Archive | May 2015

Empty – and sadly no more

Sometimes it seems worse but mainly it’s just different.

Slice of London Life

Looking through a steamed up window of Beatroot cafe, Berwick Street, Soho, London

London is changing… and not for the better. I started this blog because I was aware of how much London had changed since I was a child and I wanted to capture the atmosphere and character of the city I love before it disappeared.

I took a walk down Berwick Street today. It was once home to a street market with a dozen fruit and veg stalls, many many fabric shops, record shops, cheap cafes, ironmongers, lighting shops – just everything you could possibly want or need and all from independent small businesses.

The lower part of the street – where the street market is struggling to keep going – is being refurbished with new pavement and road being laid and God knows what else. It’s been going on for what seems like years.

I took the photo above just a few months ago, shortly after or before I took

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Who killed Janet Smith? part 2

The Janet Smith affair did indeed get worse, largely because of a journalist called John Sedgewick Cowper who was the editor of the Saturday Tribune. His initial interest was the kidnapping of the Chinese houseboy, Sing. I would guess because he saw the opportunity to investigate the role of the Attorney General of the province, a man called Alex Manson. He began to publish articles about the disappearance of Sing. Not surprisingly, the Chinese government in the form of the Consul General requested the Foreign Office in London to provide information as to his whereabouts; the British Government were unable to help.janet-smith-cover

Sing was then ‘rescued’ by the local police force and charged with the murder of Janet Smith, even though it was accepted he had not committed the offence. The prosecuting authorities wanted a trail in the hope that the real culprit would be identified. Today it would be described as a gross abuse of the legal process and hopefully a judge would refuse to allow the Crown to continue with the prosecution. At the preliminary hearing of the case against Sing, Janet Smith’s employer, F L Baker was cross examined about his companies involvement in the handling of drugs and he admitted that they dealt with heroin, cocaine and morphine.

Cowper’s other line of enquiry involved the medium Barbara Orford. She told him that she and Janet Smith had an interest in the occult.  She purported to give an account of the murder which she said had been revealed to her in dreams. She described a party taking place at the Baker home. After some time, there was a fight between two of the male party goers. Janet Smith became involved in that fight and was being held by one of the men when his lover emerged from a bedroom and misinterpreting the scene, she struck out. The fight continued now with the woman taking part, and it was in the course of this altercation that Janet Smith was killed. Not long after Orford changed her story and said she actually been at the party. Cowper published this story although he must have known that it would result in legal action for libel as the article alleged that drugs had been consumed at the house and  Baker had committed perjury at the inquests. Baker decided to take both civil and criminal proceedings against Cowper.

Criminal charges were also brought against the private detectives who had been responsible for the abduction of Sing, Willie and Oscar Robinson. They, of course, said they were acting on the instructions of the local police force and eventually the chief of the Point Gray police force along with others, was also indicted for the kidnapping of Sing. One of the witnesses subpoenaed to attend court was Attorney General Manson.  Rumours continued to circulate over the summer as the newspapers reported the various twists and turns over the allegations of kidnap. The trials were held in the autumn and the Robinson’s were convicted, but the trial had pointed the finger at the Attorney General and his reputation was in tatters

Cowper’s trial for criminal libel took place at about the same time. The allegations that Leffy Baker was involved in the narcotics trade and that he had committed perjury at the inquests continued to be denied by him. Cowper was convicted of the criminal libel.

Applications to have the trial of Wong Fong Sing stopped were unsuccessful and he was committed for trial on 16th May. A month later against the back drop of allegations and counter allegations about his kidnap,  an application of habeas corpus was made to the Chief Justice who decided the trial should take place, but granted Sing bail.He stayed to stand trial and in October 1925 he was finally acquitted of the murder.

The local newspaper. the Vancouver Sun. thought that was the end of the matter, but no one was any nearer knowing who killed Janet Smith. and as we shall see further matters came to light many years later.

To be continued.

Who Killed Janet Smith

I have just read a book sent to me by a lawyer relative who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia; the book by Ed Starkins relates the story of an unsolved murder. The book makes compelling reading and is worth describing in these times when human rights are under threat. The book describes how in 1924 a twenty-two year old nursemaid of Scottish descent was found dead in the home of a wealthy family in Vancouver, British Columbia. What followed was an unbelievable catalogue of mistakes and led to numerous conspiracy theories, involving, amongst others, the attorney-general of the provincial state. Who killed Janet Smith

The local police force was informed of the death by a telephone call from F.L. Baker, a member of a prominent Vancouver family who told the officer, James Green, Janet Smith had shot herself. The officer appears to have accepted she had died by her own hand, as did Dr Blackwood who also attended the scene. The young woman’s body was removed by undertakers and, embalmed without an autopsy taking place, although nobody accepted responsibility for that decision.

A coroner’s jury found Janet Smith had committed suicide but a friend of hers, Jennifer Haddowe  was adamant that the young woman would not have taken her own life. She persisted in that belief and was able to get the Council of Scottish Societies to take up the fight. At a second hearing the coroner’s jury returned a verdict of murder. Of course advances in forensic science have made the investigation of crimes less dependent on the oral evidence of witnesses, but the assumption by the police that she had shot herself would have been cast into doubt if the simplest of examinations had been carried out. The lack of a proper post mortem and the delay was a serious blow to the investigation.

Why did the police not conduct a more thorough investigation in the beginning? Were they inhibited by the wealth and status of the Baker family? Today that seems improbable, but it was only 1974 when Lord Lucan was assisted by his friends to escape trial for the murder of his children’s nanny. Did the Vancouver police anticipate the locally prominent and wealthy families closing ranks, and was the victim too unimportant?

As pressure increased on the police to find Janet Smith’s killer, someone in authority decided to take the unusual step of paying a private investigator to kidnap the Baker’s Chinese Houseboy, Wong Foon Sing. He had been the one to discover the body and had, he said, telephoned his employer who had gone to his office, to tell him. Whilst Sing was held he was threatened and tortured to try and force him to make a statement about what had happened to the nursemaid, but he always maintained he knew no more than he had already said at the two inquests. It’s right to say he was never accused of the crime and there was never any suggestion that he had been responsible throughout the inquiry.

Matters got worse, but I’m going to save that for another time. To be continued.

Life at the Bar- Battered Wives

Soon after I moved to London I was asked by the Cambridge Settlement is I would help a group of women who were trying to establish a Battered Wives Refuge in the East End of London. They needed a woman lawyer, as the group did not want a man coming into the house, and there wasn’t one amongst the former Cambridge graduates. The group had identified a suitable property, a former doctor’s house and surgery on East India Dock Road. 

One night I found myself, a respectable member of the legal profession, along with four other women, climbing the wall of these premises and breaking into the house through a side window.  After making it habitable, getting the electricity connected and arranging to pay the rates, a number of women with their children came to live in the house.

I had been recruited to assist the women with their legal proceedings, and there were a number of social workers who also worked with the families to help with claiming benefits etc. The house had room for about ten women and we had to set out a number of rules about how the house would run, things like a cleaning rota, use of bathrooms and the kitchen etc. In order to ensure the house continued to run effectively, we decided to have a weekly meeting at which any problems could be aired and I would make appointments to see anyone who needed help with legal proceedings.

Generally things went well until a woman came to the house with her three children. She was very difficult, the children were always filthy, and she left the kitchen in a mess preferring to spend time watching television. Her husband turned up frequently to ask if the children were alright. I formed the view that the women was, to a large extent, the author of her own misfortunes. I said as much to one of the social workers who retorted that there was never an excuse of violence.

Our meetings were always held at 7.30pm on a Monday evening in the sitting room, the only shared space in the house. This particular evening, we all gathered for our meeting when this woman came in and turned on the television pronouncing that she didn’t want to attend the meeting but wanted to watch East Enders. The social worker who had told me there was never any reason to assault another person, asked her to turn the TV off. When she refused, the social worker went over to the TV and switched it off. The woman got up and turned the TV back on. This was repeated a number of times with the language getting more heated until, as the woman stepped forward again towards the TV,  the social worker grabbed hold of the woman by the arm, swung her round and slapped her face.