gathered what information is available on these murders and put it together in a very readable volume for the occasional reader of whodunits. In much the same way that a crime story might be serialised in a newspaper or magazine, these stories are presented so as to pique our interest without losing us in the minutiae of the long investigations.
It is a good read, filled with the kind of stories which serve to interest and amuse us without being a boring account of police procedures. Each of his chapters is short, probably a perfect length for the commuter’s distraction on the ride home or a weekend in the country.
The Last Patrol, Policemen killed on duty while serving in the Thames Valley
Author: Len Woodley
Publishers: The Book Castle
Price £8.99 RRP UK
Publication Date: 2001
This book as the name implies, deals with those Policemen who have been killed on duty by a criminal act within the area now covered by the Thames Valley Police - namely the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. This is a large police area.
In the 1960s there were a considerable number of Police mergers and reorganisations throughout the United Kingdom and a number of forces disappeared, or were ‘swallowed up' to form larger Police units. One of these amalgamations encompassed the five forces of Berkshire, Reading Borough, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Oxford City. The new force thus created on 1st April 1968, was to be henceforward known as the Thames Valley Constabulary. The name was later changed to the Thames Valley Police. Why? What’s in a name?
These changes and amalgamations were happening about the time I joined the last City force, the City of London Police. In October 1968 my initial training was carried out at Eynsham Hall, Witney, Oxfordshire; this was because City of London policemen were trained with the county forces and this was the Initial Training Establishment for that area. Many of my classmates belonged to Thames Valley, my room-mate was, and his first posting was Bicester.
Two of these murders occurred in my service. One of these Officers was Detective Constable Ian Coward; I remember that one very clearly.
This review of cases ranges from PC Joseph Gilkes, a Constable who, in 1869 died in Oxford, to the truly terrible day at Hungerford, 19th August 1987, when so many people, including PC Roger Brereton were murdered and others were wounded in that picturesque Berkshire town.
It encompasses Police Officers encountering poachers, ejecting some drunken men from a public house, checking details of members of the visiting forces involved in a fracas in wartime England, attempting the apprehension of burglars and questioning some vicious, ‘stop at nothing’ criminals over their behaviour in a motor car.
It is a fact, that any Police Officer could deal with these sorts of incidents every day. These Police Officers all started on their last day of duty, as though they were going out on normal Police work, as many hundreds of Police Officers still do every day all over the country. Not one gave a thought to the possibility that he might be involved in, or sent to, a life-threatening job, but all must have occasionally feared, that by the very nature of their work, they could become a tragic, innocent victim.
This is a well-written, not too expensive book and will appeal to any police historian; particularly those who served, or have an interest in the Thames Valley Police.
This book is a study of murders by policemen while carrying out their duties within the area now served by the Thames Valley Police. The earliest of the eight murders occurred in 1869 and the last chapter is a detailed account of "one dreadful day in Hungerford". Twenty years on, the name of this small Berkshire town still carries a chilling resonance.
The author joined the local police straight from school and having served at various Buckinghamshire stations he continued after retirement to work in other capacities associated with law. He has researched his narratives meticulously and, while clearly on the side of those upholding order, allows each account to speak for itself.
Unlike the 1869 death of PC Joseph Gilkes, which was a purely local tragedy, today the death in action of a police officer is headline news, with images of the victim shown repeatedly on nation-wide television. The recent murder of a trainee policewoman in Bradford is an example of this, but already she is "yesterday's news" - the shock rarely lasts.
The restricted scope of this short study will limit its appeal for the general reader. Nevertheless, it is a salutary reminder that hundreds of men and women in the emergency services are facing dangerous situations daily while we, the public, take it for granted that they will be there for us in our time of need.
The killing of a Police Officer in this country has always been a fairly unusual event and when one is murdered on duty the matter is given, as it should be, great coverage on television, in the newspapers and on the wireless. This is, in my belief, right and proper, not only because a man, or increasingly nowadays, a woman officer has lost his or her life but because generally, that Police Officer has been on duty without being armed with a gun, as he or she would be in virtually every other country in the world. Whether this would be any different if the Police were armed, is a matter of conjecture and one which society in this country will have to address if it becomes increasingly more violent. Out of all the Police Forces in the United Kingdom, I have taken one, the Thames Valley Police, which was formed in 1968 and comprises the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, and written the story of the Policemen who have been killed on duty as a result of criminal action. I have taken events from 1869 up to modern times and they nearly all arise from chance encounters with members of the public, as the Policemen involved went about their work. The only one who was on a specific assignment was the last, Police Constable Brereton, sent to Hungerford in 1987 specifically in response to a number of calls from members of the public. All were unarmed, except for the small truncheon they carried, if they were in fact carrying them at the time of the incidents described.
The several forces which policed the area now known as the Thames Valley Police District were formed from 1835 onwards with initially the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of that year, which allowed a number of forces to be created in towns such as Reading, Buckingham, Maidenhead etc. The County and Borough Police Act of 1856 next compelled the counties to form their own Constabularies, hence Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. These were gradually whittled down over the years until 1968 when the five forces still remaining were amalgamated into the Thames Valley Constabulary, (later renamed Thames Valley Police).
In the one hundred and seventy years since the formation of the first forces, eight Policemen have been killed within the Thames Valley area (I am excluding those who have died as a result of an accident, or have been killed by enemy air raids). I am hopeful of course, that this is the complete and final list.
One further point intrigued me; of the eight deaths I have narrated, six occurred within the County of Berkshire, three in one town, Hungerford; the other two happened in Oxfordshire, whilst none have been murdered in Buckinghamshire. I can offer no conclusions on that.
Author: Paul Heslop
Publishers: The Book Castle
Publication Date: 2004
This is a book about crime and punishment in Bedfordshire. It focuses mainly on the time when perpetrators were hanged for murder and lesser crimes, or sentenced to hard labour, or transported abroad for what today would be regarded as minor offences.
They range from the 17th century incarceration of John Bunyan, whose 'crime' was to preach outwith the established church, to rape and terror perpetrated by the man they called The Fox, on the South Bedfordshire borders, in the 1980s. There's the case of Sarah Dazley of Wrestlingworth, hanged for poisoning her husband; a chapter on riots, including the wilful destruction of Luton Town Hall in 1919; and Lucy Lowe, the woman convicted of murdering her baby at Stagsden. ‘Domestic violence’ features: the brutal murder of his wife by Joseph Castle in Luton in 1859, and the murder of 23-year old Ruby Annie Keen at Leighton Buzzard by Leslie George Stone in 1937. We have the murder of Old Sally Marshall, at Little Staughton, in 1870; a Luton mugging that ended up as murder when William Worsley, convicted on the evidence of an accomplice, was hanged; and the A6 murder at Deadman's Hill, the infamous Hanratty case, still topical today. Many others are included, as well as chapters on ‘execution and punishment’, and prison reform, which began in Bedfordshire thanks to John Howard.
In many cases the author offers his ‘verdict’ on the justice or otherwise of each case, having regard to careful scrutiny of all relevant facts. He is well qualified to do so. Paul Heslop was a policeman for over 30 years, mostly as a detective. His experience and understanding of the criminal justice system give authority to his unbiased assessment and analysis of the cases in this book, which should entertain the reader and provide much food for thought.
by Ian Whinnett
In his deliberations the modern detective is faced with a series of possibilities, some of which can be confirmed by scientific fact. Others, often the result of a hunch, can only be assembled, then fairly and skilfully placed before a jury for consideration. Analysis of historical cases is a fascinating pastime, provided one is equipped with the appropriate guide.
Paul Heslop is well qualified to present accounts of these varied crimes, which will provoke interest and debate far beyond the county of Bedfordshire. As a police officer, Paul was open-minded and deep thinking, yet persistent and meticulous. This lively, extremely well researched book takes the reader way back to crimes, investigations and trials of long ago, as well as some more recent cases.
It will enlighten, amuse, intrigue and surprise. You will, however, be encouraged to reach your own conclusions.
Ian Whinnett served for over 30 years in the Hertfordshire Constabulary, rising to Detective Superintendent. In this capacity he was responsible for the investigation of crime throughout that county, as well as targeting major criminals as Branch Commander in the Regional Crime Squad over an area covering the northern Home Counties and Bedfordshire. Many of his cases were high profile, including investigations into murders which invariably led to a successful conclusion. He is more than qualified to judge the merits of Paul Heslop's book, itself a journey of reinvestigation into similar crimes.
Paul Heslop is a former policeman who served in two police forces, Newcastle upon Tyne City Police (later Northumbria) and Hertfordshire Constabulary. He joined the Newcastle force in 1965, in the days when coppering was done on foot, supervised by patrol sergeants and inspectors, and on the street contact with the public was seen as an essential ingredient in policing.
In a career spanning over 30 years Paul served in CID, Special Branch and Regional Crime Squads in both forces, as well as uniform duties. As a detective he was directly involved in the investigation of murder and other crimes. As detective inspector at Watford, Hertfordshire, he had operational responsibility for investigation into serious crime: murder and suspicious deaths, robbery, rape and sexual offences, child abuse and domestic violence, as well as routine offences. His regional crime squad work throughout the northern Home Counties included the investigation of suspected criminals in Bedfordshire, as a result of which he became acquainted with the county.
Since his retirement from the force in 1995 Paul has established himself as a successful writer. His autobiography, an account of a walk the length of the country, and a book on ‘old crimes in the North East’ have been published. His work for newspapers and magazines includes such diverse topics as crime, local history and walking, and health and safety features. He is an ardent fellwalker and climber of Scotland's mountains. He lives in the Lake District.
This is an excellent little book painting a picture of selected crimes in the county over three centuries. After dealing with each crime the author adds a passage entitled, ‘The Verdict’, a device that prevents the reader from ploughing straight on to the next section. It is the ‘reinvestigation’ referred to in the title and requires the reader to think about what they have just read and to ask questions. For example, did the facts justify the verdict? Sometimes they didn’t, although the verdict may well have been correct with hindsight. Was a proper defence advanced? Sometimes not, because the law originally did not allow an accused to give evidence. Were there apparent missed opportunities where, if the investigator, prosecution or defence pursued a certain line, more detailed evidence might have become available? Sometimes yes - but then hindsight is a wonderful thing.
So instead of going straight into the next section one finds oneself turning back to reconsider the issues raised. Bearing in mind most of the cases involved capital punishment, you might think ‘getting it right’ would be an important issue for the jury. But then, going back a few centuries, perhaps the accent was on getting it morally correct rather than logically just.
Remember, it is a casebook, not a ‘murder’ casebook. True, the majority of cases involve homicide, but there are others which make equally fascinating reading. Take, for example, the case of John Bunyan. In the mid 1600s he was arrested for preaching other than within the confines of an established church. His refusal to promise not to similarly offend cost him eleven years of his life behind bars, plenty of time to write a couple of books and plan Pilgrim’s Progress!
Then there is the burning of Luton Town Hall. It could have been avoided of course. The high dignitaries of the borough treated themselves to a banquet (ratepayers’ expense naturally) to celebrate National Peace Day in 1919. It would have been nice if they had laid on a similar function for the ordinary folk, especially those who had risked life and limb in the Great War. But they didn’t and the downtrodden, feeling suitably miffed, rioted and the town hall was gutted within hours. When it was rebuilt, considerable fireproofing went into the construction!
The murder cases examined span the period from the 1840s to the 1980s. One is tempted to remark that nothing changes in Bedfordshire. People still killed their relatives or they killed for sex or plain greed, or in some cases, for no immediately apparent reason. Poisoning of husbands seems less fashionable nowadays though.
The first chapter is the story of Sarah Dazely who, in the early 1800s, was not exactly sparing with the arsenic as far as her second husband (and possibly her first and a child) were concerned. In ‘The Verdict’ the author considers that Sarah, who denied her guilt to the end, was unlucky in her trial venue and the judge. The evidence against her was overwhelming but the sense of ‘fairness’ was lost because she could not give evidence on her own behalf.
The final two cases relate to James Hanratty and Malcolm ‘The Fox’ Fairley. Hanratty, figured in the 1961 ‘A6 murder’ of a man and the attempted murder of his girlfriend. The facts are relatively well known but were muddied at the time by a man named Alphon, who insisted on claiming responsibility for the crime. Certainly a lot was written about the A6 murder for four decades throwing doubt on the ‘guilty’ verdict and subsequent capital punishment. The controversy came a halt only when a DNA profile linked Hanratty to the female victim.
Fairley went on a campaign of rape, assault and theft in the 1980s - 79 offences in all, to which he pleaded guilty. In mitigation his Counsel referred to his use of minimal violence and the fact that when, on one occasion, the shotgun went off it was ‘accidental’ and he hadn’t intended to use it. These arguments did not impress the trial Judge who passed a sentence of imprisonment for life.
Mr Heslop ends with a commentary on the rights and wrongs of capital punishment. One gets the impression he is against it and he ends the book with comments on life imprisonment in well deserved cases. This, he says, "should mean for the remainder of an offender’s life, never to be released. Period."