On this day in history….13th September 1902

On this day in history : 13th September 1902 – Burglar Harry Jackson is the first man to be convicted in Britain using fingerprint evidence….


The 41-year-old labourer had broken into a property in Denmark Hill, London and had stolen a set of billiard balls…. The investigating officer noticed a set of fingerprints on the newly painted windowsill – and had called in the newly-formed Metropolitan Police Fingerprint Bureau…. On searching their files they came across Jackson’s prints – as he had recently served a prison term for another burglary…. He was arrested, tried at the Old Bailey and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment….

Whilst fingerprinting became recognised as a valuable forensic tool in the identification of criminals, there were those in the beginning who disapproved…. A letter to The Times, signed by ‘A Disgusted Magistrate’ said “Scotland Yard, once known as the World’s finest police organisation, will be the laughing stock of Europe if it insists on trying to trace criminals by odd ridges on their skins”….

Fingerprint livescan.Birmingham central custody suite.
Fingerprint livescan. Birmingham central custody suite – West Midlands Police – CC BY SA 2.0

On this day in history….19th August 1975

On this day in history : 19th August 1975 – Headingley Cricket Ground, Leeds, is vandalised by campaigners calling for the release of robber George Davis from prison….img_3734

34-year-old East London mini-cab driver, George Davis, had been jailed for 20 years for his part in an armed robbery in Ilford, Essex – a police officer had been shot and injured…. However, it was claimed Davis was a case of mistaken identity – he had not been involved in the pay-roll robbery…. Since his imprisonment in Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight a series of marches, petitions and fund-raising events had been organised…. Even a 7 hour roof top demonstration on St. Paul’s Cathedral had been held by his brother-in-laws, Jim and Colin Dean….

Campaigners had gained entrance to the Headingley ground, had dug holes on the cricket pitch and had poured oil over one end of the wicket…. They had painted slogans on the walls demanding Davis’s release…. The damage was discovered by head groundsman, George Cawthray – and the final match of the series between England and Australia had to be abandoned…. This meant a draw was declared and England did not have the chance of winning back the Ashes….

Police travelled from London to Leeds to investigate – and four people were brought to trial…. Three received suspended sentences whilst the fourth, Peter Chappell, was given an 18 month prison sentence….

Image credit : sarflondondunk via Flickr

Following the incident an internal inquiry was set up to look into the handling of the Davis case…. In conclusion Home Secretary Roy Jenkins expressed serious doubt as to Davis’s identification, which had been based on the evidence of two police officers…. In May 1976 Davis was released from prison….

However, in July 1978 Davis was jailed for 15 years after pleading guilty to taking part in a bank robbery…. He was freed in 1984 – but three years later was to receive a further 18 month sentence for attempting to steal mailbags….

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….

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….

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….


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

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

On this day in history….13th July 1955

On this day in history : 13th July 1955 – Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, is executed at Holloway Prison for the murder of her lover, David Blakely….

Born on the 9th of October 1926 in Rhyl, North Wales, Ruth at a young age was then to move with her family to Basingstoke, Hampshire – where she went on to attend Fairfields Senior Girls’ School…. Leaving at 14 she found work as a waitress…. The family moved to London in 1941 – and when Ruth was 17 she became pregnant by a married Canadian soldier…. She gave birth to a son, who was initially brought up by Ruth’s mother….

Ruth took up nude modelling – and through this got a job as a nightclub hostess…. She also took up prostitution and in 1950 fell pregnant once again…. This time she had a backstreet abortion….

Ruth Ellis – Fair use

In November 1950 she married George Johnston Ellis, a dentist with two sons from a previous marriage…. He was a jealous, possessive and violent alcoholic and became convinced Ruth was having an affair….needless to say, it was a stormy marriage…. When Ruth gave birth to their daughter he refused to believe the baby was his…. Ruth took her son and daughter and moved back in with her parents…. She also returned to prostitution….

1953 saw Ruth become the manageress of a nightclub in Knightsbridge…. She had by now made a number of celebrity friends, among them racing driver Mike Hawthorn….and it was through him that she met his fellow racing driver friend, David Blakely…. Although he was already engaged to another, Blakely had soon moved into Ruth’s flat above the nightclub…. and it wasn’t long before she was pregnant again…. Once more she had a termination….

Ruth also started seeing former RAF pilot Desmond Cussen, who was now a director of the family business, a wholesale and retail tobacconists across London and also South Wales…. When Ruth was sacked from her nightclub job it was his Oxford Street home that she moved into…. All the while she continued to carry-on with Blakely…. This relationship was becoming increasingly violent as Ruth insisted on seeing other men…. In January 1955 she suffered a miscarriage after Blakely punched her in the stomach following an argument….

Blakely wanted to end the relationship and went to stay with friends – wanting to lie-low…. On Easter Sunday, the 10th of April 1955, Ruth, having an inkling of where he was hiding, went to the address in Hampstead, London…. She arrived just in time to see his car drive off…. With an idea of where he may be going she walked the quarter mile or so to the Magdala public house – and sure enough his car was outside…. Ruth waited and around 9.30pm he and friend Clive Gunnell left the pub…. Ruth stepped from the doorway of the newsagents where she had been waiting and said “Hello, David”…. Blakely ignored her and continued to fumble for his car keys…. Ruth shouted his name – she then took a .38 calibre Smith & Weston Victory Model revolver from her handbag – and fired 5 shots at Blakely….

Site of the Magdala pub (2008) which closed in 2016 – Steve Bowen – Public domain

The first shot missed…. Blakely ran…. Ruth fired again, this time the bullet struck Blakely and he collapsed on to the pavement…. Ruth stood over him and fired 3 more bullets into his body…. She fired one last bullet into the ground….which ricocheted off the road, hitting and injuring Gladys Kensington-Yule, a by-stander, in the thumb….

Ruth, in shock, asked “Will you call the police, Clive?” An off-duty police officer, Alan Thompson, who was at the scene, took the gun from Ruth – and arrested her….


Ruth’s trial took place in Court No.1 at the Old Bailey on the 20th of June 1955 – the jury took just 20 minutes to convict her…. Her execution was performed by Albert Pierrepoint….

Image credit : Bradford Timeline via Flickr

On this day in history….28th June 1830

On this day in history : 28th June 1830 – Constable Joseph Grantham is the first policeman in Britain to be murdered – when he goes to the aid of a woman involved in a fight between two drunken men….

The Metropolitan Police Force had launched on the 29th of September 1829; Constable No.169 Joseph Grantham had joined S-Division on the 10th of February 1830…. On the night of Monday 28th of June he was called to Skinner Street, Smiths-Place in Somers Town to deal with a domestic disturbance…. 31-year-old Grantham had become the father of twins that very day….

Image credit : Leonard Bentley via Flickr

On arriving at the address the constable found two drunken Irishmen quarrelling….one of them had been beating his wife…. Grantham intervened and threatened to handcuff one of the men, a Michael Duggan – who did not take lightly to this threat…. In the scuffle that followed PC Grantham was knocked to the ground….and Duggan delivered a swift kick which struck Grantham’s right temple….

The constable was carried to a surgeon’s shop in Judd Street – but pronounced dead on arrival…. He was then moved to the Boot Public House in Cromer Street to await a coroner’s inquest…. Duggan was arrested and taken to a nearby police station – it transpired his real name was actually Michael Galvin and he had just completed an apprenticeship to a bricklayer….

He appeared before Magistrate Mr Griffith at Marylebone Police Station and was committed for trial on the charge of murder…. However, a post-mortem examination on Grantham concluded death had occurred through an apoplexy brought on by the ‘exertion and excitement of the moment’…. Galvin’s charge was changed to the lesser charge of assault….

1850s ‘Peeler’ – Public domain

On Saturday the 10th of July he was brought before the Middlesex Sessions charged with assaulting two police officers, Constable Grantham and Constable Bennett…. The Jury returned a guilty verdict on both counts…. Sentence was passed; six months imprisonment for the assault on Grantham and a further six weeks for that on Bennett…. You could say he got away with murder….