Wednesday 21 January 2009

Lethal Witness

I’ve been enjoying Lethal Witness, Andrew Rose’s excellent account of the life of Bernard Spilsbury, whose career as a forensic witness, usually called to give evidence by the Crown, was kick-started by the Crippen case.

Spilsbury has interested me for a long time, although he plays only a relatively minor part in Dancing for the Hangman.

On the back cover of Lethal Witness is a great quote from Sir John Mortimer, who died the other day: ‘Bernard Spilsbury was a greatly revered forensic witness who was generally believed even when he was wrong. This book has a fascinating account of his lethal effect on the great murder trials of the last century.’

It’s a good summary of Andrew Rose’s achievement. He documents, for instance, a case previously unknown to me, ‘The Button and Badge Murder’, that of 16 year old Nellie Trew, which Rose regards as one of the great miscarriage of justice cases. A man called David Greenwood was convicted, but there are reasons to believe that athe true culprit was a man by the name of Albert Lytton. Greenwood escaped the death penalty (just) but served fifteen years for a crime he did not commit, and Spilsbury’s evidence probably sealed his fate..

This shocking story is but one of the notable elements in Andrew Rose’s sober, but powerful book. It’s a very readable piece of work, which I can recommend to anyone interested n true crime, or in the portrayal of a man whose great abilities masked a flawed character.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of John Mortimer, perhaps it's time to begin the day with a glass of fizz, if it worked for St John... be rude not to...

Martin Edwards said...

Nice idea, though I'm not sure how he managed any work afterwards!