Month: September 2014

The Murder of Julia Wallace. A real life murder mystery

Julia Wallace

Julia Wallace

“The non-pareil of murder mysteries.” Raymond Chandler.

The Julia Wallace murder case has fascinated writers such as Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Sayers and P.D. James. It evokes a forgotten world of insurance collectors and the insecure respectability of middle-class life. It also confronts us with the mystery of what goes on in other peoples’ heads. It has the trickiness of an optical illusion. Looked at in one way only William Wallace could have murdered his wife Julia Wallace, looked at in another way he is the only person who could not have murdered her. The murder has a literary quality, it reminds us of those murder mysteries  that came with a sketch map of the area. Like those detective stories we have some exact times thanks to the reliability of the tram service. Another fascination is the character of William Wallace. It easy to visualise how his contemporaries reading about him in newspapers might see him as a sinister figure. He read books by Roman Philosophers, he played chess. Surely he was a criminal genius. But he was rubbish at chess (he could beat me any day of the week, I am also rubbish at chess)  and but for the totally unpredictable coincidence that a witness  saw  Julia Wallace alive at a fairly exact time he would have been hanged.   People divide into two groups: the ones who say Wallace did it, and those who say he did not kill his wife. I mostly think he didn’t do.. William Wallace who was born in Cumbria lived in Blackpool as a child. During his time in Blackpool he contracted typhoid. This is my excuse for including the story. That and the fact that it is the empress of real life murder mysteries.

In 1911 William Wallace met Julia Wallace in Harrogate and they married three years later. William Wallace and Julia Wallace must have looked an odd couple. He was six foot two, a foot taller than his wife Julia. On her marriage certificate she had claimed to be seventeen years younger than her actual age. One of the mysteries about the case is whether William Wallace was aware of this. I believe he was. Julia claimed that she had a wealthy, distinguished family. This may account for her estrangement from her brothers and sisters who did not attend her wedding or her funeral. William Wallace does not seem to have known she had brothers and sisters. William was tall frail and thin. Surprisingly as a young man he had enjoyed sport and the outdoor life.  He had worked abroad in India and China but his health forced him to return to England.   He  worked as an official in the Liberal Party. After he lost this job because of the War he worked for the Prudential Insurance Company where his job was to collect weekly subscriptions. William had studied chemistry and had been so well thought of that he was employed as a lecturer’s assistant. He was also interested in philosophy. He admired the Roman Stoics. Stoic philosophy suggests that we should seek to overcome emotional states such as pride and fear which impair our judgement. William was an enthusiastic chess player but was not outstanding. He worked for the Prudential Insurance Company where he collected subscriptions. He was regarded as honest and reliable. He is often portrayed as cold and aloof but he had friends and interests and social skills. This vision of a tall man with intellectual pretensions and a snobbish wife bring to mind Basil and Sybil Fawlty. Pictures of them give the impression of a gangling man somehow not quite at home in the world and a woman dressed in the fashion of twenty years earlier. Julia looks attractive and anxious, we do not know when the picture was taken but I would guess it is considerably before 1931. That is not to say they were not happy. Neighbours say that they were a happy loving couple and they had interests in common including music which they played together. They were a middle class couple, well off enough to employ a cleaner one day a week, and William had a job at a time of high unemployment. And so they would have continued a happy well adjusted unremarkable couple except that something happened. Liverpool in 1931 was a different place. The buildings were blackened, the docks were busy, houses were lit by gas mantles, people went about their business by tram. The Depression was under way and fear was in the air.  On a more domestic level at 29 Wolverton Road in the Anfield district of Liverpool William Wallace was going to his chess club. He had been unwell and missed previous meetings. After he arrived at the Chess Club he was told that there was a message for him. A person called R. M. Qualtrough had called to say he wished to make an insurance arrangement and asked Mr Wallace to call at 25 Menlove Gardens East at 7.30 the next day. The chess club captain Samuel Beattie had spoken to the telephone caller firmly insisted that he sounded nothing like William Wallace. The following day after tea William Wallace set out to meet Mr Qualtrough at 6.45pm on Tuesday 20 January, 1931. What followed seems exceedingly odd because in the course of his tram journey he asked no fewer than eleven people including tram conductors and a policeman where Menlove Gardens East was.  Menlove Gardens East does not exist. The Police would regard this behaviour as suspicious. It was as if William Wallace were establishing an alibi. William Wallace returned home at 8.45pm. He could not open his door. His neighbour John Johnston had a key and offered to try to open the door. William Wallace tried again and the door opened. His neighbours waited at the door. William Wallace came back and said:”Oh come and see she’s been killed.” Julia Wallace had been killed by a series of tremendous blows which had exposed her brain. A box containing about £4.00 insurance money had been forced open and the money taken. An iron bar was missing. A professor of forensic pathology was called and gave differing times for the death. Together with a Police Surgeon and using the onset of rigor mortis, the least reliable method, they agreed that the time of death was 8.00 pm. Julia had been struck from behind. There were no signs of a break in. This means that she must have let the murderer in or that the murderer had a key or that the lock had failed. The fact that she had her back to the killer might suggest that she knew him. There was a good deal of blood at the scene but no trace of blood on William Wallace or on his clothes.  A small amount of money had been taken. Suspicion was aroused by William Wallace’s demeanour which was calmer than investigators expected. This may have been because of his stoic attitude. The Police appear to have pondered for a good while before acting. William Wallace was arrested on February 2nd 1931. There were two aspects of the case which aroused interest. One was the telephone call to the Chess Club. Because the caller had made a mistake in making the call the actual call could be traced to a public telephone box four hundred yards from 29 Wolverton Street and its time was known. The phone call was made close to the time when William Wallace was leaving for his chess club. It seems unlikely that William Wallace would make the phone call, he was well known in the area and could easily have been recognised.  But if William Wallace did not make the call was it somebody who was following him?  Who else could have known he was going to the chess club that he only attended infrequently?   The second aspect was the timing of the murder. A milk delivery boy called Allan Close had seen Julia Wallace at a time between 6.30 and 6.45 pm.  A separate witness had checked the time on a church clock and had seen Allan Close two or three minutes later.  This would have given a time of 6.37 or 6.38.  Allan Close actually spoke to Julia so that apart from the killer he may have been the last person to see her alive. The time frame was crucial.  William Wallace was seen on a tram at 7.11.  The Police estimated that the latest time he could have left the house was 6.49.  William Wallace said that he left the house at 6.45.  Taking the narrowest time frame the question is: could William Wallace have bludgeoned his wife to death, had a bath (no blood was found on his body or his clothing) feigned a robbery  in seven minutes?   William Wallace would also have to dispose of the murder weapon and the stolen money which was only about £4.00. William Wallace was arrested. Interestingly his trade union staged a mock trial at which the evidence was reviewed, he was unanimously found innocent and the union paid for his defence which was a considerable help to William Wallace. The trial began on Wednesday 22 April. Unexpectedly the jury found William Wallace guilty at the trial. William Wallace’s lack of expressed emotion and also the fact that he was an intellectual and a chess-player must have had some part in giving the impression of an evil genius meticulously setting up a false alibi. On Saturday 25 April William Wallace found himself looking at a judge putting on his black silk cap and telling him he was to be hanged. He showed little emotion. At the appeal his defence would say that some members of the jury had been aggressive and hostile . There was hostility to William Wallace. One story circulating in Liverpool was that he had committed the murder naked but for his mackintosh to avoid bloodstains on his clothing. At Walton Prison William Wallace was dressed in the special gray uniform of people who are about to hang. The execution date was set for 12 May. An appeal followed. William Wallace walked into the Appeal Court a man condemned to death and he walked out a free man. He made use of his unexpected free evening in London to go to the theatre with his brother. The Appeal Court said that the evidence did not meet the requirements for a guilty verdict. It is hard to imagine the state of mind of William Wallace. If he was innocent he had set out to work one Tuesday, then he had come back to find his wife had been brutally murdered, then he had been arrested for her murder, and sentenced to death and now, at a time after the original date set for his execution he had walked in Appeal Court under sentence of death and he walked out an innocent man free to do as he liked. He carried on working for the Pru. Some customers, colleagues and neighbours treated him as if he were guilty. He settled cases with newspapers out of court which left him quite well off. He was able to move to the Wirral and continue his work at the Pru. He was moved to a clerical position out of contact with the public to avoid hostility. His health had always been frail. He only had one kidney and he fell ill and died on the 26 February 1933.

DID WILLIAM WALLACE MURDER JULIA WALLACE? Well of course he might have done. But  the probability is that he did not. This puts me at odds with some of the sharpest brains. P D James thinks he was guilty. Her argument is that we make a mistake in regarding the telephone call as connected to the murder. It was a malicious act to inconvenience William Wallace and was not part of a murderous plot. Everybody has assumed that the phone-call was from the killer but if it was not then William Wallace could be the killer.  P D James thinks that Gordon Parry made the phone call maliciously. If this were the case then William Wallace could have been the killer but the lack of evidence, the lack of motivation and the difficulty over timing all indicate that William Wallace’s guilt is only a possibility.  I find it difficult to believe that William Wallace could set up such an elaborate plot.  If he killed his wife but, as P D James suggests, was unaware that the phone-call was a hoax by Gordon Parry that seems to involve rather a lot of coincidences.  It  isn’t impossible that a man kills his wife and attempts to set up an alibi by attending a meeting which unknown to him has been set up maliciously, but it does stretch belief.  My reading of William Wallace’s character is that he was not overly-concerned whether he lived or died, he knew his life was limited in any case, he simply would not bother to go through so much elaborate pretence to prolong a life he did not value much anyway.   Also he does not show a trace of the imagination needed to invent plausible names like R.M. Qualtrough and Manlove Gardens East.  BUT…  the thing I find oddest about William Wallace is his diction.  When he returned home after his unsuccesful search for Menlove Gardens East he says to his neighbour: “Have you heard anything unusual tonight?” and then he goes on:” I have been out this evening since a quarter to seven and on my return I find the front and back doors locked against me.” Did people really speak like that? Wallace seems to speak in this curious over- elaborate way.  When he speaks to a Policeman earlier in the evening he says: “I’ve been to Menlove Gardens West but the person I am looking for does not live there.  I’ve also been to Menlove Gardens North and South but the numbers are all even.  You see, I’m an insurance agent, and I’m looking for Mr Qualtrough.  He rang up the club and left a message for me with my colleague to call on him at 25, Menlove Gardens East.” However odd this sounds if PD James is right and the phone-call was a hoax by another party, probably Gordon Parry, then William Wallace was genuinely looking for the address and that was just  the way he spoke.

ALTERNATIVE SUSPECTS GORDON PARRY The main alternative suspect is Gordon Parry who died in the 1970s. At the time he had been shifty character who had worked with William Wallace and was familiar with the Wallace Household. He may have blamed William Wallace for drawing attention to discrepancies in his financial dealings with the Pru. If he had called Julia would have let him in. He says he visited Julia Wallace when William Wallace was not there. William Wallace was not aware of this. It seems unlikely that a twenty-two year old was having an affair with a sixty nine year old but many things that are unlikely happen. Gordon Parry, on the night of the murder, drove to an all-night garage run by acquaintances. He told him to clean his car. He had a blood-soaked mitten and he said to the man cleaning the car: “That could hang me.” Gordon Parry’s family was well connected. He was originally a suspect and William Wallace appeared to think he was guilty. He had a record of petty crime and was accused of attacking a woman, but the case was dropped. He was an enthusiastic amateur actor and could easily change accents and also he was in the habit of ringing up strangers. He also asked his girl friend to give him an alibi and she obliged and later retracted. However even her original alibi did not cover the time of the murder. In Gordon Parry’s defence it has to be said that his alibis taken together to cover the time of the crime. At one of his interviews with the police he said that William Wallace was “sexually abnormal.” He meant that William Wallace was gay. This may have been an attempt to prejudice investigators against William Wallace and draw attention away from Gordon Parry.  Irrespective of whether he was guilty or not Gordon Parry was an unscrupulous character and a capable actor and he used the same building that William Wallace used for his Chess Club.  One has a sense that he enjoyed hinting that he knew more about the crime than he was telling, of course this does not mean that he was guilty.

THE JOHNSTONS Possible suspects were the neighbours, John and Florence Johnston who were not thoroughly investigated. They had a key to the Wallace home and went in and fed the cat when the Wallaces were on holiday. John  Johnston died in a nursing home, he suffered from dementia. The journalist and crime-writer Tom Slemen claimed that he confessed to the crime. According to his reported story John Johnston his wife had kidnapped the Wallace’s cat, Puss, as a means of luring Julia away from the house to burgle the home. They were under the impression that Julia had gone with William on the Tuesday Evening because they saw her in a mackintosh with William at the back gate. They entered the house and began to search for the money that they were convinced was hidden there. As they were doing that they suddenly realised that they were being watched. Julia Wallace had not gone out and witnessed them ransacking her house. Mr Johnston killed her with the jemmy he had been using. The nature of this evidence (that is that it is reported at third hand from a dying person with dementia) detracts from its value . One detail chimes with something that we know to be true. The cat was missing and it did return. This is such a minor detail that only somebody acquainted with the case would have known.

OTHER THEORIES There are other theories, one is that  either William Wallace  or Gordon Parry acted in collusion with others. Both seem unlikely.  Gordon Parry was more likely than William Wallace to ring up the Chess Club in the guise of R M Qualtrough. If William Wallace rang the Chess Club he would have had to speak to somebody he knew and who firmly denied that R M Qualtrough was William Wallace. We know nothing to suggest that William Wallace had the ability and confidence to speak to somebody he knew in the guise of another person and this is the weakest link in the case that Wallace was the killer.  Possibly the killer is somebody unknown. The lock failed on the door, it seems to have been unreliable, and a passing stranger walked in and began to search for valuables. When he saw Mrs Wallace he panicked and hit her.

If William Wallace was the killer the “elaborate plot” is an illusion.  He had no way of knowing that by complete coincidence a witness was able to provide an almost exact time when Julia Wallace was still alive.  Julia Wallace is an enigma.  She was estranged from most of her family, misrepresented her background and took seventeen years off her age.

The theories, remember that many of the most distinguished commentators have been literary figures, arise because of the popularity of mystery crime novels which  require elaborate plots and enigmatic characters.  Either Wallace killed his wife or he didn’t.  If he did it is by chance and not by elaborate planning that he escaped.  If he didn’t it could be that we will never know the circumstances.

I do not see William Wallace as the kind of person who could carry out a complex pretence.  The acting around the telephone call to the chess club seems to me quite out of William’s capability.  He had no history of violence and no motive.

Suspicions around William focus on his odd emotional responses.  Maybe that was because he was odd.   If he did do it  he is buried with his victim.  Anything can happen but I think Wallace’s character and the time scale argue against his guilt.

Further reading The following book recapitulates much of the earlier work. The  cover looks like the cover of a murder mystery from the thirties.  It was some time before I realised it was an actual photograph of the crime scene.

The Murder of Julia Wallace James Murphy

The Murder of Julia Wallace
James Murphy

Witches and modern Wicca in Lancashire, the Fylde and Blackpool


Witchcraft and post-Christian beliefs in Blackpool and the Fylde
Witches are a difficult subject to discuss because in all probability they never existed historically and those that do exist are basing their practises on a mixture of imagination and unreliable reports from witch trials. Nobody would dispute that there are witches nowadays but they came about because of the persecution of innocent alleged witches in the past.
There are many who disagree and believe that witchcraft is a form of paganism that has existed in clandestine form since Christianity Early Christianity had to compromise with existing religious practises. Easter is feast of the Saxon God Oestra who is a goddess of fertility, hence the egg.
Early Protestants were austere compared to Catholics and they were suspicious of traditional feasts such as Christmas and All Souls Day and of traditional practises like May Pole Dancing. They suspected that these had origins in a pre-Christian world.
Witches to early Protestants were proof of the inability of the Catholic Church to cleanse itself of Pagan practises. Catholicism was an inclusive religion. The poorest struggled from one feast day to the next. The Church provided something for everybody, aesthetics, drama, learning, a fund of interesting stories, the possibility of cure for illnesses and regular opportunities for feasting and general merriment. The holidays on which Blackpool achieved its astonishing growth were “holy days”, when people celebrated their local patron saint or the consecration of their church accompanied by rushbearing drinking and dancing. The Catholic Church was a never-ending source of entertainment for people and old beliefs were incorporated in the same way that Pagan symbols such as the Green Man are built into the fabric of cathedrals. One feature of England since the Reformation has been a kind of unfulfilled longing for Catholic extravagance often expressed in the form of envious disapproval. One source of the Gothic style so characteristic of England  is Catholicism.
The North West of England and especially the Fylde an isolated peninsula in a region which was hardly thought of as being England and where pre-christian folk beliefs were strong was a place where superstition thrived. Farmers hung hag-stones in their stables to ward off witches. A hag-stone is a stone-age tool such as a hammer head with a rope through the hole to hang it up. Any disaster, illness, a bad harvest, the death of cattle could be blamed on a witch. Witches were mostly women but many of those tried were men, witches were not burned they were hung and a witch-trial was not a foregone conclusion, many were found not guilty.
The outstanding witch trial in Lancashire was the trial of the Pendle Witches.
The year was 1612 and James 1 was a firm believer in witches and had written a book on the subject. The Pendle area was strongly Catholic. When Roger Knowles a JP heard of a dispute between two alleged witch families led by the magnificently named Demdyke and Chattox he investigated. Because of ill-feeling, perhaps rivalry, between the families, there were mutual accusations. Many involved in the prosecution of the witches were hoping for promotion, they were trying to second guess what James I would want. James I was ambiguous on the subject. He firmly believed in witches but he made fun of the evidence at some witch trials. Crucially he thought that evidence from a young child was acceptable in witch trials, in a later case he changed his mind and decided that evidence given by children was not permissible.
Nine people were hanged on the moors near Lancaster at the site of present day Williamson Park on the basis of evidence given by nine year old Jennet Device against her mother and brother. Amongst the charges were that they had plotted to blow up Lancaster Castle. We are in Weapons of Mass Destruction Country here. How the poorest people imaginable were going to have the means and the expertise to blow up Lancaster Castle did not concern anybody.
Amongst those hung on Lancaster Moor was Alice Nutter. Unlike the other victims she was a landowner. What she would be doing meeting up with a bunch of near tramps and beggars at Malkin Tower on Good Friday is anybody’s guess. She was a Catholic and she may have been attending a service and preferred to hang than betray her fellow Catholics. Two of her family had previously been executed as Catholic Priests.
Alice Nutter’s relatives gave their name to Nutter Road in Cleveleys.
Jennet Device, or somebody with that name, was accused of witchcraft in Lancaster in 1634. Although she was found guilty the case was submitted to King Charles 1. Jennet had been accused by a ten year old boy and under questioning he admitted lying. Nevertheless Jennet does not seem to have been released and she probably died in Lancaster Prison. We can only guess at what made a nine year old girl give evidence that was responsible for the death of her mother and brother. Possibly she was flattered by the attention and did not understand the consequences.
We owe our knowledge of the case to Thomas Potts who was a clerk of the court. His book of the trial: “The wonderfull discoverie of witches in the Countie of Lancaster ” was a runaway best seller. Some of the accused believed they had supernatural powers and others exploited the belief that they had such powers.
A more local example of witchcraft or the belief in witchcraft is the story of Margaret Hilton of Meg Shelton.
Meg Shelton was born in Singleton. She moved to Wesham. She was so in fear of local people that she intended to move to Cottam but she was found crushed by a barrel in Cuckoo Hall where she lived.
She was widely feared as a Witch, she was said to be a gifted shape-changer. One story is that she provided a hare for the Lord of Cottam to chase with his hound on condition that the Lord did not use his black hound. The Lord of Cottam agreed but cheated. The hare escaped but the black dog managed to bite its leg. Thereafter Meg Shelton walked with a limp. The Lord of Cottam is said to have provided her with a cottage but she died before she was able to move there.
When she was buried her corpse appeared beside the grave a number of times so as a precautionary measure she was said to be buried upside down and with a block of granite over the top to prevent her escaping again from the grave.

That is the story. It is difficult to know where to start. If she was a witch why was she buried in a churchyard? If she had the energy to dig herself out of the ground despite being dead surely she could have moved beyond her grave.
A suggested explanation: Of course Meg Shelton was not a Witch. The difficulty with being thought of as a Witch is that everything you do confirms that belief. Witches were genuinely hated, in some ways like paedophiles today. Every bad thing in the community including the deaths of children was attributed to the Witch. The story about Meg Shelton does hint at a sympathetic relationship with the Lord of Cottam.
Suppose that the community is convinced that Meg Shelton is an evil Witch responsible for a great deal of suffering and yet the Lord Cottam gives her a home.
Suppose the Lord of Cottam is slightly less superstitious. The people see an evil woman intent on causing harm, he sees somebody who is very poor and ill. He wants to protect her and gives her a home. His relationship with Meg Shelton is that of a protector.
Meg Shelton dies in 1706 at Cuckoo Hall near Kirkham. Probably she is murdered. Being crushed by a barrel does not sound like the kind of thing that usually happens at home. Under the Lord of Cottam’s protection she is buried in the Churchyard. The people are outraged. They dig her up. A kind of stand-off takes place and eventually Meg is peacefully buried but with added precautions to prevent her being dug up. The story of Meg Shelton and her interments and disinterments is preserved in a folk story which correctly points to her relationship with the Lord of Cottam.

In 1611 Robert Hey renounced his title of the Wise Man of the Fylde. He lived at Poulton and he was probably avoiding more serious charges. In 1627 Dorothy Shaw was accused by a neighbour: “thou art a witch and God bless me I am afraid for my wife and goods.”

Oddly enough there are more modern associations with Witchcraft or neo-Paganism.


A self portrait (with horns) by Osman Spare.  The history of horned figures is deeply interesting (to me) and continues in modern rock culture.

Blackpool has had many unusual residents, but none can match the eccentricity of Austin Osman Spare 1886-1956. A very gifted artist, probably underrated because the sheer variety of his work defies easy classification, he was a friend of Alesteir Crowley with whom he later fell out. Alesteir Crowley was a “Catholic” occultist, he believed in rituals, Austin Spare was a “Protestant” occultist, believing more in spontaneity. “Chaos Magic” which is derived from Osman Spare’s beliefs continues to the present day. Osman Spare explored his own form of occultism as well as inventing or developing an array of styles such as surrealism and pop art. He was in Blackpool during his military training in 1915. He was a towering and underrated eccentric… some of his works have been bought by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. The German ambassador had one of his paintings and it is said that he was asked to do a portrait of Hitler which he refused.

Another former friend of Alesteir Crowley was Madeline Montalban 1910 -1982, born Madeline Sylvia Royals in Blackpool she moved to London in the 30s. She became associated with Gerald Gardner one of the founders of the Wiccan movement. She wrote on astrology in the magazine Prediction.
Gerald Gardner’s collected library which contained many rare works about witchcraft and his writings were purchased after his death. One of the negotiators being John Turner the manager of Ripley’s Odditorium Blackpool. The intention was to found a Museum of Witchcraft but eventually the writings have been dispersed.

Phil Hines, a modern practitioner of Chaos Magic which follows the Osman Spare tradition came from Blackpool and in interviews he says that he was a member of a coven in Blackpool. A brief search of the Internet reveals a coven based in Blackpool.

Finally a Satanist switched on the illuminations.  Possibly.  Jayne Mansfield became a follower of Anton La Vey founder of the Church of Satan.  A feisty and clever woman who allegedly had an affair with President Kennedy (who didn’t) switched on Blackpool Illuminations in 1959.  She also met Jimi Hendrix in 1965 when they cut two tracks together.  He used to stay at a boarding house in Dickson Road when he was performing in Blackpool.jayne mansfield switches on the illuminations
Belief in witches, fairies, holy wells continued to be part of everyday life in the Fylde until the nineteenth century. William Thornber recalls that people used to leave gifts at the wells by Stony Hill which was probably a pre-roman burial mound near Lytham Road as late as the nineteenth century and that at Halloween the hills in the distance around Blackpool would be lit with bonfires. It is possible that sea-bathing was a pre-Christian tradition that went up the social ladder until it reached the Prince Regent in the eighteenth century. Superstition existed alongside Christianity. The astrological signs around the entrance to All Hallows church in Bispham are part of the desire to understand and influence the future is still discernible in the fortune-tellers of the Golden Mile.

I cannot recommend too highly the
Fylde and Wyre Blogspot
By Michelle Harris and Brian Hughes
From which I obtained much of the information about Meg Shelton

Brides in the bath: Blackpool, Regent Road, Joseph Smith and Alice Burnham: a bride too far

When Alice Met George

On Wednesday 10 December 1913 as darkness was falling a newly- wed couple knocked at the door of a boarding house at 16, Regent Road, Blackpool. They were answered by Mrs Crossley the landlady.

Alice the bride was big and bonny and independent minded. She supported the suffragette movement and had qualified as a nurse in spite of coming from a comfortable background. The gentleman was dapper. They asked anxiously if a bath was available. Baths were a rarity in Edwardian Blackpool . The couple had already rejected a boarding house in Adelaide Street because it did not have a bath. The landlady Mrs Crossley showed them the combined bedroom and sitting room and they agreed to stay there.

That first night they went out. Regent Road joins Church Street and from there it is a short walk to the Promenade passing the Winter Gardens. At the Promenade the Pier and Blackpool Tower are within easy walking distance.

The next day they went out to buy chops for lunch. In those days guests would buy their own food but the landlady would prepare it. George bought chops. They had lunch at 1.00 and since Alice had a headache they went to see Doctor Billing who prescribed for Alice’s headache and stomach ache. They returned with butter and milk for their tea and in the evening they went to the cinema.

On Friday 12 December they had a breakfast of bacon. They bought stewing steak for lunch which they had at one o’clock. They went out and returned at 5.00 for tea. They went out and Alice asked if she could have a bath on her return. Alice had written to her sister: “I have the best husband in the world. “ She posted the letter and they returned just before 8.00. Alice went for her bath. Alice, Margaret and Joseph Crossley sat down for a meal. They noticed water running down the wall and guessed that Alice Smith had overfilled the bath. George appeared with two eggs for their breakfast in the morning.

George rushed downstairs saying: “Fetch Dr. Billing she knows him. Dr Billing and George Smith lifted her out of the bath and Dr Billing pumped her stomach but she was dead. Joseph Crossley returned from work and met Police Sergeant Robert Valiant and George Smith. The three went to the Police Station in King Street which adjoins Regent Road.

George Smith had an unsentimental attitude and was prepared to sleep in the room where his dead wife lay. However Margaret Crossley told him he would have to move next door.

Next morning saw George Smith arranging the cheapest possible funeral at Layton Cemetery. At 11.30 the sent a telegram to Alice’s family. Her mother and brother Norman immediately started a journey to Blackpool. This came as a bit of a shock to George Smith who saw them on Sunday morning and asked the undertaker John Hargreave if he could arrange a more expensive funeral. John said it could be arranged but the funeral would have to be put back from Monday to Tuesday. Alice’s mother, her brother Norman and George had lunch at the Crossley’s and George Smith played the piano.

The next morning John Hargreaves took the coffin to the mortuary at Layton Cemetery and placed Alice in her coffin and screwed down the lid and there was a brief service at the chapel in the cemetery. George Smith had to rush off to get a train and he promised Alice’s mother that he would send Alice’s clothes.

George Smith stepped out of their lives. George had not had a happy relationship with his in-laws. Charles, Alice’s father, had taken a particular dislike to him. He regarded him as a spiv and a fortune-hunter. Alice loved her family but was firm in her desire to marry George. She claimed to her family that she had met George at a Congregationalist Service.

Charles was seriously alarmed by George Smith. He hired a detective to look into George and tried to withhold money to which Alice was entitled. George was not conciliatory. When his father in law sent him a letter asking about his background he wrote back:

In answer to your application regarding my parentage etc My mother was a Buss Horse, my Father a Cab Driver, my sister a Rough Rider over the Arctic Regions. My Brothers were all gallant sailors in a Steam roller…Your despised son-in law. “

Mrs Crossley also did not take to George Smith and throughout his eventful life he seems to have encountered people who loathed him. On the other hand he was attractive to some women.

For a year nothing was heard of George Smith and the troubling episode was almost forgotten. It is said that Conan Doyle remarked on the case to detectives at Scotland Yard.

One year later Mrs Crossley was reading the “News of the World” when a story caught her eye: “BRIDE’S SUDDEN DEATH IN BATH, Bride’s tragic fate on Day after Wedding.” She contacted the Blackpool Police. In the meantime Alice’s father had also noticed and contacted the Police at Aylesbury. In January the matter came to the attention of Inspector Neil.

Margaret Lofty had met and married John Lloyd after having her life insured and made a will. On Friday 18th December 1914 the couple were honeymooning in Bismarck Road, Highgate. Margaret Lofty asked for a bath at about 8.00 pm. Miss Blatch their landlady heard splashing in the bathroom. Then she heard the harmonium being played in the Lloyd’s sitting room. John Lloyd was playing: “Abide with me.”

John Lloyd went out and later rang the bell. He said he had forgotten the key. He had been out to get some tomatoes for Margaret’s supper. He went upstairs to find Margaret and shouted down for help.

Margaret was drowned in the bath. George went out to find a doctor and policeman. As it happened he had taken Margaret to see the Doctor.

Inspector Neil had to be careful not to alert John Lloyd. He arranged to keep watch on the Solicitor who was arranging the insurance payment. Eventually John Lloyd and it was quickly established that he was George Smith.

There were grounds for suspicion but there were also problems. First of all in each case a Doctor determined that each death was from natural causes. Secondly there was the question of method. How can you drown a fully grown healthy person without a struggle, and there was no sign of a struggle. Finally if George Smith were charged with murder he would according to legal precedent be charged with one murder and therefore evidence about the other drowned bride would not be available to the jury. It is difficult to see how a jury could convict. Bernard Spilsbury the most eminent pathologist of his time was engaged. Margaret Lofty’s body was exhumed at midnight to avoid publicity.

George Smith was charged with making a false statement regarding his name at his wedding which ironically was at Bath. Following the exhumation at Highgate it emerged that another bride had been found in a bath at Herne Bay. Her maiden name was Bessie Mundy. Inspector Neil learned this on 8 February 1915 as he arrived in Blackpool. Her husband had been Henry Williams. He was also George Smith.

Inspector Neil was visiting Blackpool for the exhumation of Alice Burnham. He met Bernard Spilsbury at Blackpool Railway Station. The exhumation and examination must have been a grim and heartbreaking business for everybody involved especially Alice’s family. It was carried out in the mortuary which is still in Layton Cemetery although it is now used to store equipment.

People were dying in large numbers in France but the case caught public attention. Pictures of George  Smith had been published. A number of other “brides” appeared and also ladies who George Smith had courted and robbed. He was “married” seven times. Strangest of all he did appear to have a regular partner Edith Pegler. He conscientiously returned from jaunts around the drowning brides and collecting insurance mone in time for a traditional family Christmas.

George Joseph Smith was tried for the murder of Bessie Mundy. Zeppelin raids had dropped bombs on London and  loss of life in France dominated the news but for a time front pages were devoted to the trial. George had reason to be confident. He was represented by Edward Marshall Hall. He was on trial for a death which a Doctor had deemed accidental at the time.

Contemporaries rated Edward Marshall Hall as an excellent rather theatrical advocate but had reservations about his grasp of the law.

His opponent Archie Bodkin was more matter of fact but had great skill in matters of law. In the absence of the jury he made the case that evidence about Alice and Margaret were admissible because they demonstrated “a system.” That meant that there were outstanding similiarities. The judge agreed and Edward Marshall Hall’s task became impossible.

There were more than a hundred witnesses, landladies, undertakers, doctors, solicitors. Edgar Wallace, later to stand as MP for Blackpool, reported the case for Tit Bits.

Mrs Crossley attended and gave evidence.  George enlivened proceedings by shouting that she was “a lunatic.” Bernard Spilsbury the pathologist theorized that the lack of sign of a struggle came about because the head was suddenly immersed in the bath by lifting up the legs and that sudden immersion causes shock which prevents resistance.

Edith Pegler his partner was impressively honest, she had no idea of George’s other life. At one stage George warned Edith of the dangers of baths: “I should advise you to be careful of those things, as it is known that women often lose their lives through weak heart and fainting in the bath.”

The jury took twenty two minutes to find George guilty.

Marshall Hall believed that George hypnotized his victims and more than one survivor mentioned his mesmerizing eyes. He was also a very strong physically dominating person. Alice Burnham had gonnorhea which goes to show that the life of single women could be more exciting than expected in Edwardian England. This may account for her attachment. She had found a man who accepted her difficulties.

George Joseph Smith was hanged at Maidstone by John Ellis on Friday13 August 1915. Game to the last he managed to convince the Bishop of Croydon that he was innocent until Marshall Hall put him right. His last words were: “I am innocent.”

What can we make of George? George was self-confident but inept. He said wildly inappropriate things without realizing how other people would react. For example he said about Bessie Mundy: “Was it not a jolly good job I got her to make a will?”

There is a mystery about some of George’s past. When did he learn to play the piano? Had he ever been in the army as he claimed? Had he been abroad? There are years missing in his biography. How did he evolve the idea of drowning a bride? Once he got the idea he carried it out in an almost robotic way.

The day after he was executed his only legal wife Caroline Thornhill who had returned from Canada to give evidence married a Canadian soldier she had met. Clearly she did not mourn George.


Further Reading
There is a very interesting summary of the case in
Jane Robins: The Magnificent Spilsbury

Jeremy Thorpe, the Trial of the Century, a conspiracy hatched in Blackpool

Jeremy Thorpe and Norman Scott “Man is the problem, no man, no problem.”   The best picture of a politician ever taken? Jeremy Thorpe and Jimi Hendrix.  Jimi Hendrix stayed in a boarding house at Dickson Road when he appeared in Blackpool.

Britain was an unstable place in the 1970’s. Downing Street was run by a KGB coven.  The CIA were planning a right wing coup as they had in Chile.  Many people believed this. The Conservatives were led by Edward Heath who had the gift of making  all things tedious and the Labour Party by the crafty Harold Wilson. The Parties were neck and neck and the Liberal Party with its charismatic leader Jeremy Thorpe was an attractive alternative. The Liberal Party had a reputation for “niceness” and attracted those disdainful of the robber barons of capitalism or the howling mobs of socialism. We are talking geography teachers here.

Jeremy Thorpe was an outstandingly successful leader of the Liberal Party. He was charming, witty, a dandy. His first wife had died in a car accident and his second wife was a cousin of the Queen. In 1974 the Liberals won an amazing 19% of the  vote. For a moment it was possible that the Liberal Party could be part of a coalition with the Conservatives. Edward Heath discussed a Liberal Conservative pact. His argument was that although the Labour Party had won more seats the Conservative Party had won more votes. Edward Heath had the misfortune that even when right he sounded wrong.  Edward Heath considered Jeremy Thorpe for Home Secretary in a coalition.  It is intriguing to think that Jeremy Thorpe could have been the head of a legal establishment investigating Jeremy Thorpe.

The Liberal Party would not accept a Liberal Conservative Pact so Harold Wilson formed a government in which he needed the support of the Liberals.Jeremy Thorpe                                         Jeremy Thorpe.

What could possibly go wrong for Jeremy Thorpe?

A stable worker and male model called Norman Scott claimed that he had a long homosexual relationship with Jeremy Thorpe. In 1971 a Liberal Party Enquiry had investigated allegations about Jeremy Thorpe’s sexuality . Jeremy Thorpe had denied being a predatory homosexual. Homosexual relationships had ceased to be a crime in England and Wales in 1967. Things had improved since 1806 when sodomites were hanged at Lancaster, but gay men faced prejudice.  Older gay men might have a criminal record and this would effect their employment opportunities. Gay men lived lives which involved deceit and concealment.   Norman Scott                                          Norman Scott

In October 1975 an airline pilot, Andrew Newton drove Norman Scott and his dog Rinka from Norman’s home in North Devon to Exmoor where he stopped the car and shot the dog, Rinka. Why did this happen? Norman Scott had an obsession with Jeremy Thorpe. Norman Scott looked like a macho outdoor man but his voice was feminine. The story of Jeremy Thorpe is full of colourful characters and Norman Scott is among the colourfulest.  He was very attractive when young. A police officer investigating the case remarked, looking at photographs of Norman, “I’m not that way inclined, but if I were…”

Norman had a series of relationships gay and straight. When he was released from a psychiatric unit he set up a ménage a trois with a woman and a man from the same institution. Norman was not comfortable with his sexuality. He was brought up as a Catholic and believed that Jeremy Thorpe had “infected” him with homosexuality . A secondary concern was with his National Insurance Card which he was convinced that Jeremy Thorpe had taken from him and which prevented him getting a job, and living a normal life.

An observer might feel it was more than the lack of a National Insurance Card that prevented Norman Scott  from living a normal life. Norman’s early years were punctuated by suicide attempts. Between suicide attempts he insisted on telling anybody who would listen about his relationship with Jeremy Thorpe. Norman was good with animals, he was a natural horseman and he had a love of nature and solitude.

With people he was not so good. He was querulous,  argumentative and  unstable.  He found it difficult to keep a job.  Despite his difficulties there was a steely quality to Norman. Norman displayed very little interest in money.  He was not pursuing Jeremy Thorpe for profit.  It was hatred.  There may have been love once. At one time Jeremy Thorpe seems to have a genuine concern for Norman.  At one point in his fabulously indiscreet way Jeremy wrote to Norman: “Bunnies (his pet name for Norman)  can and will go to France. ”  It doesn’t sound to me like a couple of rampant heterosexuals planning a night out.

For Norman Scott  hatred of Jeremy  Thorpe was the single emotional  stable point in his life. Jeremy Thorpe was not  threatened by a male model former psychiatric patient. Nobody would listen to Norman’s story. The Establishment was a  more coherent and effective force than it is now. Jeremy Thorpe with a  network of friends and sympathizers and an arsenal of legal resources and with his role as the third most important man in British Politics had nothing to fear.

The story of how Andrew Newton came to shoot Rinka is a story of how Norman caused Jeremy Thorpe and his circle to lose reason and undertake activities so eye-wateringly stupid that we have to keep reminding ourselves that these people were not  insane.

Within that circle a kind of competitive loopiness became routine.  One of the reasons that the Jeremy Thorpe trial is so thrilling is that it introduces us to characters so dubious, so  flawed, so heart-stoppingly  self-seeking that they are delectable.  Unless you are very flawed indeed you will read about people who are worse and more stupid than you are.  Which is cheering.    Not only are the central characters  imperfect they are incompetent. There are flat out villains and  there are walk on parts for bigoted judges and crafty lawyers, such as George Carman.  At the centre of it all Jeremy Thorpe has a theatrical quality. He was famous for his impersonations and an unkind person might say he impersonated the Leader of the Liberal Party.  The inner-circle of the nice party planned to silence a citizen who had mental health problems and a sexually troubled past and were linked with the shooting of the man’s dog using money extracted fraudulently from a philanthropist. The  SS had taken over Disneyland.

You would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.

To return to the question: how did Andrew Newton came to shoot Rinka the Great Dane? This is where people who take an interest in Blackpool can feel a surge of, well not pride exactly but… Let’s be honest it is pride. This sleazy pantomime farce originated in Blackpool. The conspiracy to silence Norman Scott was put together in Blackpool. We do not know in which hotel it originated. I am almost certain it was the Imperial Hotel because it is an obvious choice for a high class charity event. There were strippers and abundant alcohol when David Miller met Andrew Newton.


Time to introduce the main characters.  If you try to imagine what it was like being Jeremy Thorpe during the years that Norman Scott was going from disaster to  disaster you would have a great deal to be happy about. You were the leader of the third biggest party and each of the other leaders vied for your support. You were the most popular and trusted of the leaders. You were a dazzling, charismatic speaker who could charm the knickers off a nun. On the other hand on a bad day you looked like a seedy bookmaker. There were rumours about your sexuality.  Newspapers were more circumspect than they are today but could Jeremy be sure? Worst of a  mentally unstable suicidal individual going round sometimes in Jeremy’s own constituency telling everybody including Jeremy’s wife and his mother in some detail  that he had a long homosexual relationship with Jeremy Thorpe and telling them that he had proof in the form of papers and letters.

To Jeremy Thorpe Norman Scott came to embody all the threats and insecurities, all the things that stopped him achieving the glory which he merited. Peter Bessell, Jeremy’s one-time confidant,  was a rogue. He extracted money for business schemes that reliably failed. He skated on the verge of bankruptcy for years. He had  charm and was an epic womaniser. According to Peter Bessell his method of establishing Jeremy’s sexuality was to confess over a meal that he had homosexual tendencies. This was not true and it is likely that Peter Bessell was  fishing around for something that might be useful. Inevitably Peter Bessell had been a Methodist lay preacher.

Peter Bessell was not one of the conspirators on trial, he was a major prosecution witnesses. After the failure of all his schemes Peter Bessell found a beautiful younger woman and lived in a  beach hut in California. He was dying.

One of the  delightful characters in this drama was Jack Hayward. Jack Hayward had set up a business in the Bahamas to help companies evade tax. He was a flamboyant patriot. He made a fortune by helping British Companies avoiding paying tax.  He was a  philanthropist. We would expect him to support the Conservative Party but he met and was delighted with Jeremy Thorpe.  Jack Hayward was shrewder than he appeared.  He gave money to the Liberal Party. Jack Hayward met Peter Bessell. Jack Hayward knewthat Peter Bessell was a crook but gave him money because he found him amusing. In return Peter Bessell and Jeremy Thorpe made an attempt to defraud Jack Hayward by claiming that they needed money to make deals with giant American companies which would be beneficial to Jack Hayward’s Bahamas project. Jack did not fall for it and Jeremy Thorpe forced Peter Bessell to write a letter confessing and saying that it was his sole idea.

Jack Hayward continued to support Jeremy Thorpe and some of the money was channelled through an intermediary. This was the money that was used to pay for the silencing of Norman Scott. A benevolent philanthropist acting in the belief that he is benefitting a democratic and enlightened political party was  financing the silencing of a poor, bisexual, suicidal person.

David Holmes was from a humble background and by hard work he had secured a place at Oxford where he met and was entranced by Jeremy Thorpe.  David Holmes and Jeremy Thorpe went on holidays together, David Holmes was openly gay.   After university David Holmes suffered from cancer. He made a recovery and set about becoming, unlike Peter Bessell, a genuinely successful businessman, based in Manchester. David Holmes was an important part of Jeremy’s circle and acted as a advisor and protector. If anybody in Jeremy Thorpe’s circle deserves pity it is David Holmes. He did everything to help Jeremy and he allowed himself to become enmeshed in the conspiracy. True to form Jeremy dropped and betrayed him. Unlike the rest of Jeremy Thorpe’s circle David Holmes had no thought of using his situation to his own advantage. His life was about  service to Jeremy Thorpe.

After Jeremy Thorpe  dropped him, David Holmes went into a decline, hanging about public toilets.  Maybe he loved Jeremy Thorpe in a selfless way.  There was not much selflessness in Thorpe’s circle but he did attract the devotion of his first and second wife. Liberals complained that their leader was surrounded by a circle of courtiers and that access to Jeremy Thorpe was controlled by David Holmes. It was as if there were two Liberal Parties… the circle round Jeremy Thorpe and the MPs, activists and supporters in the Party.

There were smaller parts filled by  bizarre characters. John le Mesurier (no relation to the actor) sold carpets in South Wales. When a “final solution” to the Norman Scott problem was discussed John le Mesurier turned to George Deakin who sold slot machines in South Wales. George Deakin was a small man with sandy hair who wore spectacular suits, drove flash cars and had a younger blonde wife. It was George Deakin and a friend called David Miller who recruited Andrew Newton at a charity event in a Blackpool Hotel to (here accounts differ) either frighten or kill Norman Scott. This was the step that brought about the trial of Jeremy Thorpe.  We need to step back for a second and consider the likely outcome of this decision. The problem was that Norman Scott was trying to find a  platform to make accusations against Jeremy Thorpe. He was getting nowhere.  Even if Norman Scott were mysteriously shot dead  there would be an investigation and the most outstanding thing about Norman Scott was his claim to have had a homosexual affair with Jeremy Thorpe.

The plot to silence Norman Scott was involving increasingly unreliable characters. Of all the various rogues, crooks, liars, frauds, riff-raff  and suchlike  we have encountered none is so  devoid of a moral compass than Andrew Newton.

Some people have flaws.  Andrew Newton had nothing but flaws.  Good looking with  attractive girlfriends. He was intelligent. He gave off a miasma of shallow self-seeking so intense and pungent that he could not even impersonate an honest person. Peter Bessell the serial fraud  knew what honest people looked like so that he could portray one. Andrew Newton lacked this skill. Although he took on the job of silencing Norman Scott he had a sense that if his employers could pay £10,000 plus they could pay plenty more. This interested him. At various times the conspirators claimed that the plot had been to frighten Norman Scott , but in the only thing he said that rings true Andrew Newton said that £10,000 upwards was a lot to pay to frighten somebody.

The idea of a silent living Norman Scott was self-contradictory.  On Exmoor on 12 October 1975 Andrew Newton met Norman Scott in Barnstaple. He said that he was trying to protect Norman Scott from a threat. Andrew Newton was  trying to find out why Norman Scott was to be silenced. True to form it was not long before Norman Scott was telling the story of his relationship with Jeremy Thorpe. Andrew Newton thought that there might be something in Norman’s story. He reported to David Holmes that Norman Scott had a collection of papers. Holmes said that Scott must be silenced quickly. Andrew Newton, the hitman, did not have a weapon so he borrowed an unreliable 1910 Mauser from a friend.  And this is why and how it came about that on Friday 24 October Andrew Newton set off from Blackpool to meet Norman Scott. He met Scott at Combe Martin. Andrew Newton                                                               Andrew Newton

Norman Scott was accompanied by a Great Dane called Rinka. It so happened that Andrew Newton was  terrified of dogs. This was a bad thing for Rinka but a good thing for Norman Scott. Andrew Norman and Rinka were driving across Exmoor when Norman offered to drive. There was a misunderstanding, Rinka was excited jumping and wagging her tail.   rinka                                                                  Rinka

Andrew Newton killed Rinka with a shot to the head. According to Norman Scott Andrew Newton put a gun to his head which failed to fire. Andrew Newton drove off. He stayed with another of the conspirators, David Miller, where he made the breathtaking comment that he was working for a bunch of amateurs .

The next morning he decided to for a holiday so he set off  with his girlfriend Colleen Rooney and David Miller for a sunshine holiday in Pakistan. The mysterious shooting of a dog on Exmoor drew journalists to a story that seemed unusual. The Police were well aware of Norman Scott’s allegations but were desperate to avoid pursuing them. Instead they investigated Andrew Newton. A suspicious friend of Norman Scott had written down the registration number of the car that Andrew was driving on his earlier visit. When Newton returned from Pakistan with his girlfriend and David Miller he was arrested. He thought up a brilliant story. He had been contacted by Norman Scott when he had put a nude picture of himself in a sex contact magazine. When he met Norman Scott he was shocked to discover that Norman was a man, and was also intending to blackmail Andrew. So he borrowed a gun intending to frighten Norman and shot the dog by accident.

It is worth noting that if Andrew had killed Norman his career as a hitman would have lasted from the shooting until his arrest on return from Pakistan. And the conspirators would have been facing more serious charges, they were saved by their uselessness.  It was the  incompetence of the conspirators and Andrew Newton that turned Rinkagate from a tragedy into a farce.   Andrew Newton was charged with possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life. Before his trial he made use of his knowledge to extract money from Holmes.

It was “Private Eye” a satirical magazine run on a shoestring and not the multimillion pound giant papers such as the Times which first linked the shooting of Rinka with Norman Scott and Jeremy Thorpe. Andrew Newton ‘s Trial was at Exeter Crown Court on 16 March 1976. Norman Scott managed to repeat his allegations about Jeremy Thorpe. Andrew Newton was sentenced to two years which shook him since David Holmes had promised him that “powerful friends” would ensure that he was not imprisoned. From prison he continued to receive money from David Holmes. Worst of all Norman Scott was given a platform to repeat his allegations at the trial.  Jeremy Thorpe’s circle frantically tried to cover up one set of lies with another. Peter Bessell who was broke and living in a beach hut in California but was radiantly happy with his beautiful young wife was recruited to claim that he had been blackmailed by Norman Scott. It says something about the Liberal Party that further investigations of homosexuality against Thorpe were undertaken by the Chief Whip of the Liberal Party, Cyril Smith, who was himself later implicated in allegations of child abuse. cyril-smith-has-been-exposed-paedophile-since-his-death-2011-by-police                                                 Cyril Smith

These were also aired in Private Eye. As a result of the trial  newspapers were free now to refer to Norman Scott’s allegations. It was apparent that Jeremy Thorpe had lied about his relationship with Norman Scott. Jeremy Thorpe resigned the Liberal Leadership. Peter Bessell was dying in California and he was prevailed on to give evidence against Jeremy Thorpe.  The inner –circle was starting to fall apart not  helped by Jeremy Thorpe’s disregard for his most loyal friend David Holmes to whom he suggested that he take all the blame: “You must agree there doesn’t seem much point in both of us going down.” David Holmes had been Jeremy Thorpe’s most loyal supporter.

Jeremy Thorpe was replaced by David Steel as leader of the Liberal Party. Jeremy Thorpe was charged along with David Holmes, George Deakin and John Le Mesurier. The trial was delayed to allow Jeremy Thorpe to fight in the general election where he was  narrowly defeated. The trial started at the Old Bailey on 11 May 1979. Jeremy Thorpe was charged with attempted murder and, along with the other three defendants, conspiracy to murder. The trial had all of the elements of a classic murder case without the murder. There were colourful characters, highly-detailed sexual accounts, people in high-places, the misdeeds of eminent people. The nation read with glee Norman Scott’s account of Jeremy Thorpe’s unwanted sexual advances at Jeremy Thorpe’s mother’s home. He described himself as: “Biting the pillow.” The Prosecution was  gentlemanly. They chose not to dwell on the homosexual aspect of the case on the grounds that it was not relevant. Jeremy Thorpe had repeatedly denied homosexuality and if the Prosecution had chosen they could have demonstrated that he was dishonest in this matter. The defence was led by the nimble footed George Carman who came from Blackpool and had attended St Joseph’s College. The chief Prosecution witness was Peter Bessell who had agreed to give evidence in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The Judge, Justice Cantley, behaved like a representative of the establishment to such a degree that it seems as if he was indulging in self-parody. He described George Deakin as “probably the sort of man whose taste ran to a cocktail-bar in his living room.” When he heard that Jeremy Thorpe wore a pair of red trousers he opined: “the sort of thing that used to be worn by small-town Americans on their first trip to Europe. “ Norman Scott, the poor man who had his dog shot and was appearing in court as a witness in pursuit of justice, aroused Judge Cantley’s considerable ire: “He is a fraud. He is a sponger. He is a whiner. He is a parasite. But of course, he could still be telling the truth.”   ]NPG x166349; Sir Joseph Donaldson Cantley by Walter Bird                                                                          Judge Cantley

Judge Cantley’s summing up was  biased in favour of Jeremy Thorpe and the other defendants. It gave rise to a cultural treasure: “The biassed judge.”

Peter Cook’s funniest work.

Jeremy Thorpe and the other defendants were found Not Guilty. The defence case was that there may have been some kind of a conspiracy but its  purpose was to frighten Norman Scott and not to kill him and that when the defendants had talked about Norman Scott “disappearing” they were speaking metaphorically. When they talked about dumping his body in an abandoned mine they were being humorous. When they talked about silencing him they meant frightening him. Jeremy Thorpe had insisted that the three act as a group and none of them gave evidence. The other defendants may have been chagrined when George Carman suggested that some of the conspirators could be found guilty and Jeremy Thorpe still found innocent. George Carman could not have done this without Jeremy Thorpe’s knowledge.  Jeremy Thorpe was ratting on his friends, what is surprising is that they found this surprising.

So released without a stain on his character Jeremy Thorpe went on. The rest is painful. He was shunned by his colleagues. He attended state occasions such as Harold Wilson’s funeral where he was treated as if he had a highly infectious disease.. He developed Parkinson’s disease.  Norman Scott seems to have found some  peace living in the country with a host of pets. He never attempted to cash in on his role, he was uninterested in money, that was his noblest feature. An odd note is that in one part of his extraordinary life Norman Scott was briefly married and related through his wife to the actor Terry -Thomas who lent Norman and his wife a cottage. As Terry- Thomas might have said: “What an absolute shower.”


FURTHER READING There is a fine book on the case: Rinkagate by Simon Freeman and Barrie Penrose. Please watch “Peter Cook the biased judge” on youtube. For my money it is his best work and close to the truth.