63 - February 2012
Getting the wrong end of the stick
When I was a Legal Eagle on Sydney’s 2KY Sunday night’s Arch Tambakis’ radio talk show, few listeners called in to talk about law except if the subject was hanging. In desperation we talked about hanging often. It never failed to make the call board light up. Arch and his listeners would be for hanging and I, against it.
Now, years later I would gladly pull the lever myself not only on heinous murderers but also on anyone who cuts me off in traffic.
The problem is that we are always getting the wrong end of the stick and punishing the wrong people.
In 1948, 23 year old van driver Timothy Evans and his pregnant wife moved into a first floor flat, 10 Rillington Place, in run down Notting Hill, London. Post office clerk and former special police constable Reginald Christie, aged 50 and his wife, had the ground floor garden flat. The Evans’ baby was born.
Timothy’s wife became pregnant again, a baby which they did not want. Abortions were illegal. Christie told the Evans that he could abort the baby and Timothy left for work. When he arrived home his wife was dead. Christie had murdered her. Christie told Evans that the abortion had gone wrong. He would make sure the baby was looked after and Evans should run as he would get the blame.
Heavy drinking, slow witted and illiterate Evans ran back to Wales where he confessed to killing his wife by giving her a drug to induce an abortion that he got from a man. When the police could not find the body where Evan said he had buried it, he changed his story and told them about Christie.
The police searched the house without success. A second search found the bodies of Evans' wife and baby daughter in the washhouse. Both had been strangled. Workman who told police that the bodies had not been there several days before later changed their statements after further discussions with the police.
A police search of the small garden did not identify a human thigh bone propping up a fence post or discover the shallow graves of two previous female victims who Christie had buried in the garden long before Evans had lived at the house.
Evans changed his confession again to include killing the baby.
Evans had no previous convictions. A few minutes before the trial commenced the legal aid defence team were told of Christie’s previous convictions. Christie and his wife were the main prosecution witnesses. At trial Evans blamed Christie. Despite his previous convictions for theft and violence, including hitting a woman over a head with a cricket bat, the jury believed Christie.
After a three day trial, a bias summing up by the judge and 40 minutes of deliberation, the jury found Evans guilty. Evans was hanged.
Three years later, Christie moved out of the house and the new tenant found the bodies of three prostitutes, recent victims in a cupboard which had been wallpapered over. Christie’s wife was found under the floorboards and the two skeletons were dug up from the garden. Christie was arrested, confessed and pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He was convicted and hanged.
In 1953 a Home Office judge led inquiry upheld the conviction against Evans suggesting Christie’s confession may only have been a ploy to secure a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity. A campaign led to a further judge led inquiry in 1965 which found that Evans probably murdered his wife but not his daughter for which he was pardoned the following year. In 2003 the Home Office accepted that Evans did not murder anyone.
In 2000, a London anti-paedophile group which attacked the home of a paediatrician by mistake was refreshingly quick to acknowledge their mistake.
Governments and their departments are slow to admit their mistakes.
(c) Paul Brennan 2012. All rights reserved.
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I am told that Winston Churchill was once asked why he had booked a Mediterranean cruise aboard an Italian ship. He said “Great food, great service and in an emergency, there is none of this nonsense about women and infants first.”
Apart from comments by a lady dancer, nothing good appears to have been said on behalf of the Captain of the Costa Concordia. His own statements suggest that he is to blame which, however bad his conduct, may turn out not to be entirely the case that his lawyer eventually submits.
The law considers your own admissions if well proved to be the best evidence.
When in a hole, especially a legal hole, it is best to say as little as possible and get someone else to do the talking on your behalf. For this limited purpose, lawyers are usually preferable to lady dancers.
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2012 Annual Legal Cartoon Competition
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Please submit your own legal cartoon or a caption for this competition by email, to
Q1 Can it be about my own lawyer?
A1. Yes, but only if he or she has a sense of humour. So, probably not.
Q2. Will I receive a bill?
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Q3. Can accountants enter?
A3. See A1. (above).
Q4. Am I allowed to criticise the judges and say that they do not know what they are doing?A4. Yes, but only Geoff and Vickie.
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This year's Judges are:
Vickie Magic, Managing Editor, Business Matters Magazine. www.businessmattersmagazine.com.au
Geoff Moller, MBA FAIM, Business and Marketing Strategist, Management Consulting, VESTRA Business Advantage www.vestra.net.au
Paul Brennan, Brennans solicitors http://www.brennanlaw.com.au
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