Saving money and keeping delays to a minimum used to be a hallmark of our criminal justice system. The only man to assassinate a prime minister committed his crime on 11 May 1812. His trial was on 15 May and he was hanged on 18 May. The whole process took just a week. He could not have complained about waiting for the result. If a jury cannot decide? Lock them up with no food or drink until they reach a verdict. If the jury reaches the wrong decision? Sentence them as well.
There is an interesting case about the first man caught by telegraph. The system had no way of sending the letters Q or U. The suspect was dressed as a Quaker but on telegraph this spelled out KWAKER. The message was sent three times before the police realised what sort of person to look for. Presumably they had been searching for a man dressed as a duck.
In the days before forensic evidence you could get away with murder. A man who killed his wife was not caught at the time but then confessed 18 years later, tormented by years of shame. The fact he was then hanged seems rather hard on him. Not much credit for a (late) plea.
There is the story of a solicitors’ clerk who murdered a child and nearly got away with it. It was discovered that he had made a note in his diary on the relevant date: ‘Killed a girl. It was fine and hot.’
All the cases are short and can be read in few minutes. A very affordable and delightful book.
Author: Peter Seddon
£7.99, Pavilion Books
David Pickup is a partner at Pickup and Scott Solicitors