Episode 10 Murder, Mystery and My Family


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Episode 10

Top criminal barristers Jeremy Dein and Sasha Wass investigate a rural case of murder and moonlighting in Ireland in 1894.


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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 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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In every single article that we've read,

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Twiss's saying he's innocent every time.

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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're on a mission to solve the mystery,

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submitting their findings to a senior 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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A tiny farm outside Newmarket, County Cork, in Ireland

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was the scene of unusual activity

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in the early morning of Saturday the 21st of April, 1894.

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There had been a murder.

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The farm's caretaker, James Donovan, had been attacked

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in the middle of the night and badly beaten.

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He was discovered by his neighbour, who sent for a priest and a doctor

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but it was too late. Donovan had been killed.

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Police attention quickly turned to known criminals

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as they rounded up the usual suspects.

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Within days, a man named John Twiss was arrested...

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..but the 34-year-old lived 16 miles away,

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near Castleisland in County Kerry.

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Held in prison for months,

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Twiss was unable to give evidence at his own trial.

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But with his dying breath, he protested his innocence.

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He was hanged at Cork County Gaol on the 9th of February, 1895.

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In County Kerry in Ireland,

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John Twiss's story is still remembered today and his memory is kept alive

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by his descendents, Helen and Dennis.

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The reason why I'm here is because my mother,

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she passed away a few years ago, and if she was alive today

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she would want to be here herself,

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just to get people to see what really happened.

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We do believe that John Twiss is innocent and I think all the

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stories that we have been told have come from that,

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that he was an innocent man that was hung in the wrong,

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for a crime he did not commit.

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"I'm not asking you for anything but justice.

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"I am not guilty.

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"I was never guilty.

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"I hope Almighty God will account for me,

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"for I am innocent of this crime.

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"I was a Moonlighter.

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"And I paid for it."

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So he paid the price, the dearest price of all, your life.

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Prevented by the law at the time

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from pleading his case before a jury,

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Twiss was convicted in January 1895

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but huge numbers called for his reprieve.

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They collected 40,000 signatures to plea for a pardon...

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..and it wasn't even looked at.

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That's the most striking thing.

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So there was general belief, at that time, he was innocent.

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Helping Helen and Dennis to seek the justice they believe their ancestor

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deserves are two of the country's best legal minds.

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Criminal barrister Jeremy Dein has over 30 years of experience

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and will look at this case for the defence.

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Analysing this case for the prosecution is Sasha Wass QC,

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who has prosecuted some of Britain's most notorious offenders.

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Together, they will scrutinise the facts, searching for a new legal argument

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or the fresh evidence that they'll need to have the case reconsidered.

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Do sit down.

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How did you find out about John Twiss's situation?

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I suppose, as we were growing up, our grandad would have told our mam

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and then our mam would have told us.

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-Were you children when you heard about it?

-Yes.

-Oh, right.

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-So it's always something that you've grown up with.

-Yes.

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Is John Twiss generally regarded within the community as

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-having been wrongly hanged for that murder?

-Yes.

-Yeah.

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Just imagine for a moment that we came across a new piece of

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evidence which proved that John Twiss did commit this murder.

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Would you be able to handle that sort of information?

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But as I always say, there's two sides to every story.

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-If there's another side to the story...

-At least we'll know.

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All right. Well, certainly we'll be looking at the case together.

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My role is to see whether we could identify new arguments or material

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that we can put before a judge to demonstrate that he was wrongly convicted.

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My role is slightly different.

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As far as this case is concerned,

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I will be looking at the case from the prosecution perspective.

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That doesn't mean I'm trying to uphold this conviction at all costs.

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Far from it.

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We'll keep you informed and update

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-you when we have more information.

-Thank you for meeting us.

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It's been a pleasure.

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This is the oldest case that the barristers have looked at together,

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and they will face unique challenges

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in reviewing a trial that took place 123 years ago.

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First, they need to establish the facts of the Glenlara murder,

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and how a man that lived over 16 miles away

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came to be hanged for the crime.

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So, Jeremy, this is a murder that took place in the South of Ireland

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in 1894.

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A man called James Donovan was found in the early hours of the 21st

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of April, having been beaten about the head 11 times,

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with a gunshot wound to his arm.

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John Twiss was one of two men

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who were eventually tried for this murder.

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Now, Twiss was a prominent member of a group called the Moonlighters,

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and the Moonlighters were considered to be the violent arm of those in

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favour of the land movement.

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Two men were accused and interestingly, in this case,

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both stood trial separately.

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That would never happen today, as you know.

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And here, Eugene O'Keefe was found not guilty

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and then a month or so later,

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John Twiss was found guilty, so that's something we need to look at.

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Also, there are issues about the reliability of the witnesses,

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the credibility of the witnesses.

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Well, Jeremy, I'm interested the political aspect of this case

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because the deceased in this case,

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James Donovan, was a caretaker

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of the farm where the murder took place.

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What had happened was that the tenant of the farm had been evicted

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by the owner and the owner then put in place James Donovan to look after

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the farm, so there was a lot of ill feeling against James Donovan by

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those involved in the land movement.

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So I think we could benefit from speaking to some sort of historian

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who can put all of this in some sort of political perspective for us and

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we can possibly work out motives in this case.

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Well, I absolutely agree with you.

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In Ireland, Helen and Dennis have come to the home

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that John Twiss once shared with their great-grandmother, Jane.

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And then the Twiss house would have been...

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-The middle one.

-The middle one, which John Twiss and Jane resided in.

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Twiss was born in London in 1860 and was one of five children.

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As an adult, he lived in Cordal, County Kerry.

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He maintained two of the nearby cemeteries.

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But to provide for himself and his sister, Jane,

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he often relied on poaching from the local landowners, which brought him

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to the attention of the police.

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As a young man, Twiss became involved in a political movement

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known as the Land Wars.

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At this time in Ireland, tenant farmers had few rights

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and could be forcibly evicted from their property,

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losing not only their home, but their livelihood.

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Without their farms, these families would be left destitute.

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A violent group known as Moonlighters tried to protect

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tenants by intimidating landlords or their agents.

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This murder had all the hallmarks of a Moonlighting incident,

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as Donovan was the caretaker of an evicted farm.

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Known to be part of the secret organisation of Moonlighters,

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Twiss was arrested just five days after the murder,

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with seemingly little evidence.

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In my eyes, and if you read it, I think he was a threat

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-to the powers that be.

-And he was fighting for the tenant farmers

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and he had a lot of backing from people that felt that they shouldn't be taken off the land.

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So, does that have a bearing in the case?

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Quite possibly.

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The story of this case has been passed from generation to generation,

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not only within Twiss's own family

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but through the entire community in his hometown.

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Almost 100 years after his death,

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a memorial was erected in honour of John Twiss.

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This memorial was put up in 1984.

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My grandfather was here

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and it was a lovely, summer evening.

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I was only eight or nine, but I still can remember it.

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My father was alive. My mother was alive.

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It was a great achievement to get it actually put up

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because it takes it takes an awful lot of work.

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I think my grandfather was delighted that day,

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and he was proud and he died a year later or so.

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He stayed around until this was done

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and then he felt his work was done.

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-Yeah.

-So...

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Can re-examining this murder, after more than a century,

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solve the mystery that has puzzled generations?

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On the night of the 20th of April, 1894,

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two men entered Donovan's house in Glenlara, dragging him from the bedroom

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he shared with his young son.

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The men beat him in the yard.

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In the morning, Donovan was found near death

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by his neighbour, John Keneally.

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The prosecution case was that although Twiss did not know the victim,

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and bore no personal grudge against him,

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he had been hired to carry out the murder, and travelled over 16 miles

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each way, in the course of one night, to do so.

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Now, the murder is said to have occurred between 12 and 2am

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and police claim that they last saw John Twiss, in Cordal,

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at about 9:45pm, on the evening of the 20th

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but one of his neighbours, Peter Sugrue, said that in fact he saw

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John Twiss at home at 11pm, so that pushes the time back.

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So, the fundamental question here is could he have made it to Glenlara...

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..to have finished his business by 2am and then got back in time for

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him to be seen again, about half a mile from his home in Cordal,

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by Peter Sugrue

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at half past five on the morning of the 21st?

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The timings in this case are crucial,

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and the police sought to prove that

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Twiss could have made it to the crime scene

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in time to commit the murder.

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Police officers made the journey on foot from Cordal to Glenlara,

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and gave evidence that it took them three hours and 17 minutes.

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John Twiss called three defence witnesses

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who saw John Twiss in and around his home by 5:30am.

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If those times are correct, that makes his visit to Glenlara

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and involvement in the murder very tight.

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If the witness evidence was to be believed,

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Twiss could not have made it to Glenlara and back on foot

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within that timeframe.

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The difficulty is, John Twiss himself made a statement to the police

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saying that that morning, he'd stayed in bed until nine o'clock.

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So if Peter Sugrue was wrong about seeing him at

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five thirty or six the following morning,

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the jury may well have rejected his evidence about having seen him

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at 11 o'clock the previous night.

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And you can see how the alibi is beginning to fall apart.

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Several months into the investigation,

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the police produced a witness who offered an alternative explanation,

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which completely changed the direction of the case.

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Mary Lyons, who was an important prosecution witness,

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said she saw John Twiss on a horse, in Taur,

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not long before the murder.

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That would mean that John Twiss would have had to get all the way

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from Cordal, having been at home at around 11pm,

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to Taur in an hour or so.

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Well, let's get an idea of distance.

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The distance between Cordal and Glenlara is 16 miles.

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On a horse, I would have thought that was

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an achievable distance to cover.

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Now, Mary Lyons not only saw John Twiss on a horse,

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she said she saw two men on the same horse

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and the back rider was John Twiss.

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And she positively recognised him.

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She had known him for some considerable time

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and had absolutely no difficulty identifying him.

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So, I think we need to look very carefully at her evidence,

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whether she had any motive to give false evidence,

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and if she did, what it was, and if she didn't,

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whether she had been put under any pressure by the police

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who were taking her statement.

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The jury at trial were convinced that Twiss had indeed been to Glenlara,

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but to review the all-important timings in this case,

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Helen and Dennis have travelled from Cordal to the scene of the murder.

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The journey their ancestor supposedly took.

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If you look, it would have been down in that corner.

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To actually see where it happened...

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I mean, it's so peaceful.

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Must strike you that a man's life was taken over there.

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Could Twiss have made this ill-fated trip?

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I think it's a far-fetched story that he was ever in this field.

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It nearly took us an hour in the car to drive here and they are saying he

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walked here in two hours, which...

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-Yeah.

-I think he'd qualify for the Olympics if he did it.

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And it remains a puzzle why the Cork police linked a Kerry man

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to this crime.

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Imagine, like, a murder happening 100 yards away

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and they blamed a fellow...

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-..Miles away and it happened right next to them.

-Yeah.

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What was the motive for the Donovan's murder?

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As a landlord's caretaker, he held a dangerous position.

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The farm that he occupied had previously been rented

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to James Keneally.

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When Keneally was evicted, he moved in with his brother, John,

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next door.

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Living just 200 yards away, was Eugene O'Keefe,

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a suspected Moonlighter who was also charged with

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Donovan's murder but was tried separately to Twiss and acquitted.

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The barristers have asked an expert in Irish history,

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Jonathan Moore, to assist them in understanding the political context,

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so they can determine the motive in this case.

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So, can you fill us in with a little bit of the social history about this period?

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In the 19th century, the land question

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was the most important question facing Irish people.

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Far more important than the national question, and the core of the issue

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was that the vast majority of farms in Ireland were owned by people who

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didn't work the farms.

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The farms were worked on by tenant farmers, and so there'd been a

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number of campaigns in the 19th century for tenant farmers

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to actually own their own farms.

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And none of them had been very successful until the

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setting up in 1879 of the Land League, and the Land League was a

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peaceful organisation which used tactics such as boycotting,

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mass meetings, petitions,

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trying to persuade people not to work on a farm

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where the farmer had been evicted.

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So, how did the Moonlighters fit in with this form of protest?

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The Land League believed they could win the argument by peaceful means.

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The Moonlighters believed this did not go far enough, and so,

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in the middle of the night, hence the term "Moonlighting",

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they would kill people.

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The most dangerous thing to be an 19th-century Ireland was an agent.

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The person running the farm for the person who owned the farm.

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-Why is that?

-Because the person who owned the farm may either have been

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up in Dublin or in London or whatever, so if you wanted to actually hit a target,

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here was the representative of what was seen as the corrupt

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land system and many of these people ended up having very bloody deaths.

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How common was it for an agent to be murdered

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in the way that, in this case, James Donovan was?

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In areas such as Kerry and Cork and Mayo, it was quite common.

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What there was, was a consensus amongst most Irish people in

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rural Ireland that the system was unjust.

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In terms of trying to police these murders,

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what was the role and respect for the police, if any?

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The police were not respected and so the cooperation with the police is

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very, very poor because people just keep their mouths shut and the major

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problem appears to be that there was not enough evidence to get proper

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convictions and therefore, in some cases, by no means in all cases,

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people would be charged with crimes which they hadn't committed

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but, yes, they were agitators.

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So what you're saying really, I think, is that John Twiss is an outstanding

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example of a situation in which someone who was tainted by

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involvement with Moonlighting

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and so on, could well have been wrongly convicted of a murder

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because of his reputation?

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Yes. I mean, he fits the profile of the kind of person who was picked up

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because he was an agitator and the view of the authorities would be

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it's possible that he might have done it.

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All right. Well, that's been incredibly helpful to put this case

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-of John Twiss into context, so thank you very much indeed.

-Thank you.

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Jonathan Moore was quite clear that there were miscarriages of justice

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because of the political background and context

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and the real question here is whether many,

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many people are right to believe that John Twiss was a further victim

0:19:440:19:48

of those miscarriages of justice?

0:19:480:19:51

There's a wealth of anecdotal evidence that

0:19:510:19:55

John Twiss was a victim of a miscarriage of justice, that he was innocent.

0:19:550:19:59

He's entered folklore as somebody who's now got a statue that's been

0:19:590:20:04

put up in his honour. But that isn't really enough.

0:20:040:20:07

I need evidence that can raise the question as to this having been a

0:20:070:20:13

miscarriage of justice, and at the moment, I haven't seen any evidence.

0:20:130:20:17

Helen and Dennis know that there is more to this story than the folklore

0:20:210:20:24

that now surrounds Twiss.

0:20:240:20:27

They've come to Kerry County Library to search the original newspaper reports

0:20:270:20:32

for any key information that will help their case.

0:20:320:20:35

And this one, then, the caption of it is the murder

0:20:360:20:38

of an emergency man in Cork.

0:20:380:20:41

The seven-year-old was put up to talk about his father that was murdered.

0:20:420:20:46

He's saying that he was in the room.

0:20:470:20:49

He was present in the room when two men came in.

0:20:490:20:52

They struck his father in the head.

0:20:520:20:54

They say he was awoken by a loud bang of a window breaking...

0:20:540:20:58

And he recalls the other man saying,

0:20:580:21:00

"Come away, Jack! You have done enough to him."

0:21:000:21:03

This is the very first reporting that you're actually seeing of a young boy

0:21:030:21:08

and that's quite heartbreaking to actually read that.

0:21:080:21:12

I have pity for the young fella, I tell you the truth.

0:21:120:21:14

"Today, a man named John Twiss was charged with the murder of James Donovan.

0:21:190:21:23

"No evidence was offered.

0:21:230:21:26

"The court applied for further remand. The remand was granted."

0:21:260:21:30

Twiss and O'Keefe were both held on remand, week after week,

0:21:300:21:34

remaining in prison for months,

0:21:340:21:36

while the police continued their investigation.

0:21:360:21:39

The judge has asked the solicitor,

0:21:390:21:41

Mr Fitzgibbons, is he going to give any more information or any more evidence,

0:21:410:21:46

and Mr Fitzgibbons says, "I am not in the position to say that yet",

0:21:460:21:50

that he still needed them to be on remand,

0:21:500:21:53

that he doesn't have any evidence.

0:21:530:21:55

They look like they have no evidence.

0:21:550:21:57

It was, like, going week to week hoping they might get someone and...

0:21:570:22:01

Twiss here complains again about being remanded from week to week

0:22:010:22:06

and said that he's innocent of the charge

0:22:060:22:09

In every single article that we've read, innocent is...

0:22:090:22:13

Twiss is saying he's innocent every single time.

0:22:130:22:16

Twiss would go on to spend almost nine months

0:22:160:22:19

in prison awaiting trial.

0:22:190:22:20

But Helen and Dennis are convinced that it was his activities as

0:22:200:22:23

a Moonlighter, rather than the evidence of this case,

0:22:230:22:26

that ultimately saw him hanged.

0:22:260:22:28

Reading from the documents, they did feel that

0:22:280:22:30

the Moonlighters were getting too strong,

0:22:300:22:33

-so maybe this was a way of trying to...

-Send a message.

0:22:330:22:37

-..send a message.

-Don't let up. Don't leave them off.

0:22:370:22:40

We have to make an example of O'Keefe and Twiss at all costs.

0:22:400:22:45

Was Twiss's arrest motivated by a desire to cripple the secret

0:22:470:22:50

organisation of Moonlighters?

0:22:500:22:53

Jeremy and Sasha will have to keep this political context in mind while

0:22:530:22:57

looking at the evidence.

0:22:570:23:00

The prosecution relied on three key witnesses.

0:23:000:23:03

The first was Mary Lyons, who said she saw the John Twiss

0:23:030:23:07

near the scene of the crime, shortly before the attack occurred.

0:23:070:23:11

When she heard about the killing the following day, she said nothing.

0:23:110:23:16

In fact, Mary didn't make a statement to the police

0:23:160:23:19

until the 28th of July, several months later,

0:23:190:23:23

when she said between 12 and 1am she heard a horse coming,

0:23:230:23:27

sees two men straddled on the horse

0:23:270:23:30

and identifies John Twiss,

0:23:300:23:33

who she knew for about 12 years, as being one of those men.

0:23:330:23:38

Having said in her statement that she saw John Twiss, when she came to give evidence at trial,

0:23:380:23:44

she added a lot of detail which she hadn't previously mentioned,

0:23:440:23:48

saying that he actually rapped on her window and asked for some bread

0:23:480:23:54

and she said at the trial that Sergeant McNally had been making

0:23:540:23:57

enquiries every day,

0:23:570:23:59

and seemed to hint that she was intimidated or pestered.

0:23:590:24:03

We've got to see this in context.

0:24:030:24:06

She might have been intimidated,

0:24:060:24:08

not necessarily by the police,

0:24:080:24:11

but in terms of the identity of the man

0:24:110:24:14

she had seen and the position that he held in the community,

0:24:140:24:19

being known as a violent activist.

0:24:190:24:23

The second crucial witness was John Brosnan,

0:24:230:24:26

who said that he'd seen Twiss the day before the murder.

0:24:260:24:30

Brosnan said he'd lent a gun to John Twiss, which would fit in with

0:24:300:24:34

the timing and we know that a gun was used as part of the attack in this case,

0:24:340:24:39

-although it didn't cause the fatal injury.

-Again, Sasha,

0:24:390:24:42

John Brosnan didn't come forward with his evidence

0:24:420:24:45

until the 14th of July. He appears, from aspects of the trial,

0:24:450:24:49

to have been regarded as a volatile character.

0:24:490:24:52

He said in cross-examination

0:24:520:24:54

that he'd been fed by the police

0:24:540:24:58

in the build-up to the trial.

0:24:580:25:00

Most importantly,

0:25:000:25:02

the prosecution relied on an eyewitness to the crime itself,

0:25:020:25:06

James Donovan's son, John,

0:25:060:25:08

who was just seven years old.

0:25:080:25:10

It is really very, very concerning

0:25:120:25:15

that a seven-year-old boy should be regarded

0:25:150:25:18

as such an important witness.

0:25:180:25:20

I'd be reluctant to say that we just dismiss him because he's a child.

0:25:200:25:25

It's not that he's a child that leads me to suggest that his

0:25:250:25:29

evidence should be discounted, it's the whole of the circumstances.

0:25:290:25:34

The child was asked to identify the two men who had attacked his father.

0:25:340:25:38

At the first ID parade, he failed to identify Twiss.

0:25:380:25:42

At the second, he was instructed to pick out someone he had seen before

0:25:420:25:47

and he then picked out Twiss, who was accompanied by two police officers.

0:25:470:25:51

His testimony was inconsistent and frankly,

0:25:510:25:55

I'm not sure whether any value can be placed on his evidence whatsoever.

0:25:550:26:00

All we know is that his evidence was heard by a jury,

0:26:000:26:05

a jury heard all the prosecution evidence in this case

0:26:050:26:08

and a jury was sure that those witnesses were telling the truth,

0:26:080:26:12

-otherwise they wouldn't have convicted John Twiss.

-But it has to be remembered that it wasn't

0:26:120:26:16

a case of the police having the evidence then arresting him,

0:26:160:26:20

it was arrest then securing of the evidence.

0:26:200:26:24

So there was a clear motive on the part of the police

0:26:240:26:27

to pressurise these witnesses into giving

0:26:270:26:29

damaging evidence against John Twiss,

0:26:290:26:32

and my feeling is that the quality of the evidence given by these

0:26:320:26:37

three witnesses against John Twiss was poor.

0:26:370:26:40

Jeremy has grave doubts about the reliability of the witness evidence,

0:26:400:26:45

but is that enough to take this case forward today?

0:26:450:26:48

One of the problems in investigating a conviction for murder in 1894,

0:26:480:26:55

is that however much one's instincts

0:26:550:26:58

might suggest there's something wrong,

0:26:580:27:01

that there's such a paucity of documentation,

0:27:010:27:04

and records didn't have to be kept, and there's no real audit trail.

0:27:040:27:08

At the moment, I'm not overconfident

0:27:090:27:13

that I'll be able to demonstrate my feelings

0:27:130:27:17

in terms of plain evidence, new material, but let's see.

0:27:170:27:21

There's still some distance to go.

0:27:210:27:24

In Ireland, Dennis and Helen continue their own investigation

0:27:260:27:30

into the case of John Twiss by meeting local historian Johnnie Roche,

0:27:300:27:35

who has researched the history of Moonlighting in this part of Kerry.

0:27:350:27:38

It's one of the standout points as was, of both the

0:27:380:27:41

history of the Land War and the Moonlighters.

0:27:410:27:45

The reason that the landlords were so successful

0:27:450:27:49

in evicting tenants was there was always somebody else prepared to come in

0:27:490:27:54

and take the farm, so that was rendered as land grabbing and

0:27:540:27:59

the Moonlighters' idea was

0:27:590:28:02

if they stopped people taking the farm that was evicted,

0:28:020:28:06

then the landlords would be seriously restricted

0:28:060:28:09

because the farm would be lying idle and they'd get no rent.

0:28:090:28:12

It looks like they just wanted someone to pin it on.

0:28:120:28:15

They thought that he would crack and that he would name other Moonlighters,

0:28:150:28:20

which is what they basically wanted, but he refused to do that.

0:28:200:28:24

He paid the ultimate price...

0:28:240:28:25

For his life.

0:28:250:28:27

So you think that's why the story's still alive today,

0:28:270:28:30

for the injustice?

0:28:300:28:32

From the authorities' point of view,

0:28:320:28:34

they took him and hanged him, but

0:28:340:28:37

from people's perspective it wasn't solved.

0:28:370:28:39

Thank you, Johnny, for your time.

0:28:400:28:42

Despite misgivings today, at the time,

0:28:420:28:45

the jury were convinced of Twiss's guilt and he was sentenced to death.

0:28:450:28:49

On the 9th of February, 1895,

0:28:510:28:53

John Twiss was executed at the gaol in Cork, where he had been held

0:28:530:28:57

since his arrest in April 1894.

0:28:570:28:59

Helen and Dennis have come to the site of the prison,

0:29:040:29:07

where University College Cork now stands.

0:29:070:29:09

Only the prison gate remains.

0:29:100:29:13

So judging by the pictures, Helen,

0:29:130:29:15

the people would have gathered right here and...

0:29:150:29:18

-Even from that picture, there's quite a lot of people.

-Yeah.

0:29:180:29:21

There is no gravestone or memorial

0:29:230:29:25

to mark Twiss's life or death here

0:29:250:29:28

and Helen and Dennis have never visited the spot where he is buried.

0:29:280:29:32

This would have been the middle of the old prison, Helen.

0:29:350:29:41

Exactly where John Twiss is buried, I do not know.

0:29:410:29:44

I don't think anyone knows any more.

0:29:440:29:47

Probably somewhere around maybe some corner but where we're standing on

0:29:470:29:52

is right in the middle of the old prison.

0:29:520:29:54

Hopefully, John Twiss can be laid to rest

0:29:540:29:58

-knowing that people still think about him.

-Yeah,

0:29:580:30:00

and we're just coming here today to pay our respects to John Twiss

0:30:000:30:03

and to say that we started the journey

0:30:030:30:07

to hopefully bring justice to his name.

0:30:070:30:10

Fair enough.

0:30:130:30:15

Twiss was prevented from giving evidence in his own defence,

0:30:200:30:24

by a legal rule at the time.

0:30:240:30:26

On conviction, however, he made a strident speech to the court,

0:30:260:30:31

declaring his innocence and highlighting flaws in the prosecution case.

0:30:310:30:35

Most significantly, I think what happened is that, as part of that speech,

0:30:350:30:40

he told the judge that whilst in custody on remand,

0:30:400:30:45

the chief of police had come to visit him and said that

0:30:450:30:48

he'd be given £50

0:30:480:30:50

if he implicated six other men, which is a very, very worrying thing

0:30:500:30:55

if it happened. It might well suggest

0:30:550:30:58

police didn't have confidence in John Twiss's guilt.

0:30:580:31:01

In fact, on the day of Twiss's execution,

0:31:010:31:04

further statements were made that seemed to support his allegations of

0:31:040:31:07

bribery, corruption, and police interference.

0:31:070:31:12

What's interesting, Jeremy, is that following the execution,

0:31:120:31:16

a coroner's inquest was immediately convened and the question of whether

0:31:160:31:22

there had been any police interference with John Twiss

0:31:220:31:25

whilst he was on remand

0:31:250:31:27

was considered, and in fact, it would appear that

0:31:270:31:32

both the gaoler and the prison chaplain

0:31:320:31:37

expressed their view on John Twiss's innocence,

0:31:370:31:41

which of itself is a bizarre state of affairs.

0:31:410:31:45

But the jury in the coroner's case took it upon themselves to widen the

0:31:450:31:50

scope of their verdict

0:31:500:31:52

and they made this extraordinary statement at the end of the case that -

0:31:520:31:57

"In the face of the solemn, dying declaration

0:31:570:32:00

"made by the deceased on the gallows at Cork Gaol this morning,

0:32:000:32:04

"and on the evidence on oath of the prison chaplain, the medical officer,

0:32:040:32:09

"and the governor,

0:32:090:32:10

"we hereby express our belief in the prisoner's innocence,

0:32:100:32:15

"and consider this case was one in which the prerogative of

0:32:150:32:19

"mercy should have been exercised.

0:32:190:32:22

"Further, that we condemn the system by which police officers are allowed

0:32:220:32:28

"to interrogate and tamper with prisoners awaiting trial."

0:32:280:32:32

So it seems that the jury in the inquest case reached a verdict that

0:32:340:32:39

was wholly at odds, potentially,

0:32:390:32:42

with the verdict reached by the trial jury.

0:32:420:32:46

Hours after his life had been taken from him.

0:32:460:32:49

That is just shockingly worrying, isn't it?

0:32:490:32:53

This startling revelation was made too late to save Twiss from the noose,

0:32:530:32:58

and without supporting evidence,

0:32:580:33:00

it might still be insufficient to clear his name.

0:33:000:33:03

It seems that all the evidence points to Twiss's innocence

0:33:070:33:11

but over 120 years later,

0:33:110:33:14

will the barristers be able to convince a judge

0:33:140:33:17

that the original verdict was unsafe?

0:33:170:33:20

It's judgement day,

0:33:250:33:27

and Jeremy and Sasha face the challenge of presenting modern legal

0:33:270:33:30

arguments on the facts of this historic case.

0:33:300:33:33

Helen and Dennis are eager to hear the barristers' submissions on their

0:33:350:33:39

great-great-uncle's case.

0:33:390:33:41

We're not here to dig up old wounds or blame people, or anything like that.

0:33:410:33:45

We just want a bit of truth, that's all.

0:33:450:33:48

It's been a long journey for us but I suppose

0:33:480:33:51

the journey started 120 years ago for John Twiss,

0:33:510:33:54

so we're hopeful.

0:33:540:33:57

How are you feeling today?

0:33:570:33:58

A bit nervous but looking forward to it as well.

0:33:580:34:01

Yeah, just try and relax

0:34:010:34:02

and if you'd like to follow me,

0:34:020:34:04

we'll now go in and the hearing will take place.

0:34:040:34:06

Senior Crown Court Judge David Radford will bring his decades of

0:34:120:34:16

experience in criminal law to bear on this case,

0:34:160:34:19

and will give his view as to whether the original conviction

0:34:190:34:22

was safe or unsafe.

0:34:220:34:24

We're here today to consider the safety

0:34:240:34:28

of the conviction of John Twiss,

0:34:280:34:30

and so, if I can call upon you, Mr Dein, first,

0:34:300:34:34

to address me in the light of all that we now know.

0:34:340:34:37

Your Honour knows that John Twiss was hanged

0:34:380:34:41

on the 9th of February, 1895,

0:34:410:34:43

for the murder of James Donovan.

0:34:430:34:46

The prosecution case was that John Twiss was

0:34:460:34:49

a prominent member of the Moonlighters,

0:34:490:34:53

the anti-landlord movement, and travelled more than three hours,

0:34:530:34:58

in the depths of night, from Cordal, where he lived, to Glenlara.

0:34:580:35:03

A journey of approximately 16 miles.

0:35:030:35:06

John Twiss's case was that he was not present, did not participate,

0:35:060:35:12

that he was branded as a target by the police

0:35:120:35:15

and wrongly convicted of murder.

0:35:150:35:18

In my submission, the quality of the identification evidence

0:35:190:35:24

is highly questionable and unreliable.

0:35:240:35:27

Mrs Mary Lyons, a tailor's wife,

0:35:270:35:30

told the jury that she and her husband saw Mr Twiss on the

0:35:300:35:36

back of the horse an hour or so before the murder took place,

0:35:360:35:41

passing through Taur,

0:35:410:35:42

approximately two miles from Glenlara,

0:35:420:35:46

and although it was dark, she claimed to have identified Mr Twiss,

0:35:460:35:52

whom she'd known for some years.

0:35:520:35:54

The second and most important witness in the case

0:35:550:35:59

was John Donovan,

0:35:590:36:01

James Donovan's son, who was only seven years old

0:36:010:36:04

at the time of the incident.

0:36:040:36:06

He attended an initial identification parade,

0:36:060:36:11

failed to identify John Twiss

0:36:110:36:13

and picked out someone completely different.

0:36:130:36:17

-A man called Corcoran?

-Correct. Thank you, Your Honour.

0:36:170:36:21

He subsequently attended a further parade.

0:36:210:36:23

Bizarrely, John Twiss was flanked by two police officers

0:36:230:36:28

at which, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the circumstances,

0:36:280:36:32

and I would suggest suspiciously,

0:36:320:36:34

he did pick out John Twiss.

0:36:340:36:37

It's my submission that that identification evidence

0:36:370:36:40

is of poor quality

0:36:400:36:42

and in itself

0:36:420:36:45

was not sufficient to found a safe conviction.

0:36:450:36:48

Thank you, Mr Dein.

0:36:480:36:50

Yes, Miss Wass, what do you say?

0:36:500:36:52

Well, Your Honour, the central case of

0:36:520:36:54

the case against John Twiss

0:36:540:36:56

came from the evidence of a seven-year-old boy

0:36:560:36:59

and examining the quality of that identification evidence

0:36:590:37:03

is essential

0:37:030:37:05

before determining whether this conviction can possibly have been

0:37:050:37:09

described as safe or not.

0:37:090:37:11

The boy failed to pick out anyone in the identification parade that was

0:37:120:37:16

first held and, in fact, Your Honour has identified that a volunteer was

0:37:160:37:21

picked out, that it is to say, somebody who was not John Twiss.

0:37:210:37:25

The police tried again, and on that occasion,

0:37:250:37:28

Mr Twiss was in the presence of police officers,

0:37:280:37:32

so it would have been pretty obvious to the boy whom

0:37:320:37:35

he was expected to pick out.

0:37:350:37:38

So for all the circumstances that I've summarised, this was a very,

0:37:380:37:43

very weak identification.

0:37:430:37:45

So I invite the court to dismiss that.

0:37:450:37:49

I then come to the evidence of the Lyons couple

0:37:490:37:53

because the issue is really whether this identification evidence

0:37:530:37:57

would withstand the test of time and it would not.

0:37:570:38:01

If the case came before the court today,

0:38:010:38:04

the judge would be compelled to stop the case at the conclusion of the

0:38:040:38:10

prosecution evidence and there would be no case to go to the jury and

0:38:100:38:14

that would effectively be the end of the matter.

0:38:140:38:17

So I agree with what Mr Dein is saying.

0:38:200:38:22

This is a case which is based on identification evidence

0:38:220:38:25

which was weak

0:38:250:38:27

and to leave it to a jury is dangerous.

0:38:270:38:30

Very well.

0:38:300:38:35

Well, I'm grateful to you both for your submissions.

0:38:350:38:38

I'm going to take some time now to reflect upon them. Thank you.

0:38:380:38:43

Both Jeremy and Sasha are convinced that the original trial

0:38:430:38:46

was built on a foundation of flimsy evidence.

0:38:460:38:50

But will Judge Radford finally give the Twiss family

0:38:500:38:53

the verdict that they've been waiting more than 120 years to hear.

0:38:530:38:58

I mean, how are you feeling about the situation?

0:38:580:39:01

Relieved in one way, I think.

0:39:010:39:02

I think what you've got to remember is that although Jeremy and I

0:39:020:39:06

largely agreed, the judge does not have to agree with us.

0:39:060:39:10

Was the eyewitness evidence of the victim's young son

0:39:100:39:12

unfairly relied upon?

0:39:120:39:15

Should the results of the identification parade have been dismissed?

0:39:150:39:20

And could John Twiss have been verifiably linked

0:39:200:39:23

to the scene of the crime?

0:39:230:39:25

The judge is ready to give his verdict.

0:39:250:39:28

I have had time to consider these matters and reached a conclusion.

0:39:290:39:35

As the trial judge told the jury,

0:39:370:39:40

the case against Mr Twiss rested essentially

0:39:400:39:44

on the reliability of the identification evidence

0:39:440:39:48

of seven-year-old John Donovan.

0:39:480:39:52

He had described two men as being present in his ill-lit home

0:39:520:39:57

during a fast-moving, violent,

0:39:570:40:00

and traumatic incident,

0:40:000:40:02

which must have been extremely frightening for him.

0:40:020:40:05

I agree with learned counsel

0:40:070:40:09

that the identification evidence was clearly unreliable

0:40:090:40:15

and I find, on consideration of the rest of the evidence,

0:40:150:40:20

uncorroborated, unsupported by any other independent evidence,

0:40:200:40:26

whatever the quality or reasons for the accounts given,

0:40:260:40:30

belatedly, as they were, by Mr and Mrs Lyons

0:40:300:40:34

as to the presence of Mr Twiss at Taur, that location was

0:40:340:40:40

a considerable distance from the murder scene

0:40:400:40:43

and cannot, in my judgement,

0:40:430:40:46

have indicated presence at the point which mattered.

0:40:460:40:50

I would add too that the learned judge's directions to the jury on

0:40:510:40:57

the identification issue, so far as can be gleaned from the papers,

0:40:570:41:01

fell short of any proper examination of the issues

0:41:010:41:05

and warnings that the jury should have had in mind.

0:41:050:41:09

I am quite clearly of the opinion that the conviction of

0:41:090:41:14

Mr Twiss for murder was not properly based on evidence which could lead

0:41:140:41:20

to a safe conviction.

0:41:200:41:23

I'm grateful, counsel, for your submissions.

0:41:230:41:28

I shall rise.

0:41:280:41:30

-Thank you, Jeremy.

-Congratulations.

0:41:330:41:37

Thank you so much.

0:41:370:41:41

Well, obviously, that's fantastic news and, from my perspective,

0:41:410:41:47

I have to say this incredibly worrying case

0:41:470:41:51

is an outstanding example of how

0:41:510:41:53

dangerous the death penalty is and was.

0:41:530:41:57

The most amazing thing was, I suppose, 120 years ago John Twiss's voice

0:41:570:42:01

wasn't heard, and the people that petitioned for him weren't heard and

0:42:010:42:05

with your help, our voices were heard today.

0:42:050:42:08

That's the most overwhelming thing and

0:42:100:42:13

the verdict has blown our minds.

0:42:130:42:16

It took us a bit to get here.

0:42:160:42:18

It was worth it in the end, I think, because my mother would want us here

0:42:180:42:22

and our family wanted us here so...

0:42:220:42:25

Thank you both for all your hard work.

0:42:250:42:27

-Thank you.

-And thanks again.

0:42:270:42:29

Do you know, when you were young, you heard the stories,

0:42:300:42:33

you'd get doubts in your head sometimes -

0:42:330:42:35

"Is it just one side?"

0:42:350:42:37

But now, finally, the legal side has

0:42:370:42:39

agreed with the stories we heard growing up, so...

0:42:390:42:42

Today, it's actually got us justice

0:42:420:42:45

to say that John Twiss's judgement was unsafe.

0:42:450:42:50

That's quite a big step for us

0:42:500:42:54

and it's quite a big step for John Twiss that his voice has been heard.

0:42:540:42:58

Top criminal barristers Jeremy Dein and Sasha Wass investigate a rural case of murder in County Cork, Ireland, in 1894.

A man is dragged from his bed and beaten by two men. With serious injuries and a gunshot to his arm, he is discovered early the next morning. His neighbour calls for a priest and a doctor, but it is too late - James Donovan has been murdered. With little evidence, the police round up several known criminals from the surrounding area, and John Twiss from County Kerry, over 16 miles from the murder scene, is tried and convicted. He is hanged in February 1895, protesting his innocence.

More than 120 years later, John's relatives, Helen and Dennis, are determined to prove his innocence. Why was Twiss arrested within days of the murder, for the police to then spend months investigating the case? Was there any evidence to link him to the scene of the crime, or to the other man who was alleged to have also committed the murder? Were witnesses put under pressure to give evidence or to change their stories?

Helen and Dennis have heard the story of their ancestor's innocence told countless times, but can Jeremy and Sasha discover strong enough evidence to have this case declared unsafe by a judge?