The highlight of the past week was definitely on Thursday evening, when I took part in Wirral Libraries' Bookfest, sharing a platform at Bebington Library with Margaret Murphy. Our theme was forensic evidence, past and present. Margaret gave a talk about modern forensic techniques, illustrated with lots of graphics. Eternally low-tech, I chatted about the Crippen case, and focused on the role played by Bernard Spilsbury’s evidence in securing the conviction of the little doctor. Amongst its many fascinations, the Crippen story was a landmark in the developing importance of forensic science, and the persuasive nature of Spilsbury's testimony was critical in leading the jury to convict, so that Crippen was sent to the gallows.
Yet that evidence, viewed from the present day perspective, seems pretty controversial. I’ve mentioned before that the barrister Andrew Rose has written a very good book about Spilsbury, highlighting the flaws in his work. But whatever his faults, Spilsbury was undoubtedly a fascinating character, an expert who held juries in the palm of his hand. But you wouldn’t get away with a similar approach these days.
I was especially glad to be involved with the Bookfest for two reasons. First, I used to visit Bebington Library regularly in the 80s, when I was a member of Wirral Writers, who are still going strong in the same location. Second, there has recently been a shocking threat to close almost half the libraries in Wirral. Happily, that threat now seems to have been lifted, but I have the utmost sympathy for the staff, for whom it must have been a very unsettling time. They are a great bunch of people, with whom I’ve worked several times over the years, and they deserve support. I find it hard to believe that Wirral Council could not find better ways to make savings elsewhere.
Finally, I must say how much I enjoyed working with Margaret. She is the Chair of the CWA and has a great deal on her plate, but she always gives the impression of being completely unflappable, even when her Powerpoint presentation temporarily refuses to behave. After the event, Margaret and her husband Murf invited me to their home for a meal, and as always I found their company delightful.