Episode 1 Murder, Mystery and My Family


Episode 1

Criminal barristers Sasha Wass and Jeremy Dein reinvestigate the historic case against Charlotte Bryant, and the story of a murder that tore a family apart in the 1930s.


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Transcript


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The British justice system is the envy of the world.

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But in the past, mistakes have been made.

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Between the year 1900 and the year 1964,

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approximately 800 people were hanged in the United Kingdom.

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Many of those desperately protested their innocence.

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Some of these long-standing convictions

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could be a miscarriage of justice.

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She's received most of the blows in this position,

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once she's already bleeding.

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In this series, a living relative

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will attempt to clear their family name.

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If the barristers identified a miscarriage of justice...?

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That would make my day.

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Searching for new evidence...

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I can make the 32 fire both calibres.

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..with help from two of the UK's leading barristers,

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one for the defence...

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This is a very worrying case.

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I think the evidence is very suspect.

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..and one for the prosecution.

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I'm still of the view that this was a cogent case of murder

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committed during the course of a robbery.

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They are on a mission to solve the mystery...

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..submitting their findings to a Crown Court judge.

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There is a real risk that there has been a miscarriage of justice here.

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I will look again at the evidence in the light of the arguments

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that you both have put before me.

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Can this modern investigation rewrite history?

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On the 22nd of December 1935,

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Frederick Bryant became ill after supper,

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complaining of severe stomach pains.

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Fred was brought to the nearest hospital in Sherborne,

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but it was too late.

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He died within hours.

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It looked like a simple case of gastroenteritis,

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but it was discovered that Fred's body

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contained high levels of arsenic.

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It seemed Fred had been poisoned.

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Suspicion immediately fell on Fred's wife, Charlotte.

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On the 10th of February 1936,

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Charlotte was arrested, and charged with the murder of her husband.

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By May, she was facing a judge and a jury of 12 men.

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She was found guilty, and sentenced to death.

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Charlotte Bryant was executed on Wednesday the 15th of July 1936

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at Exeter jail.

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Now, 80 years later,

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Charlotte's son, William, and her grandson, David,

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are desperate to learn the truth.

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Charlotte Bryant was my grandmother.

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I didn't know who my grandmother was until I was in my mid 30s.

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-Do you remember when you first told me?

-Yeah.

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Father's Day, driving along.

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-That's right.

-All of the family in the car.

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And I ended up doing a skid, I think, when you told me.

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It was only when Mum prompted me, she said, "You've got to tell them."

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Mmm.

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With their father murdered and their mother hanged,

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the five Bryant children were put into an orphanage,

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and told nothing of the crime.

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The first I knew was when I read it in the paper in 1964.

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Up until then, I knew nothing whatsoever.

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It was completely out of the blue.

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I couldn't really believe what I was reading.

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How do you feel about going through all of the case with this, Dad?

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Just a bit nervous about it all.

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It'll be a fantastic result if the barristers actually...

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Oh, absolutely.

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-..identify that there's been a miscarriage of justice.

-Yeah.

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That would make my day, that would. Yeah.

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Although I never knew Mother at all,

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I would like to think she was innocent.

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That would be a nice...

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..well, fairy-tale ending.

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The case built against Charlotte was a salacious one,

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based on stories of lust and jealousy,

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but was it a miscarriage of justice?

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The two things that really struck me

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was the lack of what I would call real hard evidence.

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It just seems to be very circumstantial, and she was,

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I guess, an easy target, because she was illiterate,

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cos she was an outsider.

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It just looks like it was an easy fix to hang it on my grandmother.

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Charlotte went to her death claiming her innocence,

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but can a modern legal team discover the truth?

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Jeremy Dein QC has been a defence barrister for over 30 years,

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specialising in serious crime.

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Examining this case for the prosecution is Sasha Wass,

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who has a particular interest

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in cases based on medical or scientific evidence.

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David has travelled to London to meet the barristers

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who will be reinvestigating his grandmother's case.

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I'm very nervous with meeting the barristers.

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I'm worried cos there could be even more weight

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to the fact that she's guilty.

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-My name's Jeremy.

-Hello, Jeremy. Very pleased to meet you.

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-Hello, David. Sasha.

-Hello, Sasha.

-Hi, hi.

-Hello, there.

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My role is to look at your grandmother's case

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from the point of view of a defence lawyer,

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and hopefully to identify new grounds

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on which to reopen the case.

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I'm looking at this case from the prosecution perspective,

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but that doesn't mean I am approaching this

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in order to uphold these convictions at all costs - quite the opposite.

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If new material comes to light that throws doubt onto the conviction

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of your grandmother, I will put that forward before the judge

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in order that the right conclusion is reached.

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Just picking up on that, why is it important to you now to establish,

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if it wasn't her, that that's the case?

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I think it would be closure for the family.

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My father - it's turned his life upside down,

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as it did his brothers and sisters,

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and I think it would be good for the family to know and understand it

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so that we can move on.

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Let's say the case got stronger.

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You're ready for that turn of events?

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Certainly we've talked through that with my father,

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and I've talked to him long and hard about...

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"Well, Dad, once they actually start looking at this,

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"it may be that, you know, it's easy for them to say,

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"No, I'm really sorry, but..."

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-"She did it."

-That she did it, yeah.

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-Yeah.

-But...I think the chance is worth taking for us.

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So we will let you know how we get on.

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-Excellent. Thank you very much.

-OK.

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They seem very professional barristers.

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I do genuinely feel that they will look

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at any new evidence that they can,

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they will look at the existing evidence, and see if there's a way

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that it could've been viewed in a different way,

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and they will come to the right conclusion.

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David's grandmother, Charlotte, was born in 1903.

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She met Frederick Bryant while he was on a tour of duty

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in her homeland of Northern Ireland,

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and she accompanied him when he returned to England.

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The couple married in Somerset in 1922.

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As an outsider in a tight-knit farming community

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in Sherborne, Dorset,

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where they settled, Charlotte was viewed with suspicion.

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Rumours began to circulate that the young Irishwoman

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was entertaining local men for money.

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Fred Bryant had suffered from stomach complaints

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on several occasions in the months leading up to his death.

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The labourer often handled arsenic in his work on the farm,

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but it was alleged that his death

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was the result of deliberate poisoning.

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-This is not a strong case.

-Mmm.

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She was hanged for the murder of her husband

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on what can only be described as highly circumstantial evidence.

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The starting point for me

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is that her character played a major part in the trial.

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She was portrayed as a low-life, someone without any morals.

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By way of starting point, that is a really dangerous platform...

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-It is.

-..for the case to proceed on.

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This case was very thin indeed.

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I'm concerned about the cause of death.

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Was Fred poisoned, or did he die of gastric problems

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which had besieged him for some time?

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What was the motive in this case?

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Effectively, the prosecution relied largely on a vilification

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of her character, and wouldn't be allowed nowadays.

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Whether Charlotte was responsible for his death,

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or he accidentally consumed arsenic,

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Fred Bryant died in tragic circumstances,

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leaving his family destitute.

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-WILLIAM:

-He was just, you know, like, laying there.

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Fred was buried in an unmarked grave in Sherborne Cemetery,

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and his son and grandson have come to pay their respects.

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I found out where my grandfather was buried, and also understood

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that he died a pauper, so therefore, he's not in a particular grave -

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it's just in an area of land.

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And I'm sure that's the urn - I can remember.

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-I'm sure that's it.

-OK.

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Absolutely.

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So that's where my grandfather is, then?

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Yep, yep.

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Dear Dad, you're down there...

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..but you're always in our thoughts.

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God bless you.

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People can talk about family tragedies that happened a long,

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long time ago, but this, for me, is my grandfather, and he's actually

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very close, but going on this journey is helping me

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fill in some of the blanks.

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I wish I'd brought some flowers now, to be honest.

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I think my father wanted to see it,

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but I'm not sure he was looking forward to it.

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-Are you all right, Dad?

-Yeah.

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The fact that we were together and that we were able to experience it

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together, I think helped him.

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What motive could Charlotte have had for killing her husband?

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The prosecution suggested that it was Charlotte's affection

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for her lodger, Leonard Parsons.

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This is not a love triangle in the way that one might imagine it.

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Certainly Charlotte had had an affair with Leonard Parsons

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under the nose of her husband, who didn't seem to care at all.

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That was over well before December 1935,

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and Charlotte made it plain in court

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she was not interested in having a life with him.

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She wanted to stay with her husband.

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He provided her with a roof over her head, he looked after the children,

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so I don't see the motive which was put forward by the prosecution

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as being viable.

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Yeah, it's not just the absence of motive -

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she knew she'd be much worse off by killing him.

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She'd have lost her house and ended up in the workhouse, so, in fact,

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the evidence militates in the opposite direction.

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That's a matter of real concern, isn't it?

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Yes, I agree, I agree.

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The barristers have already thrown doubt

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on Charlotte's potential motive.

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The verdict in 1936, however, had a devastating impact

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on the five Bryant children, as William is all too aware.

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He and David have returned to the orphanage he called home.

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Which was your bedroom?

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I was in this end first - this is the junior end.

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We were... I can't remember whether it was there or that,

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but that whole dormitory up there.

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-Right.

-And there would've been at least 50 boys in there.

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Yeah.

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This photograph would have been you

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-on the day that you got brought in, Dad.

-Yeah.

-That's you.

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-That's me.

-Yeah.

-That's Uncle Eric.

-Yeah.

-That's Sam, as I knew him.

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Auntie Mary, as I knew her...

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-..and Uncle George.

-Right.

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And that was Bobby.

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-Right.

-I call those names, cos that's how I knew them.

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-Yeah, yeah.

-Nothing else, you know?

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Whatever the truth about the murder,

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the Bryant siblings' lives were catastrophically changed forever.

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Because Mary and Eric were older, so they were put into the senior girls,

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senior boys, but Bobby went over that side,

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-cos the nursery was that side.

-Right, OK.

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But me being my age, I was put in the juniors,

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and from that time on...

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-..I really never saw them again.

-No.

-No.

-No.

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William and his siblings were never adopted,

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and spent their entire childhoods in the orphanage.

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William met his future wife, Margaret, at the home,

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and they were married soon after leaving Muller's as teenagers.

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The first recollection I had of Mum was, er...

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we were out playing in the fields.

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I was climbing up this tree, and she shouted to me,

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"You're being silly, you're going to fall any minute."

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HE CHUCKLES

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I remember those words now.

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So I came down, sat down,

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and that was the first time I ever met Mum and had a good chat to her.

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-Right.

-Yeah.

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It's nice for me to see my father opening up about the good things

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that happened, but clearly, the reason he was here -

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their father being murdered, and then their mother hanging -

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it absolutely ripped the family apart.

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But I think what this is doing is allowing us to talk about

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the good things that have come out of his time here,

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as opposed to just focusing on the bad things.

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The luck of meeting Margaret, as I knew her, then - Mum -

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-was, to me now, heaven on earth.

-Yeah.

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Medical experts at the time were convinced that Fred's illnesses

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had been caused by deliberate arsenic poisoning.

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The Bryant property was searched...

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..and a selection of old tins and bottles were found,

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including a burnt-out tin that would become very significant

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to the investigation.

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Jeremy, the next thing we really ought to look at

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is the cause of death,

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because the pathologist found arsenic in Fred Bryant's body,

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and the prosecution case was not that this was accidental,

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but that Charlotte deliberately administered poison.

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Now, the only person who said that Charlotte had anything to do

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with arsenic was Lucy Ostler, a friend,

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and she said that there was a tin of weedkiller,

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and after Fred had died, Charlotte said, "I must get rid of it."

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Now, in order to bolster up Lucy's account,

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the prosecution retrieved a tin.

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It's the middle tin that was retrieved from the fireplace.

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The prosecution tried to say, "Well, it matches weedkiller -

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"we really need to look at that."

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The thing is, all of this is highly technical,

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so it's very important that we look at all of these questions

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very thoroughly.

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It may be that that's the way we can take the case forward.

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What I suggest we do, is find an expert to explain to us

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what quantities of arsenic are involved in this case,

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and whether this item

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really is as incriminating as the prosecution tried to suggest.

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David and his father, William, are visiting the farmhouse in Dorset

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where Charlotte and Frederick lived with their five young children.

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William has not set foot inside the house in over 80 years.

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Look, see there? The chimney's still there, look.

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-Still the same chimney.

-Yeah, yeah.

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Can you remember anything about this area when you were small?

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Cos you are only, what, four, when you were here.

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Four, yeah. Just a vague memory of, er...

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being outside, and, er...

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and Dad was with me.

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He told me to be good and stay that side of the gate

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cos he was getting the cattle in.

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I obviously climbed over, and the next minute, I saw this cow,

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bull or whatever it was, charging at me, and Dad just picked me up,

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and threw me back over again.

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Coming back to the house.

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I can't remember very much about it.

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There were seven of us living there, mother and father, five children,

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so there must have been quite a squash with only two bedrooms.

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Despite the limited living space,

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Charlotte and Fred took in guests on occasion.

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Leonard Parsons lodged with the family until November 1935,

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and Lucy Ostler, Charlotte's close friend,

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stayed at the cottage on the night before Fred died.

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Here's a photograph of the kitchen, Dad.

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And that...

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..that cupboard there is that one there.

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Even though I didn't realise it, it's a very important site

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in my family's history, because the fact that an incident happened here,

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whether it was natural causes or whether it was a murder,

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it put my father, and all of his brothers and sister,

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into the Muller Orphanage,

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and it then started a completely different life

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than they ever thought they were going to have.

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One of the key witnesses who helped to link Charlotte to the possession

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of arsenic was her best friend, Lucy Ostler,

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but Jeremy has some doubts about the truth of her statements.

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Lucy Ostler gave some very, very damaging evidence.

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She said that Charlotte went to the cupboard and on the bottom shelf,

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she saw a large tin marked "Weedkiller."

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She said that Charlotte picked it up, and said, quote,

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"I must get rid of this."

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Why did Lucy Ostler give this evidence,

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and what reason might she have had for lying?

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Well, I can help you, cos looking at the transcript

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of her evidence at trial,

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it was put to her that she was frightened

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when she spoke to the police,

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and what Charlotte's counsel said is that,

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"The police were questioning you, were they not?

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"Erm, yes," said Lucy.

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"Did you know they were digging around your husband's grave?"

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"No."

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She's then asked about her husband,

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who had died some four years previously,

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and that there was some sort of suggestion that the police

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were pressurising Lucy, and threatening her

0:18:490:18:52

with looking into her husband's premature death.

0:18:520:18:56

And it was a result of that pressure

0:18:560:18:59

that Lucy came up with this account about that tin.

0:18:590:19:03

On the basis of that information,

0:19:030:19:04

Lucy Ostler clearly had a motive for lying about Charlotte Bryant,

0:19:040:19:10

so this is potentially a very important area for us to focus on.

0:19:100:19:14

Yes, I think so, because other than Lucy Ostler,

0:19:140:19:19

there is no connection between Charlotte Bryant and any arsenic.

0:19:190:19:23

At the Dorset History Centre,

0:19:280:19:30

David is joined by local journalist, Roger Gutteridge,

0:19:300:19:33

who has an insight into Charlotte's conviction

0:19:330:19:36

in the form of a flamboyant and wealthy eccentric

0:19:360:19:38

who championed her cause.

0:19:380:19:40

There were people at the time who had serious doubts about it

0:19:420:19:45

as a conviction - are you aware of that?

0:19:450:19:48

Erm, no, I wasn't.

0:19:480:19:49

He has some information to share

0:19:500:19:52

about one of Charlotte's fiercest defenders, Violet Van der Elst.

0:19:520:19:57

Violet Van der Elst was the leading campaigner

0:19:570:20:00

against capital punishment.

0:20:000:20:01

-Yes.

-And she seems to have taken this case under her wing

0:20:010:20:05

in quite a big way.

0:20:050:20:07

Born to a washerwoman and a coal porter,

0:20:070:20:10

Violet Van der Elst made her fortune by inventing Shavex,

0:20:100:20:13

the world's first brushless shaving cream.

0:20:130:20:15

She travelled to Exeter, spoke in public in the streets...

0:20:180:20:22

-Right.

-..campaigning for Charlotte's reprieve,

0:20:220:20:26

claimed there was evidence that she was innocent,

0:20:260:20:28

and saying slogans like, "Don't take two lives for one."

0:20:280:20:32

The prolific campaigner would rally support outside prisons

0:20:340:20:37

up and down the country, calling for the abolition of the death penalty.

0:20:370:20:41

She would hire a brass band to play the death march,

0:20:420:20:45

and planes would fly overhead trailing black flags.

0:20:450:20:48

On the morning of the execution at Exeter Prison,

0:20:500:20:52

there were 4,000 people gathered outside,

0:20:520:20:55

and she arrived driving her Rolls-Royce

0:20:550:20:59

with her chauffeur sitting beside her.

0:20:590:21:01

Obviously she didn't entrust this task to him,

0:21:010:21:04

and there was a police cordon with a rope,

0:21:040:21:07

and she drove straight through it - straight through the rope.

0:21:070:21:10

The policemen scattered, and she was arrested,

0:21:100:21:13

-and ended up in court herself, and was fined £5.

-Right!

0:21:130:21:18

Violet Van der Elst died almost penniless in 1966,

0:21:180:21:22

one year after her goal was realised and capital punishment was outlawed.

0:21:220:21:26

Roger's research has also unearthed some personal documents

0:21:290:21:32

from Charlotte's time in prison,

0:21:320:21:34

where she learned to read and write for the first time.

0:21:340:21:36

Here is that letter with Charlotte's signature,

0:21:380:21:41

so maybe you can have a look at that.

0:21:410:21:43

So this is the letter that my grandmother dictated?

0:21:430:21:47

Yes, and then signed.

0:21:470:21:49

-And was...

-And it's got her name at the bottom.

0:21:490:21:52

HE GASPS

0:21:520:21:54

Wow!

0:21:540:21:56

It's quite moving, I think, that the last thing she wrote,

0:21:560:21:59

and almost the first thing she wrote,

0:21:590:22:01

was actually her plea for mercy.

0:22:010:22:04

It's actually really difficult for me to read it.

0:22:070:22:09

-Do you want me to read it?

-Yes. Thank you.

-Mmm.

0:22:090:22:12

She says, "Sir, may I respectfully beg for your mercy in my case?

0:22:120:22:18

"The date of my execution has been fixed for Wednesday next,

0:22:180:22:23

"July the 15th...

0:22:230:22:24

"..and I am not guilty of the offence I am charged with.

0:22:250:22:29

"I humbly beg for the sake of my little children to spare my life.

0:22:290:22:33

"I remain yours respectfully, Charlotte Bryant."

0:22:330:22:37

And that is thought to be the last time she wrote her name...

0:22:370:22:42

-Wow.

-..because she'd only just learned to write.

0:22:420:22:44

Very emotional.

0:22:460:22:47

I didn't think I would feel like this, but certainly,

0:22:470:22:51

seeing the letters that had been written on my grandmother's behalf,

0:22:510:22:57

and still maintaining her innocence, and also seeing her letter

0:22:570:23:02

that was hand-signed by her -

0:23:020:23:04

it's a very difficult part of the journey, I have to say.

0:23:040:23:08

I was aware that a letter had been dictated,

0:23:080:23:12

but I never thought that I'd ever see it.

0:23:120:23:15

Can modern forensic science sift through the evidence

0:23:190:23:22

to dispute Charlotte's guilty verdict?

0:23:220:23:24

Jeremy and Sasha enlist medical historian, Sandra Hempel,

0:23:260:23:29

to look at the use of poison in this era,

0:23:290:23:32

and its infamy as a woman's weapon of choice in murder.

0:23:320:23:35

We hear a lot of accounts of arsenic being used as a poison

0:23:380:23:42

in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century, but not nowadays.

0:23:420:23:48

-Why is that?

-There just isn't arsenic around nowadays.

0:23:480:23:52

It's not easily obtainable in the way that it was.

0:23:520:23:55

I mean, it was all really people had as something to control rats

0:23:550:24:00

and mice, as a pesticide, as an insecticide,

0:24:000:24:04

so it was used very, very widely in homes and on the land.

0:24:040:24:09

And what did it look like? What sort of form would it be in?

0:24:090:24:12

Well, when they talk about arsenic as a poison,

0:24:120:24:15

they actually mean arsenic trioxide,

0:24:150:24:18

and that's a very harmless-looking white powder.

0:24:180:24:21

Can you taste it? I mean, if you accidentally have some arsenic

0:24:210:24:26

in a spoonful of sugar, would you know that?

0:24:260:24:28

No. No, you really wouldn't.

0:24:280:24:30

And not only is it tasteless - it dissolves, or rather disperses,

0:24:300:24:34

very easily in warm food and drink.

0:24:340:24:37

And how easy is it, would it be, for someone to be poisoned accidentally?

0:24:370:24:42

Might he have over the years absorbed or consumed so much arsenic

0:24:420:24:48

as to die of arsenic poisoning

0:24:480:24:50

without any deliberate effort to kill him?

0:24:500:24:52

In theory, he could. I think it's very, very unlikely,

0:24:520:24:55

because it's very unlikely that he would be the only person...

0:24:550:24:59

Have you come across cases of accidental death by arsenic?

0:24:590:25:04

Not from the environment, in that very long, slow, drawn-out process,

0:25:040:25:08

-which is what it would be.

-Right.

0:25:080:25:10

And why do you think it's known as the woman's weapon of choice?

0:25:100:25:15

Well, poison generally was known as the woman's weapon of choice,

0:25:150:25:19

because it seemed to be rather duplicitous and sneaky,

0:25:190:25:24

and there was a perception in the 19th century

0:25:240:25:27

that that's what women were like,

0:25:270:25:29

and then there was the question of, women were always in charge

0:25:290:25:33

of the sick room and the kitchen, so, you know, they would have access

0:25:330:25:37

to people's food and people's medicine.

0:25:370:25:40

So someone like Charlotte Bryant, whose character was vilified,

0:25:400:25:45

she'd also have to battle in a trial against the prejudice

0:25:450:25:48

that women like her might be more liable

0:25:480:25:50

to poison their husband than a man.

0:25:500:25:52

-Absolutely.

-Would you agree with that?

-No, absolutely, absolutely.

0:25:520:25:56

Fred suffered repeated incidents of vomiting and diarrhoea

0:25:570:26:00

along with muscle cramps -

0:26:000:26:02

all classic symptoms of exposure to arsenic.

0:26:020:26:05

Now that they know that it's unlikely that Fred's work

0:26:060:26:09

as a farm hand would have been the cause

0:26:090:26:11

of his fatal arsenic consumption,

0:26:110:26:13

Jeremy and Sasha have asked toxicologist, David Osselton,

0:26:130:26:16

to assist them in analysing the cause of Fred's death.

0:26:160:26:19

You've seen the postmortem report.

0:26:210:26:24

What are your feelings about the conclusions drawn in that report?

0:26:240:26:27

Arsenic was detected in a number of the tissues,

0:26:270:26:31

and put together with all of the case circumstances,

0:26:310:26:35

the analyst at the time...

0:26:350:26:37

..Dr Rush Lynch, came up with the conclusion

0:26:380:26:41

that this was death by arsenic poisoning.

0:26:410:26:44

Do you agree with that?

0:26:440:26:45

The...certainly, the presence of high concentrations of arsenic,

0:26:460:26:50

and some of the signs and symptoms that were observed

0:26:500:26:54

would fit that diagnosis, yes.

0:26:540:26:56

We know from the pathologist's report that four grains of arsenic,

0:26:560:27:01

as it's been described, was recovered from Fred's body.

0:27:010:27:05

In terms of modern weights and measures, what is a grain?

0:27:050:27:09

A grain is approximately 65mg.

0:27:090:27:11

Right, and in terms of what it looks like,

0:27:110:27:14

would it be more than a teaspoon, less than a teaspoon...?

0:27:140:27:16

Four grains would be... probably about a teaspoonful.

0:27:160:27:20

So not something that could be ingested just by maybe

0:27:200:27:23

having contact with the surface, and then putting it in your mouth?

0:27:230:27:28

Oh, no, it would definitely be a quantity

0:27:280:27:31

-that was introduced into the body.

-Yes.

0:27:310:27:33

Following on from that,

0:27:330:27:35

the tin that I think we have photographed here,

0:27:350:27:39

are you able to say whether it is more likely than not

0:27:390:27:44

to have contained arsenic, from the testing that's been done?

0:27:440:27:47

But there was a test undertaken on scrapings that came out of the tin.

0:27:470:27:53

The inside of the tin.

0:27:530:27:54

From the inside of the tin, and that was shown to contain

0:27:540:27:57

a very significant concentration of arsenic.

0:27:570:28:00

So what does that tell you?

0:28:000:28:02

Well, it would indicate that the tin had contained arsenic.

0:28:020:28:05

Rather than golden syrup?

0:28:050:28:07

-Rather than golden syrup, absolutely, yes.

-Right.

0:28:070:28:10

Can I just ask one other question?

0:28:100:28:14

We know that arsenic can be detected,

0:28:140:28:16

if it's been ingested in the body, in a person's fingernails.

0:28:160:28:21

Is that something that was present in this case, or not?

0:28:210:28:24

Fingernails were analysed and arsenic was detected in them.

0:28:240:28:28

That's an interesting point, because fingernails grow quite slowly.

0:28:280:28:33

It's about a third of a centimetre a month,

0:28:330:28:36

so that could potentially be from earlier doses.

0:28:360:28:40

So the fingernail arsenic, if I can call it that, suggested what?

0:28:400:28:45

It suggests that arsenic had been ingested

0:28:450:28:47

perhaps sometime beforehand.

0:28:470:28:49

Thank you very much.

0:28:490:28:50

I was concerned originally about the cause of death in this case.

0:28:510:28:55

Having spoken to the toxicologist,

0:28:550:28:57

it seems quite clear that this was a deliberate poisoning -

0:28:570:29:02

the poison in question being arsenic -

0:29:020:29:04

so cause of death has pretty much been locked down.

0:29:040:29:07

I'm also interested in previous attempts at poisoning,

0:29:080:29:13

which are suggested from the fingernail evidence,

0:29:130:29:16

and although this is not conclusive, it dovetails with the previous bouts

0:29:160:29:21

of what was considered at the time to be gastroenteritis,

0:29:210:29:25

which now may well be attempts at poisoning.

0:29:250:29:28

The tin evidence is much stronger than I originally thought.

0:29:300:29:34

It's now clear that it contains large amounts of arsenic,

0:29:340:29:38

so all in all, the toxicological evidence leads me to suggest

0:29:380:29:42

that the prosecution case

0:29:420:29:43

is stronger than I originally considered it to be.

0:29:430:29:47

I was particularly interested in what Sandra,

0:29:480:29:50

the medical historian, had to say about the concept of poison being

0:29:500:29:56

regarded as a woman's weapon,

0:29:560:29:58

and the prejudice that would have resulted

0:29:580:30:02

in the direction of Charlotte Bryant as a consequence,

0:30:020:30:04

so that was very useful.

0:30:040:30:06

On the question of the toxicologist, I have to accept, as things stand,

0:30:060:30:11

that aspect of his evidence reinforced the probability

0:30:110:30:15

that this was a deliberate case of poisoning, but of course,

0:30:150:30:20

that doesn't rule out Lucy Ostler, or anybody else.

0:30:200:30:22

As David and William come to the end of their exploration

0:30:260:30:29

of their family's story,

0:30:290:30:30

they visit Charlotte's final resting place, Exeter Prison.

0:30:300:30:34

This is where my grandmother hung back in July 1936.

0:30:360:30:42

She was also buried here in unconsecrated ground,

0:30:430:30:47

and I think for me, this is going to be the most difficult part

0:30:470:30:50

of the journey,

0:30:500:30:51

and I'm absolutely sure it's going to be

0:30:510:30:53

the most difficult part of the journey for my father.

0:30:530:30:55

There you are, Mum.

0:30:560:30:58

I never knew you, love, but you'll always be with me...

0:30:580:31:01

..in my heart forever.

0:31:030:31:05

I'll never forget you.

0:31:050:31:07

It's more emotional than I thought it was going to be.

0:31:080:31:10

It's putting into context how times have changed in every respect,

0:31:100:31:16

whether it be for five children that were left parentless,

0:31:160:31:20

whether it was circumstantial evidence that was put together

0:31:200:31:26

for a conviction, and then a hanging,

0:31:260:31:29

and a burial in unconsecrated ground within the grounds of a prison -

0:31:290:31:34

it's all a massive journey.

0:31:340:31:38

How do you say goodbye to somebody you never knew?

0:31:380:31:41

But...

0:31:410:31:42

you know, just...hold it in your heart, and live with it.

0:31:420:31:47

Although they were his mother and father, he never knew them,

0:31:470:31:51

so the bond that you get with someone when you actually know them,

0:31:510:31:55

and you can see them and touch them and talk to them, you develop,

0:31:550:31:59

whereas if you haven't really known them,

0:31:590:32:01

there's a massive piece of the jigsaw that's missing.

0:32:010:32:06

I love you, Mum.

0:32:060:32:07

I didn't have much time with you.

0:32:110:32:12

I think he's suppressed lots of feelings for a very long time.

0:32:140:32:19

Give a kiss to Mum.

0:32:200:32:22

HE SNIFFS

0:32:260:32:27

It's something that has been in our family

0:32:300:32:33

that hasn't really been talked about,

0:32:330:32:36

and let's hope that the findings come out

0:32:360:32:39

that Charlotte was innocent,

0:32:390:32:41

and actually, none of this needed to have happened.

0:32:410:32:44

With judgment day fast approaching,

0:32:510:32:53

Jeremy has made a startling discovery -

0:32:530:32:55

a detailed police report that shows

0:32:550:32:57

that Lucy Ostler was interviewed at least half a dozen times,

0:32:570:33:00

and that her statement changed significantly over time.

0:33:000:33:04

Well, Sasha, my concern is this -

0:33:040:33:07

that I've seen a police report,

0:33:070:33:09

and what that police report tells us is, quote,

0:33:090:33:12

"From the commencement, Mrs Ostler was regarded with suspicion.

0:33:120:33:17

"By the 19th of January, it was still plain

0:33:170:33:20

"that she was holding something back,

0:33:200:33:22

"and I spent about eight hours with her,

0:33:220:33:25

"and subsequently her demeanour changed..."

0:33:250:33:29

and her statement became, he says, "Spontaneous and convincing."

0:33:290:33:34

There's a stench about this -

0:33:340:33:36

probably wouldn't even be admissible in the modern time,

0:33:360:33:39

-as you well know.

-Oh, absolutely not.

0:33:390:33:41

It wouldn't even see the light of day.

0:33:410:33:43

So I don't agree that the jury were in a position

0:33:430:33:45

to assess her evidence.

0:33:450:33:46

In fact, they were in no position to assess her evidence,

0:33:460:33:48

cos they didn't know about this scenario, it seems.

0:33:480:33:52

My feeling about Charlotte Bryant's case is that it was a weak case -

0:33:520:33:57

that she was the obvious suspect.

0:33:570:34:00

She was illiterate, vulnerable,

0:34:000:34:03

so she was ripe to be wrongly convicted.

0:34:030:34:06

At first blush, I thought this was quite a thin case

0:34:080:34:11

where the prosecution evidence was not very substantial.

0:34:110:34:15

We've now interviewed experts, and I have to say, my view has changed.

0:34:150:34:20

We now know with some certainty that Fred Bryant died

0:34:200:34:25

as a result of deliberate arsenic poisoning.

0:34:250:34:28

We also know arsenic found under the nails would give support to the fact

0:34:280:34:33

that the previous incidents were attempts at poisoning him.

0:34:330:34:38

And, of course, we know that the burnt-out tin

0:34:380:34:41

did indeed contain arsenic.

0:34:410:34:43

I still am of the view that this was a circumstantial case,

0:34:430:34:48

but I'm not sure from what I've seen

0:34:480:34:51

that this is a miscarriage of justice.

0:34:510:34:55

Sasha and Jeremy have opposing arguments to put before

0:34:580:35:01

Judge David Radford, who will give his view

0:35:010:35:03

as to whether the original verdict was safe or unsafe.

0:35:030:35:06

For William and David, however,

0:35:070:35:08

today marks the end of a very personal look

0:35:080:35:12

into their family's tragic past.

0:35:120:35:14

I was 35 when I first found out about this,

0:35:140:35:17

so I'm really looking forward to hearing if there's anything new,

0:35:170:35:22

and it would be a fantastic situation

0:35:220:35:25

if we find out that Charlotte was innocent.

0:35:250:35:28

They can't overturn what's gone on before.

0:35:310:35:35

I'll have to accept that.

0:35:350:35:36

And I'm just hoping...hoping...

0:35:380:35:41

..that the outcome will be a little different.

0:35:420:35:46

Obviously we're going to both be putting forward the arguments

0:35:460:35:49

to the judge.

0:35:490:35:50

Neither of us know how the judge will rule -

0:35:500:35:53

it's a complete mystery to us, as it is to you.

0:35:530:35:56

Do you feel able to deal with the process?

0:35:560:35:59

Oh, yes, I think so.

0:35:590:36:01

Yes, I mean, it's bound to be stressful.

0:36:010:36:03

-I've gathered myself together again, so...

-All right.

0:36:030:36:07

Judge David Radford will treat Jeremy and Sasha's submissions

0:36:070:36:11

as he would a real case,

0:36:110:36:13

and he will give his expert opinion based on the evidence.

0:36:130:36:16

We are here today so that I can consider

0:36:180:36:22

the safety of the conviction of Mrs Bryant for murder of her husband.

0:36:220:36:29

It's going to be my task now to hear the submissions of learned counsel

0:36:300:36:38

as to whether or not that conviction is arguably unsafe.

0:36:380:36:43

Mr Dein, on behalf of the defence, do you wish to make submission...?

0:36:430:36:47

Yes, your honour, please.

0:36:470:36:48

What has emerged in the course of this inquiry

0:36:500:36:53

is a 54-page police report.

0:36:530:36:56

Now, it's my submission that this material, evidently not available

0:36:560:37:03

to the defence, shows that all of Lucy Ostler's statements

0:37:030:37:07

were the product of unrecorded police questioning.

0:37:070:37:12

Therefore, one will never know how her statements came about.

0:37:120:37:17

Secondly, the vital weedkiller tin statement on the 19th of January

0:37:170:37:22

was the direct product of a whole day

0:37:220:37:25

of unrecorded discussion with police.

0:37:250:37:28

That's eight hours.

0:37:280:37:30

Thirdly, how is it in the course of that eight-hour period,

0:37:300:37:34

Lucy Ostler's statement changed completely?

0:37:340:37:37

So, in conclusion, had this material been available to the jury,

0:37:370:37:42

the jury's verdict might have been different.

0:37:420:37:45

My submission is that there is a real risk

0:37:450:37:48

that there has been a miscarriage of justice here.

0:37:480:37:51

Thank you very much, Mr Dein.

0:37:510:37:53

And Miss Wass, you wish to respond?

0:37:530:37:55

Yes. Your Honour, may I take you back to the scientific evidence

0:37:550:38:01

in this case, because we had the opportunity of taking advice

0:38:010:38:06

from a toxicologist, and what has emerged is the following.

0:38:060:38:12

Firstly, that the deceased died

0:38:120:38:16

as a result of a deliberate ingestion of arsenic.

0:38:160:38:22

Secondly, the tin that was so controversial

0:38:220:38:26

did indeed contain quite large traces of arsenic.

0:38:260:38:30

And the third point that David Osselton made

0:38:300:38:34

which is highly significant

0:38:340:38:36

is that the deceased's fingernails indicated

0:38:360:38:40

that there had been previous episodes of arsenic poisoning.

0:38:400:38:45

And most importantly, the jury saw Mrs Ostler -

0:38:450:38:50

they were able to assess her credibility -

0:38:500:38:53

and contrary to what Mr Dein has submitted,

0:38:530:38:56

this was not cursory cross-examination -

0:38:560:38:59

this was very forceful.

0:38:590:39:01

So, for those reasons and with regret,

0:39:010:39:05

we fundamentally disagree with the submissions made by Mr Dein.

0:39:050:39:11

Thank you, Miss Wass.

0:39:110:39:12

Well, I shall take time now to evaluate those submissions,

0:39:120:39:17

and then shortly will give my judgment about the matter.

0:39:170:39:22

David and William are hoping the judge will agree

0:39:240:39:26

with Jeremy's submission that Charlotte's conviction was unsafe.

0:39:260:39:30

Did someone deliberately poison Fred Bryant?

0:39:310:39:35

Was his wife the only suspect considered by police?

0:39:350:39:38

Did the prosecution's key witness change her story under pressure?

0:39:390:39:43

The judge is now ready to give his verdict.

0:39:460:39:49

I have now had an opportunity of considering the helpful submissions

0:39:510:39:56

made by both leading counsel.

0:39:560:39:58

It is now my duty to make clear my view of this matter.

0:39:580:40:02

One has to look at the disclosure,

0:40:030:40:06

which was not made, in the context of the report itself.

0:40:060:40:13

In the report, and the passage referring to Mrs Ostler

0:40:130:40:17

"holding something back," that was, of course,

0:40:170:40:21

an opinion expressed by a police officer at one point in time.

0:40:210:40:26

It's also to be noted that the suspicion harboured by the police

0:40:260:40:31

at the commencement in relation to Mrs Ostler,

0:40:310:40:34

the report itself goes on to say, was lessened as time went on,

0:40:340:40:39

because the information she did supply was capable of corroboration,

0:40:390:40:45

and that her statement that she made was spontaneous and convincing.

0:40:450:40:52

Of course, eight hours is a long time for a statement to be taken,

0:40:520:40:57

but there is no evidence here of any lack of integrity by the police.

0:40:570:41:02

So I have concluded that the disclosure really would not

0:41:020:41:07

have assisted the defence in any proper and real way.

0:41:070:41:12

Overall, this was undoubtedly a very strong case, in my view,

0:41:120:41:18

against the defendant.

0:41:180:41:20

It was, as it always is, a matter for the jury

0:41:200:41:23

to determine where the truth lay,

0:41:230:41:25

and whether they were satisfied of the accused's guilt.

0:41:250:41:29

They were so satisfied, and in my judgment,

0:41:290:41:33

there is nothing now which properly,

0:41:330:41:35

legally, could recommend to me to reinvestigate this conviction.

0:41:350:41:43

I shall rise.

0:41:460:41:47

-DAVID:

-Mixed emotions, really,

0:41:520:41:54

because either the evidence was going to be sound or not sound,

0:41:540:41:58

and either way, there was going to be awkward feelings,

0:41:580:42:01

because if she was not guilty, then her life was taken in vain.

0:42:010:42:06

If she is guilty, then, you know, we've got a murderer in the family,

0:42:060:42:12

and either way, it was going to be very difficult.

0:42:120:42:14

Thank you, Sasha.

0:42:140:42:15

-Bye-bye, bye-bye, nice to meet you.

-Yep, nice to meet you both.

0:42:150:42:18

It was a very different disclosure regime in the 1930s,

0:42:180:42:22

but the judge took the view that even if the defence

0:42:220:42:24

had been provided with that report,

0:42:240:42:28

it actually wouldn't have helped them,

0:42:280:42:30

and wouldn't have made any difference to the case,

0:42:300:42:33

so I'm not altogether surprised by the verdict of the judge.

0:42:330:42:37

I think as it started, it seemed to be going our way,

0:42:390:42:42

in actual fact, but...

0:42:420:42:44

..halfway through, the tide turned, I'm afraid,

0:42:460:42:49

and I began to accept the fact that what went on before...

0:42:490:42:54

Well, I suppose, was the truth.

0:42:550:42:57

Top criminal barristers Sasha Wass and Jeremy Dein reinvestigate the historic case against Charlotte Bryant, and the story of a murder that tore a family apart in the 1930s.

In Dorset, 1935, husband and father-of-five Frederick Bryant drops dead, seemingly poisoned with a fatal dose of arsenic. Suspicion quickly fell on Frederick's wife Charlotte - an adulterer and, in the eyes of the police, a murderess. Charlotte was tried, convicted, and hanged for the murder of her husband Frederick Bryant, placing their five children in an orphanage.

Now in 2017, their youngest son William, who didn't find out about his family's history until he read about it in a newspaper in 1964, is eager to find out the truth about the tragedy which left him an orphan. William and his son David join forces with Sasha and Jeremy to reinvestigate the evidence. Was it a case of accidental poisoning? What role did the intimidation of key witnesses play in the trial? And crucially, do the barristers believe they have a compelling case to present to a crown court judge?


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