Cause Celebres, The Police Service and Defence Counsel As They Were Pre-1980
I believe in progress and the growth in understanding of human nature. I also accept men and women are sinners. I am driven to analyse culpability for murder in all its ramifications. I am well supported in my campaign. Not every case I concede, but for certain crimes of murder only the Death Penalty will suffice. I do not deny I am heartened by our pre-Abolition Judges and Counsel, but my vision is for a fresh Death Sentence Justice in the 21st Century, for which I am well known.
I am concerned with the interaction of the suspect with the police investigating the murder and its circumstances. I am also interested in the conduct of Defence Counsel in a famous case where the wrongly convicted murderer went to the gallows under our previous post-War Capital Punishment regime. Is the counter-accusation of police malpractice and perjury in this Timothy Evans case justified – he was hanged on 9 March 1950? What are the lessons of the Ruth Ellis brutal and premeditated murder by revolver in 1955 all admitted by Ellis herself? Lastly is it possible to gain any further insight in to the Derek Bentley and Christopher Craig murder trial for the shooting of a police officer on duty in uniform? Bentley was hanged for this crime on 28 January 1953.
2. The Opening Remarks
These cases were modern examples of the Death Sentence regime at work yet in the late 1940’s and 1950’s in our very own Central Criminal Court. Our Lord Chief Justice Goddard tried Bentley and Craig. Sir Cecil Havers (puisne Judge of the Queen’s Bench Division of our High Court) tried Ruth Ellis. Both were jury cases. I read on the internet the Trial Judge was biased in the Evans case against Timothy Evans whom it is now widely agreed was wrongly convicted by the Jury of murdering his daughter (under two years of age at death) Geraldine by strangulation.
I now move to the lessons of these particular cases for those interested in English criminal Justice and the Restoration of the Death Penalty (discretionary) following conviction for murder or ancillary crimes. We will never go back to mandatory Death Sentences. Frankly Timothy Evans, Derek Bentley and Christopher Craig with Ruth Ellis if tried and convicted under my proposed Capital Punishment legislation to come would all have been spared. The Ruth Ellis murder was a crime passionel in the heat of her ardour, albeit planned. No Judge in my regime would have acceded to her death wish when she was so smitten. Bentley was too young under my projected change to Capital Punishment only 19 years old and Craig even younger at the scene of the crime.Evans, if convicted under my new rules, would be spared. He had lost his wife (murdered) and his daughter (murdered under 2 years). Thus whatever his culpability it did not obliterate this terrible familial tragedy for him. On any view the mandatory Sentence of Death for Evans was harsh as the old Judges would tell you. Here the Labour Home Secretary should have done his duty and reprieved Timothy Evans on compassionate grounds. No one in their right mind murders their young wife and his baby daughter unless they have a deeply malevolent intent within their heart. Clearly Evans was not in that category and he was caught by the mandatory rule and an inflexible Home Office. These facets of the Evans case were well known at his trial as was his mild mannered personality and character.
3. The Nitty Gritty of Bentley’s Case
Bentley’s case was not marred with a grave conflict of evidence between the police officers and the Defendants. The policemen acted with bravery in the face of two youths armed with at least one revolver if not two or three. Essentially the agreed words were “let him have it” by Bentley to his accomplice Craig. We all know the so called ambiguity. Did Bentley wish Craig to surrender the handgun or did he mean Craig to fire in anger at the police seeking to arrest them both? Craig had already shown his handgun to the police openly in belligerence. The conduct of Craig in shooting and murdering this police officer with that revolver coupled with Bentley’s words and course of conduct at the crime scene convinced the Trial Jury they were both guilty of this murder. They were entitled to come to that verdict. Both Craig and Bentley had demonstrated the required intent for murder in the Jury’s mind.
Bravado can rapidly drain away or the impending arrest may lead to resistance by the criminal. There can be no doubt it was an aimed shooting and intended. I say respect the decision of this Bentley and Craig Trial Jury who brought in this guilty of murder verdict against Bentley and his co-accused over 60 years ago. They heard the evidence and observed the demeanour of Craig and Bentley in the Trial. They made a plea of clemency for Bentley not backed by Goddard LCJ the Trial Judge, who knew the ferocious and unforgiving nature of hand guns and rifles and those misusing them. We should not forget this was the close aftermath of WWII with the dreadful reprisals by the German Wehrmacht against French and Italian unarmed civilians. These policemen arresting Bentley were also unarmed and innocent. Goddard LCJ was a wise Judge: Firing handguns with intent to seriously injure or kill our uniformed and unarmed police must be stamped upon. His refusal to support the Jury’s plea for a reprieve proved entirely justified in Bentley’s case.
4. The Gravity of the Ruth Ellis Murder
This lay in the bald nature of the murder by shooting at point blank range in the eyes of passers-by with the avowed intent to kill the chosen victim. Most murderers in this premeditated class will never admit their guilty conduct and run away from the scene of the crime. They will spin a web of lies to be acquitted. The Trial Judge had no choice in 1955 upon the confession of Ruth Ellis. The Jury once again brought in the proper murder guilty verdict. They cannot be faulted nor the Hon. Mr Justice Cecil Havers who presided. Ruth Ellis had a death wish and should have been denied her desire to be united with her male lover in the world to come whom she had so cruelly murdered. It is hard to accept she murdered him so they would be united in the next world, but that is how things turned out. She was so overcome with lovesickness she felt compelled to murder her lover who had scorned her, then to be hanged herself as she knew would happen under the murder law then prevailing. She desired no mercy for herself which is an unchristian attitude. Always strive for your life I say. The executive granted Ruth Ellis her death wish. What a grave error of judgement by the Home Secretary! The police conducted the case with their customary dignity and courtesy throughout.
5. The Message of the Timothy Evans Trial
Do not be wise after the event. Christie was an inveterate liar concealing his murderous conduct in the Evans Trial by a web of deceit. That is the real message, not the fanciful suggestion by Ludovic Kennedy (journalist) of fabricated police confessions attributed to Timothy Evans. It must have been clear to the Trial Court that Timothy Evans was overtly and expressly accusing Christie of the very murders of his wife Beryl and daughter Geraldine being alleged against him. Yet Christie was the lead Crown witness against Evans. The Jury were only allowed to deliver a verdict on the alleged murder by Evans of his baby daughter: Geraldine. The murder charge against Evans accusing him of murdering his wife Beryl remained on the file as Evans was convicted of murdering his baby daughter. Evans did not “beat about the bush”. He accused Christie of the double murder he was accused of himself. That was proper calibre by this murder Defendant Timothy Evans in such a Capital Trial. He was not intimidated by the Old Bailey.
It is difficult to break down an intelligent, cunning and determined liar like Christie whose pivotal evidence against Timothy Evans was designed to secure his own “getting away with murder”. Yes Christie’s evidence was designed to secure Timothy Evans’ wrongful conviction for the murder actually committed by Christie, and what is more Christie wanted Evans hanged for this crime. Christie was Defence Counsel’s worst nightmare – a vital Crown witness masquerading as truthful who has committed the murder alleged himself in the instructions of Defence Counsel’s own lay client. This was the murder case to end all murder trials and Evans would be hanged if this Defence Counsel lost. This Counsel’s responsibility was enormous. This Defence Counsel for Evans appears not to have rammed these points home.
By virtue of Timothy Evans’ very grave counter-allegation, Christie was effectively in the Dock himself for these murders as Christie realised. Yes Christie was believed by the Jury, as was their choice, under the Judge’s summing-up. Defence Counsel appears to have “pulled his punches”. The case should have been “taken apart” and Christie should have been shown no Court Room mercy in cross-examination. The Jury should have been addressed by Defence Counsel in extremely strong terms. For this grave crime with Timothy Evans’ equally serious counter-accusations against Christie, it must have been clear in that old fashioned epoch Evans was in grave peril for his life. This life might have been saved by his acquittal on this single count of killing his daughter. This was a Capital Trial without comparison and what is more it was a “fight to the death”. Both Evans and Christie were hanged after their successive Capital Trials; Christie was hanged on 15 July 1953. Christie was finally convicted of another murder connected to the Evans Child murder and achieved appalling notoriety. He was not tried for the murder of Geraldine the baby girl. Our Death Sentence English Criminal Justice in the 1950’s put the matter right I submit. Justice was seen to be done at last. The culprit of the Rillington Place murders was put to death: Christie himself.
All these Causes Celebres demonstrate the immense courage of our jurors when Crown Counsel and Defence Counsel are powerfully enhancing the Jury’s strength of character and purpose. Let us not sanitise our Criminal Courts and murder cases. Let the Juries decide under our Judges. Don’t hold back our murder justice. Bring the murder cases on to Arraignment and then the Jury’s verdict. Don’t be afraid of trial by Jury! That is the historic English and Welsh right.