Life at the Bar – Three is Murder part 2.
The trial was to take place at the Old Bailey and the Crown main’s evidence was that of the Professor. Although he had never seen Enid he wrote a full report on her and the dead children, dismissing the results of the post mortems and concluding she had murdered all three children. The silk leading me wasn’t over impressed but he didn’t think we could object to the report being presented to the court. We also sought the advice of one of the most experienced forensic pathologists in the country. He thought the Professor’s report was probably correct. We had a conference with him to try and see if there was any way of disputing it. One of the features of the case was that all the children were very premature.
‘Is it possible that being born prematurely would make them more susceptible to being the victim of SIDS?’ I said. I asked the question because I had been recently diagnosed with late onset asthma and my GP had asked me if I was premature. When I confirmed I was, she said there was a link between poor lung function and asthma. Also a friend of mine had a young child who was very premature and I knew he still had a number of problems.
‘The children wouldn’t have been discharged from hospital if there had been any risk,’ the pathologists said. The QC nodded his agreement.
It began to look as if there would be no defence to the case. However the psychiatrist’s report from the secure unit described Enid as having an IQ of 65, very low indeed. Additionally she had no sense of reality and confabulated all the time. That meant she told lies and she remembered her lies better than the truth. Their view was that her admissions to the social worker and the police were unreliable. Without the admissions the prosecution case was reliant on the Professor who didn’t examine either the children or Enid and was in conflict with the evidence of the pathologists who had carried out the post mortem.
The prosecution had their own psychiatrists examine Enid and they too came to the conclusion the admissions could not be relied on. The prosecution was dropped and Enid acquitted on all three counts of murder.
That wasn’t the end. When Enid gave birth to her fourth child the baby was taken into care and the subsequent care proceedings in the Family Courts confirmed that decision. The judge found on a balance of probabilities she had killed her children, but of course he was relying on the Professor’s theory which has been discredited.
So did she kill her children? What about the low IQ of both Enid and her husband? In addition the children were all born prematurely; what role did that play? Both Enid and her husband smoked – a known factor in SIDS. Then they were very poor and that too may have meant Enid could not afford the new mattresses, a recommendation to reduce the risk of cot deaths. Enid was probably incapable of raising a small child but a finding of killing your child must be very difficult to recover from.
Life at the Bar – Three is Murder I
The death of a child is a tragedy for the parents, but imagine not only has your baby died but you are arrested and interviewed as a murderer. A number of cases which were highly publicised were brought against mothers who were diagnosed as having Munchhausen’s by proxy. The condition was the brainchild of a pediatric Professor working in Leeds. He believed that some women harmed their children in order to get attention and sometimes went so far as to kill them. The child was usually a quite young baby and the cause of death was asphyxiation. These deaths were often given the name of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or more commonly ‘a cot death.’ The Professor’s theory was that one cot death was a tragedy, two was suspicious, three and it was murder. I was instructed to represent one such woman. I’ll call her Enid.
She had given birth to three children all of whom had died on and around their first birthday. Forensic pathologists had carried out post mortems and found nothing suspicious. Two were said to be ‘cot deaths’ and, one the result of a viral infection. Now she was expecting her fourth child and not surprisingly the local Social Services Department were anxious that this child should not meet the same fate. The practice at the time, and I assume still is, was for joint committees of social workers, police and health professional discussing problem cases. Enid’s was one of those. Someone made the decision to ask Enid to travel to Leeds and see the Professor. She agreed to do so.
Normally she would have been escorted to Leeds by one or two social workers. However, instead it was a social worker and a female police officer. On the train journey north, Enid admitted she had killed the three children. The three women returned to London and Enid was interviewed under caution, where she repeated the admission. She was charged with their murder and remanded to a secure psychiatric unit. When she saw a solicitor she denied murdering the children.
I had a QC leading me in this case and when we saw her at the hospital she again admitted the offences. I returned to Chambers and almost as soon as I arrived Enid was on the telephone saying it wasn’t true and she had not killed her babies. Normally when a client says they have committed the offence the barrister cannot represent them if they plead not guilty, but the circumstances here were unusual because of Enid’s fragile mental health and we decided to press on with her defence.
To be continued.
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Life at the Bar – Desperate Wives
The second confession
The youngest shifted uneasily in her seat; she was a thin pale woman in her twenties, her long face emphasised by her shoulder length, light brown hair. Her thin white blouse partly unbuttoned, revealing a gold necklace, was tucked into the waistband of a short denim skirt. She had taken off her leather bomber jacket and hung it over the back of her chair even though it was quite chilly.
The older woman returned to her seat, turning it so she could continue to look out of the window at the darkening skies. I pretended I was concentrating on my papers. Some sixth sense told me that I must remain sitting quietly if I wished to hear what this young woman was about to say.
The threat to make a complaint to the police by her friend’s husband must have struck a chord with the young woman because she began by saying, ‘Mine did go to the police but they didn’t believe him. They told him he must have fallen down drunk and that’s how he’d got the cut on his head. I did laugh about it later but …..’ Her voice trailed off, she looked down and took a deep breath before continuing ‘Well he’s a big lad; they just couldn’t believe I could hit him that hard.’ She turned to the older woman. ‘He is a big bloke isn’t he?’ she asked.
‘Yes. You only come up to his armpit. I’m not surprised the police didn’t believe him.’
‘Course he was drunk. He’d gone up town to watch Arsenal; been drinking all day leaving me with the kids. He’d promised to come home straight after the match so I could go to Bingo with my Mum. When he came in he was plastered; wanting his tea. I had a go at him and told him to make his own. He still had his silly supporter’s hat on, a bowler painted in red and white stripes. He was sat there yelling about his tea, telling me what he wouldn’t do to me if I didn’t get him some food.’
I looked at the group of woman round the table. None of them were interested in what I was doing and I was able to observe the women without distracting them. I thought how little surprise they had shown at the violence being described. Whilst these thoughts were revolving in my head she saw a small tousled head appear at the corner of the window into the corridor. At first she couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl.
The young woman continued ‘So I picked up the poker and hit him over the head with it from behind. Once I started I just kept hitting until his hat lifted up from his head, sort of popped up, and the blood poured down his face in little streams. He looked at me, his eyes wide open; put his hands up to his face, touching it.’
She demonstrated, putting her hands to her forehead and then her cheeks. I looked at her and back to the head at the window. Now a face appeared, pressed hard against the pane of glass flattening the features, two small, grubby hands palms facing towards me either side of the face. I put my hand to my mouth and pressed my lips together to stop from smiling..
I could still hear the young woman.
‘I think he thought that I had poured something over his head. When he looked at his hands and saw that it was blood he made a dive for me but I got out of the way and he fell onto the floor. The hat came off and there was blood everywhere.’
The little boy- it clearly was a boy- moved back a little and, looking straight at me, opened his mouth and stuck his tongue out. I began to laugh and then tried to turn the sound into a cough. Sharon and the artistically dressed woman looked at me and frowned before turning back to listen to their friend.
‘I didn’t know if it was the booze or me hitting him that made him fall over, but I didn’t wait to find out. I grabbed the kids and ran to my mum’s. I wasn’t dressed properly, still had me slippers on. I didn’t dare go back. So, I stayed there and the police came looking for me. They said they’d found him in the street, drunk, with this nasty cut to his head and he’d told them I’d done it. ‘‘Don’t be silly.’’ I said, ‘‘Look at me I’m only half his size.’’
‘‘Well do you want to go and see him? He’s up at the hospital,’’ they said. ‘‘We’ll take you up there if you want.’’
‘‘No, I think I’ll wait ‘til he’s sobered up a bit.’’
‘‘Might be best.’ they said.’’
Outside in the corridor a middle-aged woman, wearing an usher’s robe, came into my view, grabbed hold of the boy by his arm and pulled him away, mouthing the word ‘Sorry’ as she did so.
The young woman who had been speaking put her hands to her face, covering her eyes, bent her head down towards the table, pushed her fingers through her hair, pulling it back from her face before looking round at the others and smiling tentatively at them.
‘I haven’t been back.’ She added.
To be continued.
Life at the Bar – Desperate Wives
Attempted Murder 1. I started to find the silence uncomfortable when this woman began to talk in a low voice. There was an urgency in the tone that made me want to listen. I turned my attention back to the papers on my lap, pretending to work and hide my interest in the conversation. The woman was talking in a low voice and I could only just hear what she was saying. ‘The doctor gave me antidepressants after I had each of the kids. I had this post natal depression. You know what it’s like?’ She paused and looked round at the others but there was no response to her question, so she continued. ‘Mind you, it wasn’t really the babies that were the problem. It was him. He was always more violent just after the children were born. He’d wait ‘til I was breastfeeding and then start to hit me round my head. I couldn’t do nothing. Well you can’t do much holding a baby in your arms, can you?’ She didn’t pause for an answer but went on, ‘I’d just curl up over the little’un to protect him from his dad. The other two would be crying and pulling at him to try and stop him. But it made no difference; he’d just push them away. One year, it was the year Eddie was born, it was coming up to Christmas and I thought I’ve had enough. What I need is a nice quiet Christmas. So what did I do?’ She sat back, took a small, battered tin from her pocket, opened it, used the contents to prepare a thin cigarette which she lit and then inhaled deeply. ‘What did I do? Christmas Eve I got my pills and crushed them into his beer. Well he was too drunk to notice. That’ll keep him quiet I thought. He’ll have such a headache tomorrow he won’t want to get up and me and the kids can enjoy ourselves without him.’ I put my hand up to my mouth. The eldest of the woman looked towards me. I looked back at my papers and drew a question mark in the margin of the brief. That must have reassured her I was still working, the woman turned her attention back to the speaker who was tapping her left hand gently, but persistently, on the table top. ‘I thought he was about to go to sleep in the chair so I got him upstairs, got his clothes off and rolled him into bed. Well, it was quiet.’ she nodded as if to emphasis her words. ‘He slept all Christmas Day and Boxing Day as well. I thought I’d killed him.’ She took a quick intake of breath, put her cupped hand to her mouth and whispered, ‘Course, sometimes, I almost wish I had.’ ‘I kept going upstairs to see if he was still breathing. Eventually he came to. He couldn’t believe he’d slept through Christmas Day and Boxing Day. He went on at me until I told him what I’d done. I got a real pasting. He threatened to go to the police about it but he didn’t. For a while he laid off me, but then he started again. That’s it, I thought, I’m leaving.’ When no one spoke, I looked up. The woman who had told the tale caught my eye and then turned towards Sharon before shrugging her shoulders. In the silence a cell door banged shut on the floor beneath. The elder of the three got up and leant against the window ledge, putting her forehead against the cold glass. To be continued
Life at the Bar-Desperate Wives
Not many people have heard three women admit to attempts on their husband’s lives in the course of one afternoon, but this is what happened to me. It all began when I went to a seaside town to appear in the County Court seeking an injunction for a young woman to prevent her partner harassing her. The long, high hall that ran the length of the courthouse was heaving. There were young men waiting to be called: some alone, others in groups or with teenage girls clinging to them. A few children ran around in ignorance of the nature of the building. Dark suited solicitors, carrying large files, moved amongst the crowd, marshalling their clients, and bewigged barristers tried to take last minute instructions above the chatter and the sound of shuffling feet.
I threaded my way through the clusters of people until I found my client, Sharon Hurst, a young looking nineteen year old with long, wispy, blonde hair. There were three women with her who, I learnt, were from the Battered Wives Refuge. I needed to go through my instructions with Sharon so we went to look for an empty interview room, leaving the others behind in the hall.
The windows of the conference room looked out over the courtyard where the bare branches of a tree made a crazy paving pattern across the grey, December sky. I didn’t like these rooms: everyone passing from the offices and the robing room could see who was in them and although they could not hear what was said, i felt that the body language was sufficient to give those passing a hint of how well, or otherwise, a conference was proceeding. This one was not going well at all. Sharon was reluctant to confirm the events described in her affidavit. I persisted to ask questions about the allegation that Sharon’s boy friend, Colin Fenton, had been waiting for her, near to the Refuge, and had followed her back there most days for the last week.
‘You say here that he took your baby, Angelina, and ran off with her? You followed but couldn’t keep up so you went round to the flat you shared with him?’ I said.
‘Yes. I didn’t know what else to do.’
‘You went into the flat to get Angelina, but when you tried to leave he locked the door and you couldn’t get out?’
‘That’s right. I hadn’t any keys to the flat in my purse.’
‘How did you get out?’
‘He let me out.’
‘Just like that?’
‘Well, he’d gone on about me coming back so when I said I’d think about it, but I needed a day or two, he let me go.’
‘Anything else happen whilst you were there?’
Sharon looked away, trying to find something else to focus on so that she did not have to look at my face. Eventually she replied, ‘What you suggesting?’
‘I’m not suggesting anything, but you will be asked questions by Colin’s barrister about what happened at your flat.’
There was a pause. Sharon chewed on her lower lip and then said, ‘Nothing happened. Just an argument about me going back.’
I wasn’t sure that Sharon was telling the truth, but I couldn’t take it any further without calling her a liar, so I finished the interview by explaining that I anticipated we would have to wait most of the afternoon before we were called into court. Sharon went to get her three companions and they all returned to the interview room. They were anxious to give her advice and they were all smoking heavily, so I moved to one corner of the room and began to work on the brief.
As the afternoon wore on and work ceased in all but the closed family court, the place became silent. Daylight faded and, because nobody turned the light on in the room, the five of us were left sitting, waiting in the dim light to be called into court.
I noticed that the conversation of the four women became intermittent and finally ceased. The silence was almost tangible. The sound as I turned the pages of the brief was a loud crackle, the click of the lighter they used to light their cigarettes sounded like a tin drum. The small blue flame and the red glow from the tip of their cigarettes lit part of their faces, throwing the rest into deeper shadow.
I looked at them, curious about their lives. One of the women was about the same age as me, certainly in her thirties. She was dressed in a style I rather liked, not least because it was so different from the black suits I was compelled to wear. She looked rather artistic, as if she might be a potter or something similar. Her blue coat was hip length and underneath she wore a floral-print skirt, a white scarf was twisted round her neck. Her hair was a mass of dark curls that looked like they needed combing and her face was small with large dark eyes. On the ring finger of her left hand, instead of a wedding band, she wore a ring with a large green pebble-shaped stone.
I was beginning to find the silence uncomfortable when this woman began to talk in a low voice. There was an urgency in the tone that made me want to listen. I turned back to the papers on my lap, pretending to work and hiding my interest in the conversation. The woman was talking in a low voice and Anna could only just hear what she was saying.
To be continued.
Writing a Blurb
In between telling the various authorities, banks etc where I now live, I have finished the first set of amendments to the Printers Proof copy of Crucial Evidence. The next stage is to write a blurb for the back cover. Trying to condense a 90,000 word novel into 120 is really difficult. Which bit to include, which to leave out. Are the bits I think important the true turning points in the story? This is my first attempt;
Lenny Barker pleads not guilty to a charge of murdering prostitute Shelley Paulson. Cassie Hardman, junior barrister for the defence, believes he is just another defendant trying to avoid responsibility for his crime. Then, just before the trial begins, she discovers he has an alibi. Cassie is determined he will have a fair trial and risks her career to locate the crucial witness.
Will he be found before the jury retire to consider their verdict and will his evidence establish Barker’s innocence? If Barker is not the killer then who is? Can Cassie help Detective Constable Alexis Seymour in her efforts to solve the crime?
Is this enough? I don’t say where the novel is set or that the story follows Barker’s trial at the Old Bailey, which is an important part of the book. I could do to look at the blurb on other books, but all mine are in store at the moment until we get some bookshelves built.