On this day in history….30th May 1972

On this day in history : 30th May 1972 – The Angry Brigade goes on trial for a series of 25 bombings throughout the United Kingdom…. It is to be one of the longest criminal trials in English history….

Angry Brigade logo – Fair use

The Angry Brigade, a far left, militant anarchist group, often referred to as urban guerrillas, were discontent with Tory cuts, high unemployment, the general state of the economy and just about every other political issue going-on at the time…. Their wish was to bring about an uprising and they decided to launch a campaign using small bombs…. The aim was to get as much media coverage as possible to expose their demands….

The campaign began in August 1970 and was to continue for a year before any arrests were made…. Their targets were varied – from the homes of Conservative MPs, banks, property speculators….to the embassies of far right regimes – they even targeted a BBC mobile broadcasting unit being used to broadcast the 1970 Miss World contest…. Bombs mostly caused damage to property and throughout the campaign only one person received minor injuries…. Each bombing was followed by a printed statement explaining the reason for the attack….whether it was for the government’s policies, the situation in Northern Ireland, the Vietnam War, sexism – or whatever other grievance they had at the time….

The arrests began in 1971 with Jake Prescott…. Although he was cleared of direct involvement in the bombings he admitted having addressed three envelopes for letter bombs…. Prescott was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by Judge Milford Stevenson – this was later reduced to 10 years on appeal….

Sir Melford Stevenson – Fair use

The 30th of May 1972 saw the trial begin at the Old Bailey of another eight members of the group….known as the ‘Stoke Newington Eight’ – after the area of London they came from…. The group were prosecuted for carrying out the bombings and the trial was to go on until the 6th of December 1972…. Four members, John Barker, Jim Greenfield, Hilary Creek and Anna Mendelssohn were sentenced to ten years each…. The other members were acquitted…. The explosions were to lead to the formation of the Bomb Squad – now the Antiterrorist Branch….

On this day in history….28th July 1865

On this day in history : 28th July 1865 – Scotland’s last public execution takes place…. A crowd of reportedly 100,000 watch as Dr Edward Pritchard is hanged for the murder of his wife and mother-in-law….

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Public domain

Pritchard, born on the 8th of December 1825 in Southsea, Hampshire was the son of a sea captain….and claimed to have studied at King’s College Hospital, London, graduating in 1846…. How much truth is in this is unclear – but he did manage to secure the position of assistant surgeon onboard HMS Victory – and went on to serve on various other ships, which enabled him to travel the world….

On returning to Portsmouth he met Mary-Jane Taylor, the daughter of a wealthy silk merchant from Edinburgh…. The couple were married in 1851 and went on to have five children….

Pritchard took a job in Yorkshire as a GP…. During this time he wrote several books on his travels whilst in the Navy…. He also wrote about ‘water cure’ – or hydrotherapy….and had numerous articles published in The Lancet…. In 1859 he moved his family to Glasgow – it seems with his reputation tarnished as it appears some kind of ‘incident’ had occurred….

On the 5th of May 1863 a fire broke out in the family home at 11, Berkeley Terrace, Glasgow…. It started in the room of 25-year-old servant Elizabeth McGrain…. Strangely she made no attempt to escape – which would suggest she was unconscious or perhaps even already dead…. No charges were ever brought but there were those who had their suspicions….

The family moved to a new address in Glasgow, 131 Sauchiehall Street….and in early 1865 Pritchard’s wife, Mary, became ill…. Pritchard, aided by his colleague Dr Paterson,treated her at home…. On the 10th of February 70-year-old Jane Taylor arrived to nurse her sick daughter – but on the 28th of February she herself was to unexpectedly die…. Just over three weeks later, on the 18th of March, 38-year-old Mary-Jane also passed away….

Paterson, his suspicions aroused, refused to sign the death certificates, although he did not go to the authorities…. Pritchard however, had no such qualms at signing…. The death certificates recorded that Jane had died from paralysis and apoplexy – and his wife from gastric fever…. Both were buried at Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh….

Although Paterson had not publicly reported his suspicions the authorities did however receive an anonymous letter…. The information in contained was enough to prompt an order for the bodies to be exhumed…. Both were found to contain the poisons tartanised antimony, aconite and opium…. It appears Pritchard had been poisoning the food of his wife and mother-in-law….

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The trial of Dr Edward William Pritchard – wood engraving, 1865 – Credit : The Wellcome Collection CC-BY

Pritchard’s five day trial took place in Edinburgh in July and was presided over by Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Glencorse…. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang…. Following his conviction Pritchard wrote a confession but claimed innocence at the murder of Jane Taylor….

He described how he had been having an affair with servant Mary McLeod…. It had begun in the summer of 1863 and in 1864 she had become pregnant…. Pritchard helped ‘produce a miscarriage’…. He claimed his wife knew of the affair – but his mother-in-law had caught the pair together in his consulting room…. He also implicated that McLeod was an accomplice in the murder of his wife….

However, nine days before his execution date Pritchard made a further confession, exonerating McLeod saying he alone was responsible for both of the murders…. At 8am on the 26th of July at North Prison, Saltmarket, Glasgow – in front of a crowd of possibly 100,000 – Pritchard met his executioner….one Mr William Calcraft….

 

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William Calcraft c.1870 – Wheaton (New York) – Public domain

Read more … William Calcraft…. 45 years a hangman….

On this day in history….22nd January 1962

On this day in history : 22nd January 1962 – The start of the trial of James Hanratty – also known as the A6 Murderer – who is accused of the murder of Michael Gregsten….

The trial was to become one of the longest and most controversial in British legal history….

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James Hanratty – Fair use

It was the 22nd of August 1961 ~ lovers Michael Gregsten and Valerie Storie were sat in a parked car in a quiet spot near to Slough….when a gunman climbed into the back seat and ordered Gregsten to drive…. At around 1.30am he told Gregsten to pull in to a lay-by….

Saying he needed to sleep the gunman told the pair that he would have to tie them up…. Using Gregsten’s necktie he secured Valerie Storie’s hands behind her back…. Gregsten was then shot twice in the head. Valerie Storie was raped and shot five times in the shoulder and neck….leaving her paralysed. She was then left for dead, lying in the road next to Gregsten while the murderer made off in their car…. The car, a grey Morris Minor, was found abandoned in Ilford, Essex the following evening….

Gregsten and Storie were discovered at 6.45am on the morning of August 23rd by farm labourer Sydney Burton and John Kerr, an Oxford undergraduate, who was conducting a traffic census…. The police and an ambulance were called to the lay-by on the A6, at Deadman’s Hill, near to Luton, Bedfordshire…. A search of the area by police using sniffer dogs revealed two .38 cartridges….

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Deadman’s Hill on the A6 – close to the lay-by and the murder scene….

During the following investigation a hotel room in Maida Vale was searched – that had been occupied the night prior to the murder by a Mr J. Ryan (who later turned out to be James Hanratty) and .38 cartridge cases were found. The murder weapon, a .38 revolver, had been found under a seat on a 36A London bus…. However, the hotel room had also been previously occupied by a Peter Louis Alphon – and he was publicly named as a murder suspect…. Alphon turned himself in to the police – but four days later was released as Valerie Storie failed to pick him out in an identity parade….

Hanratty was known to the police – he was a petty thief and car thief and was already facing a jail sentence for robbery…. On the 11th of October he was arrested in Blackpool on suspicion of Gregsten’s murder – and this time Valerie Storie identified him as the murderer….

At the trial the prosecution focused mainly on identification as there was no forensic evidence to connect Hanratty with the murder scene or the car…. Valerie Storie had said that the murderer had driven badly when leaving with the car – whereas Hanratty was an accomplished car thief…. He did not have a violent history and had never owned a gun…. He did not know either of the victims and had little motive to kill them…. He also claimed he was in Rhyl, North Wales at the time – some 200 miles away from the scene of the murder….

Despite there being no firm evidence and over nine hours of deliberation by the Jury, Hanratty was found guilty of the murder of Gregsten and the death sentence was passed…. He was hanged on the 4th of April 1962, confessing his innocence to the end, at Bedford Prison and was one of the last eight to face the hangman’s noose before the death penalty was abolished in Britain….

However, too many questions remained unanswered…. Hanratty’s family, lawyers and journalists began to dig deeper in to the case….and things just did not add up…. Then to add to the discrepancies Peter Louis Alphon confessed to the murder but later retracted his confession….

Hanratty’s family tried for over thirty years to gain a posthumous pardon and eventually in March 1999 the case was referred back to the Court of Criminal Appeal….and Hanratty’s remains were exhumed in order to obtain a DNA sample…. In March 2001 forensic experts matched two samples from the crime scene to that taken from Hanratty’s exhumed body….

On the 10th of May 2002 it was ruled by the Court that the conviction was sound – Hanratty’s guilt was established beyond doubt….

Valerie Storie survived the shooting – but spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She died in 2016….