Episode 4 Murder, Mystery and My Family


Episode 4

Criminal barristers Jeremy Dein and Sasha Wass review the historic case against John Dickman - a story of robbery, murder and potentially a fatal miscarriage of justice from 1910.


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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

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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 will attempt to clear their family name...

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I would dearly love for him to be innocent.

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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. 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

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in the light of the arguments that you both have put before me.

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Can this modern investigation rewrite history?

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In Newcastle in 1910, there occurred a case stranger than fiction,

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with all the hallmarks of an Agatha Christie mystery -

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a whodunnit murder on a train.

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On Friday the 18th of March

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a colliery cashier called John Nisbet

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boarded the 10:27 train from Newcastle Central Station.

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The 44-year-old was carrying £370 in wages

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for the workers at a local coal mine.

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A delivery he never made.

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GUNSHOTS

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Nisbet was brutally murdered for the cash he carried,

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shot in the head five times.

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His body was found stuffed beneath a carriage seat by the porter

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at Alnmouth station at the end of the line.

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When police searched the crime scene,

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they found two different calibre of bullets,

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leading officers to initially suspect two assailants,

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until several key witnesses led police to a local bookmaker

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called John Dickman,

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who was subsequently arrested, charged, and convicted of murder.

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Despite staunchly protesting his innocence,

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on the 10th of August 1910 Dickman was executed.

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The last man to be hanged at Newcastle Prison.

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I've known for nearly 40 years

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that my great-grandfather was hung for murder.

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Now, over 100 years later,

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Dickman's great-grandson, Rowan,

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wants to know if he was executed for a crime he did not commit.

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It must be an horrendous journey to the gallows.

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To know that you're going to lose your life.

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I have an open mind as to whether he did it or not.

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A former clerk turned professional gambler with a love of horse racing,

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Dickman operated as a wheeler dealer

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on the fringes of the mining industry.

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I do know he's a person that lived, I think, very much on the edge.

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But that doesn't make him a murderer, of course.

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To unearth the truth about his great-grandfather,

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Rowan will be helped by two of the country's best legal minds.

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Jeremy Dein QC is a top defence barrister,

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specialising in murder cases.

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Sasha Wass QC has put away some of the country's most dangerous

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and devious criminals.

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Before they start their investigation,

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the barristers have asked to meet with Rowan.

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Rowan, how nice to meet you. I'm Sasha.

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Examining a case that's over 100 years old...

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-Nice to meet you. I'm Jeremy.

-..will be no easy task.

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My role is to explore the truth of the case with a view to

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having the case reopened.

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Rowan, I will be looking at the evidence with a prosecution slant.

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

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far from it.

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And just so you know, I'm going to be keeping a completely open mind,

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-all right?

-Absolutely.

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-All right.

-What we have to do is, we have to find some new evidence,

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or some new argument, that hasn't previously been put before a court.

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That's not always easy.

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There is a chance of catastrophic evidence

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indicating that he is guilty. Now, are you prepared for that?

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-I believe I am.

-Good.

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I would dearly love for him to be innocent, of course.

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That's my heart.

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My head tells me that it may be a slightly more difficult process.

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Jeremy and Sasha will examine five crucial areas of the case...

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..before submitting their findings to a senior judge

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who could recommend the case for review,

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or confirm the original guilty verdict.

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But first, the barristers need to

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get to grips with the facts of the murder.

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So, Jeremy, this was the murder of John Nisbet,

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who was carrying £370,

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nine shillings and sixpence in wages when he boarded the train from

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Newcastle to Alnmouth.

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And the prosecution case was that he was killed for the money.

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Mr Nisbet was shot five times,

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and John Dickman alighted the train at Morpeth.

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Well, Sasha, there are a lot of ifs and buts.

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We definitely need to scrutinise the identification evidence.

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Very strange things went on.

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Also, two calibre of bullets were fired at John Nisbet

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and the police suspected that there were two gunmen.

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It's only once John Dickman came into the frame

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that they decided on one.

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So I certainly don't accept, at this stage,

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that this is anything like an open and shut case.

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Whilst Jeremy and Sasha delve into the evidence,

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Rowan is travelling to Newcastle

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to learn more about his great-grandfather

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and the crime for which he hanged.

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I would like to know more about two areas.

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One is around John, and indeed the evidence that was presented,

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how the case was carried out.

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But also about my family background, which I know nothing about.

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Dickman had much in common with Nisbet,

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the man he was convicted of killing.

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Both were born in Newcastle upon Tyne, close in age,

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and happily married with two children.

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They belonged to the educated lower-middle-class,

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finding employment in Newcastle's thriving commercial centre.

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They knew each other a little, too,

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as regulars on the railway that connected the growing city to the

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collieries that fuelled its prosperity.

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On the 18th of March 1910,

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both boarded the 10:27 from Newcastle to Alnmouth.

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Only one of them got off the train alive.

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Rowan wants to start by retracing the steps his great-grandfather took

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-on that fateful day.

-I've just arrived at the station, ironically,

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almost at the time John Dickman got on the train for Morpeth.

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The prosecution's case relied entirely on the testimony

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of several key witnesses. Taken together,

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their evidence puts Dickman's head in the hangman's noose.

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I'm holding here a photograph of Newcastle station, taken in 1910.

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If we look carefully we can just see

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platform five directly behind us.

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This photograph shows us exactly what it would have been like

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when John Dickman and John Nisbet walked onto the forecourt.

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On platform five, an artist called Wilson Hepple,

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who had known Dickman for 20 years, saw him with a companion,

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about to board near the front of the train.

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Just behind us is where Wilson Hepple would have seen

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both man making their way to the train.

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I'm going to now make a journey

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based on a number of witness statements,

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which I'm not so sure are as sound as they could be.

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The first stop was Heaton station,

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where John Nisbet lived with his wife, Cicely.

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She would make a habit of standing on the platform to greet her husband

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as he passed.

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It was here that Cicely Nisbet, John Nisbet's wife,

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actually saw John in the carriage.

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She is quite adamant there was one other man in there with him.

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Of course, the question is whether that was John Dickman.

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Three days after the murder,

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Dickman volunteered a statement to the police,

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explaining his movements on the day.

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Far from ruling him out as a suspect,

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the police used the information to put him in the frame.

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So, Jeremy, what John Dickman told the police was this -

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he said the reason he was on the 10:27 train from Newcastle is that

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he was going to meet someone at the Dovecot Colliery

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about a business proposition,

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and that would have involved him getting off at Stannington station.

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In his statement,

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Dickman admitted he had seen Nisbet briefly at Newcastle station,

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before buying a newspaper

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and getting in a compartment at the rear of the train.

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Mr Dickman didn't get off the train at Stannington station,

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because he was engrossed in reading the newspaper.

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At Stannington station, the deceased, John Nisbet,

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was seen alive and well.

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What we do know is that by Morpeth,

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John Nisbet was dead.

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We also know that Dickman must have alighted the train. We know that

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because he buys an excess fare ticket from a ticket inspector

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at Morpeth station.

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The ticket collector at Morpeth

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recalled a man paying an excess fare.

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Dickman admitted that man was him and, having missed his stop,

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he decided to walk back to his meeting at the Dovecot mine.

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And that's where his account becomes rather strange.

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He told police he decided to walk down this road here,

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but was taken ill where the X is marked on the map.

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Feeling ill, Dickman darted into a field to relieve himself.

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In John's statement, he maintains

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that he rested up for close to an hour,

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and realising that he couldn't

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really go any further, made his way back to Morpeth.

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When he got back to Morpeth, he met two people he knew,

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Elliott and Sanderson,

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and they can corroborate the time that he got back there.

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Elliott and Sanderson confirmed that shortly after 1:30pm

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they had a brief conversation with Dickman,

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who seemed to them of perfectly normal demeanour.

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Despite this alibi,

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almost two hours had passed since Dickman got off the train,

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much of which was unaccounted for.

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In terms of John's alibi,

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I do recognise it as a weak point in the story.

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I want to believe that he was ill, and that indeed he had to rest up.

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But also, I can understand there's no-one to corroborate that.

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This part of his evidence still has that question mark above it.

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So there's this period where nobody really knows what he's doing...

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Sasha is reviewing evidence that could account for the hole

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in Dickman's alibi, but does it prove Dickman was the killer?

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What the prosecution said at trial is that what Mr Dickman was in fact

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doing was not walking down to Clifton,

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but was walking towards Hepscott, here, where in a disused mineshaft,

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in June - so several months later -

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was found the bag which contained the money

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which was the subject of the robbery of John Nisbet on the train.

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Nisbet's moneybag was found three months after the murder

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at the bottom of a disused mineshaft

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less than a mile and a half from Morpeth. At the time,

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the prosecution used this discovery

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to suggest Dickman was not lying ill in a field,

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but was in fact disposing of the stolen money bag.

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But Jeremy has found a problem with this evidence.

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We need to keep in mind

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that John Dickman was in custody from the 21st of March

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and the 9th of June, when it was found.

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The mine had been searched on the 17th of March,

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the day before the incident, the 29th of April, and the 18th of May.

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And, in fact, the bag wasn't found there until the 9th of June.

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The reality is,

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there's not a shred of evidence that John Dickman dumped that bag.

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A more likely course of events

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is that someone else killed John Nisbet.

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So Jeremy believes the moneybag discovery indicates that the police

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should have been looking for other suspects.

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This is a reconstruction

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of the 10:27 train from Newcastle to Alnmouth.

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The engine was at this end,

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and this entire mapped out area

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is the first carriage.

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The barristers now want to turn their attention to the evidence

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given by the key witnesses that put Dickman in the frame.

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Does their testimony prove that Dickman was the killer?

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The first important thing is at Newcastle

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a witness called Bruce gets onto this first compartment

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nearest the engine, and he's with another man,

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whose identity is not important for the purposes of this case.

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On the second compartment, nearest the engine,

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two other witnesses who gave evidence, Mr Hall and Mr Spink,

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they get on there.

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Now, a witness at Newcastle station,

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called Wilson Hepple, saw John Dickman

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in the company of another man.

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One of the two put his hand on the door of one of the compartments.

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So for the sake of what I'm going to explain to you,

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Mr Dickman gets onto the train with the other man.

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As the train arrives at Heaton station, Nisbet's wife, Cicely,

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was on the platform to greet him.

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He leans out of the window and he waves at her.

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But Cicely also sees another man in that compartment, wearing a coat,

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wearing a hat with the collar pulled up,

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and that man is actually sitting facing the engine,

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so he's facing this way.

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The train pulls off from Heaton,

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and the next station of importance is Stannington.

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Now, at Stannington, Mr Hall

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and Mr Spink get off the train.

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Mr Hall knows Mr Nisbet

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and they acknowledge each other.

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Mr Bruce, in the first compartment,

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witnesses Hall nodding before the train pulls away.

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The train then stops at Morpeth,

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where the next key witness is waiting to board.

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Mr Grant walks past this first carriage

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of third-class compartments,

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and he particularly noticed that there was nobody,

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or he believed that there was nobody in this carriage,

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which suggests that Mr Dickman must have got off the train -

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and, remember, Mr Dickman DID get off the train at Morpeth -

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and that Mr Nisbet was lying on the ground,

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which is why he wasn't visible at window height.

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Crucially, the witness, Grant, the big question in his case is,

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how did John Dickman leave the carriage,

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leaving John Nisbet on the floor behind him,

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if Grant didn't see anyone exit the carriage?

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Because he doesn't claim that he did, so how did John Dickman get out

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of that carriage if his evidence is correct?

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Could the killer have got off the train a different way?

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Rowan has come to Tanfield Heritage Railway, near Newcastle.

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He's hoping that travelling back to his great-grandfather's era..

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WHISTLE TOOTS

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..with historian Alan Thompson can shed some light on the incident.

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So this is exactly the same type of carriage that my grandfather,

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-John Dickman, and John Nisbet...

-Yes.

-..would have travelled in?

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Presumably, you'd have to hold your luggage on your lap?

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Your lap or you could put it under the seat.

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But I think wages, he would have his hands on it all the time.

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You wouldn't dare let it go.

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No. John Nisbet was shot five times.

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It makes you wonder whether anybody else would have actually heard it.

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We're close to the engine, so you'd have the noise of the engine,

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the rear joints, bong-bong, bong-bong,

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you're getting that all the time.

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-You've got solid walls.

-Yes.

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And you're getting the vibration that can be quite noisy.

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Could the noises of the train, masking the gunshots,

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explain why nobody reported the crime?

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I've noticed the carriages don't have a corridor -

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was that common on these trains?

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Yes, corridors, as such, came in much later,

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probably after the First World War.

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-So you were stuck in here between stations?

-Yes.

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The design of the train allowed no way to enter or exit the compartment

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between stations. It was unlikely anyone could have jumped off,

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as they would leave the door flapping open,

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almost certainly alerting the guard.

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So, it remains a mystery

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as to how the killer could have got away unnoticed.

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In London, the barristers are trying to solve another dilemma.

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Did Dickman have a genuine motive for murder?

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Jeremy, this was a murder committed during the course of a robbery.

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And we know that £270, nine shillings and sixpence went missing.

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There's also evidence that John Dickman was short of money

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in the year leading up to this murder.

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At the trial, the prosecution tried to prove that Dickman was in urgent

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need of money, presenting evidence that he had taken out two loans

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for £20, and his bank accounts were empty.

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There was some evidence that John Dickman had money troubles,

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-of a sort.

-Yeah, but, Sasha...

-Do you agree with that?

-Well...

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I'm not sure I'd agree he had many problems.

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He seems to have needed to borrow money on more than one occasion.

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However, the reason why his accounts had little money in

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is because he was a bookie

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and he used cash in connection with that work.

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So just because the prosecution swooped on that

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and labelled those money lending scenarios as motive

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doesn't mean that John Dickman turned his hand to gruesome killing.

0:19:510:19:56

So I'm afraid I just don't see that there was a respectable motive

0:19:560:20:00

put before the jury.

0:20:000:20:02

So Jeremy is not convinced Dickman had a clear motive,

0:20:020:20:06

and has raised doubts about the prosecution's circumstantial case.

0:20:060:20:10

We've now looked at various issues in this case.

0:20:100:20:14

Do you accept that there was no direct evidence against John Dickman

0:20:140:20:19

and that there are, you know,

0:20:190:20:22

a significant number of difficult questions

0:20:220:20:25

for the prosecution to answer?

0:20:250:20:27

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

0:20:270:20:31

against John Dickman. However,

0:20:310:20:34

I am concerned about the ammunition in the case.

0:20:340:20:38

Two different sorts of ammunition.

0:20:380:20:40

And I would find it helpful to speak to a ballistics expert.

0:20:400:20:44

The murder weapon was never found, but two different calibre of bullet

0:20:480:20:52

were retrieved from the victim's body.

0:20:520:20:54

So what does this tell us about the crime?

0:20:540:20:57

-Hi, Innes, how are you?

-Innes Knight is a gunsmith

0:20:570:21:00

with an expert knowledge of historical firearms.

0:21:000:21:03

The gun we think was used

0:21:030:21:07

was a .32 revolver.

0:21:070:21:09

Our reasons for thinking this is

0:21:090:21:12

there is no physical way that a .32 round

0:21:120:21:17

would be able to be fired from a .25 pistol.

0:21:170:21:20

It is physically impossible.

0:21:200:21:22

It is, however, possible for a .25 bullet, with enough ingenuity,

0:21:220:21:27

to be fired from a .32 revolver.

0:21:270:21:30

Can you actually load that bullet in that gun?

0:21:300:21:34

-You would need a little bit of ingenuity.

-Right.

0:21:340:21:37

So this is a fairly typical .32 revolver.

0:21:370:21:41

Now, if I take .25,

0:21:410:21:45

it will drop clean through.

0:21:450:21:47

And so it requires to be adapted before it can be shot from?

0:21:470:21:51

I have done some experiments,

0:21:510:21:53

and by wrapping the bullet in paper or tape,

0:21:530:21:57

or leather, I can make the .32 fire both calibres.

0:21:570:22:03

Nisbet was shot five times...

0:22:030:22:06

GUNSHOTS

0:22:060:22:07

..but three of the shots using the .25 bullet

0:22:070:22:10

caused only superficial wounds.

0:22:100:22:13

The fact that that .25 came out at low enough velocity

0:22:130:22:18

not to penetrate the skull

0:22:180:22:20

-means that it was not fired in its correct barrel.

-Yeah.

0:22:200:22:24

If I fired that in the large barrel,

0:22:240:22:26

that bullet would come out at a much lower velocity.

0:22:260:22:29

And so one gunman with one gun, firing both calibre of bullets?

0:22:290:22:35

With the evidence I've been presented,

0:22:350:22:37

it is most likely one gun. It was probably by luck that those rounds

0:22:370:22:41

went off, rather than judgment. But it is possible.

0:22:410:22:45

So what might happen is that if someone was to wrap a bullet

0:22:450:22:48

in the way you've said, it's conceivable that, in fact,

0:22:480:22:51

-the bullet wouldn't fire?

-Yes, it is.

-Pot luck.

-Yeah.

0:22:510:22:56

So, the gunsmith favours one gunman.

0:22:570:23:00

A theory that the prosecution successfully pursued in 1910.

0:23:000:23:05

Rowan wants to know what the public made of the evidence,

0:23:090:23:12

reported in its entirety by the local press

0:23:120:23:15

in the lead-up to the trial.

0:23:150:23:17

He's come to Newcastle Library to search the archives.

0:23:190:23:22

I found the actual article at the start of the trial.

0:23:260:23:30

It's actually taking us through the different eyewitnesses.

0:23:300:23:33

What it does say - it was quite a sensational trial.

0:23:330:23:37

The trial of John Dickman opened on the 4th of July 1910,

0:23:370:23:41

at Moot Hall in Newcastle,

0:23:410:23:43

where a vast crowd packed the area outside.

0:23:430:23:46

It was a well publicised trial.

0:23:470:23:49

The public had become largely involved.

0:23:490:23:51

The papers were very much involved.

0:23:510:23:53

A lot of people, their minds may have already been made up.

0:23:530:23:56

Could it have been a fair trial?

0:23:560:23:57

Dickman would face the jury

0:23:580:24:00

in the home town of the man he was accused of killing

0:24:000:24:03

and where public opinion was strongly set against him.

0:24:030:24:06

Looking at this, and seeing that the case was quite biased

0:24:060:24:09

in the news respects, it makes me angry, to say the least.

0:24:090:24:13

I think if I was reading these articles at the time,

0:24:140:24:17

I would probably believe that he was guilty.

0:24:170:24:19

Jeremy has his own concerns about the case

0:24:220:24:25

so, he's asked Home Office Pathologist Stuart Hamilton

0:24:250:24:28

to look at the crime scene evidence.

0:24:280:24:30

Stuart, you're going to take us through the various scenarios

0:24:300:24:34

as to how John Nisbet might have been killed.

0:24:340:24:37

Tell us about the scenes here.

0:24:370:24:39

So, what we have here is a perfect reproduction of the carriage

0:24:390:24:44

that Mr Nisbet was sat in.

0:24:440:24:45

The evidence is that he was shot five times.

0:24:480:24:52

We have two different types of bullet.

0:24:520:24:55

I can only conclude, if it is one shooter,

0:24:550:24:58

that there is a shot with the lead,

0:24:580:25:01

that comes across the face,

0:25:010:25:04

and stuns Mr Nisbet.

0:25:040:25:06

He then goes to the ground,

0:25:060:25:08

there are then more discharges to the back of the head,

0:25:080:25:12

and there is the lethal shot to the brainstem.

0:25:120:25:16

The evidence that was given in the trial

0:25:160:25:19

was that the bullet wound to this forehead

0:25:190:25:23

was fired while Mr Nisbet was prostrate.

0:25:230:25:26

You can see, from the dimensions of this carriage,

0:25:260:25:30

to actually get into a position, somehow,

0:25:300:25:34

where that could be fired seems incredibly difficult

0:25:340:25:38

and somewhat unlikely to me.

0:25:380:25:40

There just isn't room here to do it.

0:25:400:25:44

The second scenario is that we have two assailants.

0:25:440:25:48

Two men, two guns.

0:25:480:25:50

One man gets up, first shot is discharged into his head.

0:25:510:25:55

He then goes to the ground.

0:25:550:25:57

The man with the nickel-plated bullets fires twice,

0:25:580:26:03

the other assailant shoots twice.

0:26:030:26:06

One of those shots hits his brainstem.

0:26:060:26:09

Mr Nisbet is doing nothing, ever again.

0:26:090:26:13

In the end, which of those scenarios do you believe

0:26:130:26:16

is the most likely context in which John Nisbet was killed?

0:26:160:26:21

I think two people in control of a firearm

0:26:210:26:24

makes far more sense than one person with two.

0:26:240:26:28

And I think the likelihood of it being one weapon

0:26:280:26:31

-seems considerably less likely.

-GUNSHOTS

0:26:310:26:35

So, the pathology evidence points to two gunmen,

0:26:350:26:38

contradicting the opinion of the gunsmith.

0:26:380:26:41

We're still left with different ammunition in one gun,

0:26:420:26:46

or the two-gunmen theory.

0:26:460:26:48

And given what the ballistics expert has said,

0:26:480:26:51

I'm in favour of one gun, one gunman.

0:26:510:26:54

Stuart Hamilton favours two gunmen.

0:26:540:26:58

If correct, then, there is a fundamental question mark

0:26:580:27:02

over whether John Dickman was rightly convicted.

0:27:020:27:05

Rowan has spent hours searching the archive for newspaper articles

0:27:080:27:11

about the case.

0:27:110:27:14

Much to his surprise, he's found a collection of personal accounts

0:27:140:27:17

written by John Dickman's wife, Annie.

0:27:170:27:20

It's the first time I've seen an article from my great-grandmother.

0:27:210:27:26

Funnily enough, it sent shivers up my spine

0:27:260:27:29

when I actually saw her signature at the bottom of the page.

0:27:290:27:33

Annie defended her husband right up until his execution,

0:27:330:27:37

allowing a number of personal letters written by Dickman

0:27:370:27:40

from his cell to be published.

0:27:400:27:42

And this one makes me a little bit angry -

0:27:430:27:46

"Dickman's last letters,

0:27:460:27:47

"pathetic references to his wife and children."

0:27:470:27:50

I'm angry because the letters are far from pathetic.

0:27:520:27:56

When you read them it's about a man coming to terms with his death,

0:27:560:28:01

and what will become of his family.

0:28:010:28:03

"The last letter from a condemned man to his wife

0:28:050:28:07

"was received by Mrs Dickman on Monday.

0:28:070:28:10

"In it, her husband wrote...

0:28:100:28:12

" 'There is something still keeps telling me

0:28:130:28:15

" 'that everything will be made clear some day,

0:28:150:28:18

" 'when it is too late to benefit me.

0:28:180:28:21

" 'I can only repeat that I am innocent.' "

0:28:210:28:23

There is a man here that seemed to have loved his family

0:28:250:28:28

and right to his last letter, he's saying,

0:28:280:28:30

maybe one day his innocence will be found.

0:28:300:28:34

When I see that, I do hope that at the end of it...

0:28:360:28:40

..there will be enough answers for us to be able to say

0:28:420:28:45

he was innocent.

0:28:450:28:48

Maybe that day's close at hand, I would hope. Yeah.

0:28:530:28:57

HE TAKES A DEEP BREATH

0:28:570:28:59

Despite being handed a death sentence,

0:29:090:29:11

Dickman still had one last hope of proving he was wrongly convicted.

0:29:110:29:15

On the 22nd of July, 1910,

0:29:160:29:18

his case was to be heard by the Court of Appeal.

0:29:180:29:22

Earlier that month, the Home Office

0:29:220:29:24

had received disturbing news of serious police malpractice,

0:29:240:29:28

relating to an identity parade involving two key witnesses,

0:29:280:29:32

Spink and Hall.

0:29:320:29:34

Hall, when taken to the police station for the purposes

0:29:340:29:37

of seeing if he could identify Dickman,

0:29:370:29:40

"was first invited by somebody,

0:29:400:29:43

"possibly on behalf of the police, to look through a window,

0:29:430:29:48

"and on doing so, sitting alone,

0:29:480:29:50

"the person

0:29:500:29:52

"who was afterwards convicted was there."

0:29:520:29:56

I personally find it staggering

0:29:560:29:59

that John Dickman was convicted, in part,

0:29:590:30:03

on the identification evidence of somebody

0:30:030:30:07

who had been asked to have a look at him sitting on a chair,

0:30:070:30:10

in isolation, before the parade.

0:30:100:30:12

That evidence, in modern times, would never have gone before a jury.

0:30:120:30:16

Jeremy is still hoping to find a new legal angle

0:30:160:30:19

on which to argue that the conviction was unsafe.

0:30:190:30:22

How did it come about, that Hall

0:30:230:30:26

was shown John Dickman sitting on a...

0:30:260:30:29

No, let me finish, you dismiss this type of...

0:30:290:30:32

-No, I don't!

-Hang on, let me finish. You dismiss this kind of conduct,

0:30:320:30:35

as if this is a matter of pure irrelevance,

0:30:350:30:38

but if, in fact, the police were prepared

0:30:380:30:42

to put John Dickman on display,

0:30:420:30:45

how do we know that there weren't more shenanigans going on?

0:30:450:30:48

Why do we assume that the only piece of misconduct

0:30:480:30:50

was the one that was discovered?

0:30:500:30:52

We don't know what went on.

0:30:520:30:54

This is 1910,

0:30:540:30:56

and I am not as comfortable with mere assertion by these witnesses

0:30:560:31:00

-as you appear to be.

-Can I just clarify the matter, Jeremy?

0:31:000:31:03

I'm not comfortable with what happened

0:31:030:31:05

in terms of the identification procedure.

0:31:050:31:08

It was completely improper conduct.

0:31:080:31:11

It doesn't alter the conclusion of the Lord Chief Justice

0:31:110:31:15

that he would not have hesitated

0:31:150:31:18

to quash this conviction had Hall been the only witness.

0:31:180:31:22

We both agree that he's a tainted witness.

0:31:220:31:26

The Lord Chief Justice has made it plain

0:31:260:31:28

that there was a wealth of other evidence putting John Dickman...

0:31:280:31:31

-What...

-..and John Nisbet...

-We could go on forever.

0:31:310:31:34

-..in the same train compartment.

-We could go on forever, Sasha,

0:31:340:31:37

but we can't get beyond what's here in black and white before us,

0:31:370:31:40

-that's the problem...

-That is the problem.

0:31:400:31:42

And I see it, and I read it rather more sceptically than you do.

0:31:420:31:46

That's not a criticism of you, I just do.

0:31:460:31:49

With time running out on the barristers' investigation,

0:31:530:31:56

Rowan has gone to Newcastle Cathedral for a momentous meeting.

0:31:560:32:00

80 years ago, John Dickman's

0:32:010:32:03

son Henry, Rowan's grandfather,

0:32:030:32:05

abandoned his wife and son

0:32:050:32:07

to start a new family across town.

0:32:070:32:10

They are my relatives,

0:32:100:32:11

they're my blood relatives.

0:32:110:32:13

And I think I would be remiss in not trying to contact them.

0:32:130:32:17

Waiting to greet Rowan is his half-uncle John and cousin Beezy,

0:32:170:32:21

relatives from a side of the family he's never met.

0:32:210:32:24

I'm feeling very nervous, actually.

0:32:240:32:26

I think it's probably more nervous than anything else I've done.

0:32:260:32:30

-Hello!

-John?

0:32:300:32:32

-How are you, fella?

-Pleased to meet you.

-And you.

0:32:320:32:36

-Lovely to meet you.

-This is Beezy.

-Hello.

0:32:360:32:39

Rowan, yeah. A bit nervous...

0:32:390:32:41

-So am I.

-..and a bit emotional.

-So am I. Don't worry about it.

0:32:410:32:44

I wish my mum could be here and my Auntie Pat.

0:32:440:32:46

-Yeah, yeah.

-I know I've been very remiss.

0:32:460:32:49

I kind of tucked it on the back burner...

0:32:490:32:51

-Me, too.

-..and Dad was always so, sort of angry and unhappy.

0:32:510:32:56

-Yeah, he would write to me.

-He would never talk about it.

0:32:560:32:59

-Shall we sit down, guys?

-Please...

0:32:590:33:02

They have 100 years of broken family history to discuss,

0:33:020:33:05

starting with the marriage of John Dickman to Annie,

0:33:050:33:09

right here in Newcastle Cathedral.

0:33:090:33:11

Here we are in that same building

0:33:110:33:13

where they began their marriage and their life.

0:33:130:33:16

Hopefully, come round full circle.

0:33:160:33:19

-Yes.

-Full circle, which is, actually, yeah...

0:33:190:33:21

That, finally, the family can get back together.

0:33:210:33:24

Yes, yes, hopefully.

0:33:240:33:27

Whilst the Dickman family become acquainted,

0:33:270:33:29

Jeremy is still searching for the new evidence he needs

0:33:290:33:32

to argue before the judge that the case should be reviewed.

0:33:320:33:36

He's hoping crime writer John Eddleston can help.

0:33:380:33:42

So, John, tell us about how you developed an interest

0:33:430:33:46

in the case of John Dickman,

0:33:460:33:48

and how you've really become an expert on the case.

0:33:480:33:51

Well, my wife and I researched every single execution

0:33:510:33:54

in the 20th century. This case, in particular, was very contentious

0:33:540:33:58

and having spent three or four years looking at it,

0:33:580:34:01

I've come up with a completely different scenario,

0:34:010:34:04

which means that John Alexander Dickman

0:34:040:34:06

-was almost certainly innocent of the crime.

-Right.

0:34:060:34:10

We know the train left at 10.27 from Newcastle Central.

0:34:120:34:16

Now, we do know that Nesbit travelled in that compartment.

0:34:160:34:19

That's absolutely certain, cos that's where his body was found.

0:34:190:34:22

We know, from the evidence of his wife,

0:34:220:34:24

there was a companion sitting directly opposite to him.

0:34:240:34:27

The only other person we're certain of is Andrew Bruce,

0:34:310:34:34

and Bruce is sitting right in this corner.

0:34:340:34:37

Hall was in that particular carriage.

0:34:370:34:40

We know that, at Newcastle, on his own evidence,

0:34:410:34:44

Hall was looking out of the window

0:34:440:34:46

at the platform to see who was coming down.

0:34:460:34:48

He was also looking out of the window at Heaton.

0:34:480:34:51

A curious thing to do for someone who'd made the same journey

0:34:510:34:54

many times over the years, with Spink.

0:34:540:34:58

We are led to believe that in the same carriage, is Spink.

0:34:580:35:01

-but for the time being, can we leave him out?

-Yeah.

0:35:010:35:04

My scenario is this.

0:35:040:35:07

Hall was indeed looking out of the window,

0:35:070:35:10

but not to see who was coming,

0:35:100:35:12

to make sure that no-one else came into that compartment.

0:35:120:35:16

The unknown companion with Nesbit,

0:35:160:35:18

is not an unknown companion, it's John Williams Spink.

0:35:180:35:22

In this scenario,

0:35:220:35:24

the mystery man witnessed in the compartment with Nesbit

0:35:240:35:28

was not Dickman, it was Spink.

0:35:280:35:30

One of the key witnesses and the companion of Hall.

0:35:300:35:34

Waiting inconspicuously for his partner in crime to join him.

0:35:340:35:39

When they reached the station before Stannington, which is Plessey,

0:35:390:35:43

Hall gets out, and gets into this carriage.

0:35:430:35:46

There are now three people in that carriage.

0:35:460:35:48

He was about to shake hands with Hall,

0:35:480:35:50

when Hall and Spink both opened fire.

0:35:500:35:53

This is now an empty carriage.

0:35:530:35:55

When the train arrives at Stannington,

0:35:550:35:58

they both get out through the door,

0:35:580:36:00

and stand about here,

0:36:000:36:02

between the two carriages.

0:36:020:36:04

So, Nesbit's dead before we get to Stannington?

0:36:040:36:07

Nesbitt's dead between Plessey and Stannington.

0:36:070:36:10

The body's under the seat, Hall and Spink are on the platform,

0:36:100:36:13

the train pulls out,

0:36:130:36:14

and Bruce sees them nod to an empty carriage.

0:36:140:36:17

-To a dead man.

-To a dead man.

0:36:170:36:19

When the train arrives at Morpeth,

0:36:190:36:21

John Grant is waiting here where the engine is.

0:36:210:36:25

He wants to find a smoking compartment.

0:36:250:36:28

As he walks along, he sees that compartment is occupied.

0:36:280:36:32

He walks past, that's a non-smoker, that's no use to him.

0:36:320:36:35

And when he walks past the carriage were Nesbit's body is now lying,

0:36:350:36:39

he sees and swears that it is empty.

0:36:390:36:42

If Dickman is the killer,

0:36:420:36:44

he would've seen Dickman get off the train at Morpeth.

0:36:440:36:47

Dickman did indeed get off the train at Morpeth,

0:36:470:36:50

he paid an excess fare, but he got out from way back down there.

0:36:500:36:54

If that case is true,

0:36:540:36:55

Hall and Spink are the killers.

0:36:550:36:58

Could this be the breakthrough that Jeremy needs?

0:37:020:37:05

Is it enough to convince a judge that John Dickman

0:37:050:37:08

was innocent all along?

0:37:080:37:10

It seems to me that his hypothesis works.

0:37:120:37:15

The most obvious scenario here is two gunmen.

0:37:150:37:19

The case against Hall and Spinks

0:37:190:37:21

is equally strong as it was against John Dickman.

0:37:210:37:24

The difference between them is that John Dickman was hanged

0:37:240:37:28

and Hall and Spinks weren't.

0:37:280:37:30

The hypothesis put forward by John Eddleston

0:37:300:37:33

was fascinating and ingenious.

0:37:330:37:36

But it really was based on two premises.

0:37:360:37:40

Firstly, that the witness, Grant, who was at Morpeth,

0:37:400:37:43

categorically did not see anyone getting off the carriage at Morpeth.

0:37:430:37:49

I'm not sure that is Mr Grant's evidence.

0:37:490:37:53

Rather, he didn't see someone, didn't particularly notice someone.

0:37:530:37:57

And the second premise is that

0:37:570:37:59

there were necessarily two guns involved in this murder.

0:37:590:38:03

And again, I'm not sure that is the evidence

0:38:030:38:05

from the firearms expert in this case.

0:38:050:38:09

I'm afraid his contribution

0:38:090:38:12

has not caused me to believe

0:38:120:38:14

that this was a miscarriage of justice.

0:38:140:38:17

For decades, the Dickmans have coped with secrets and hurt

0:38:200:38:24

as a result of their family history.

0:38:240:38:27

Finally, two factions of the family have come together

0:38:270:38:30

to share their past

0:38:300:38:33

and Rowan and John have unfinished business in Newcastle.

0:38:330:38:36

-So we're here.

-Maybe if we cut just up here,

0:38:360:38:40

that will take us up to the corner.

0:38:400:38:42

-Yeah?

-That would do, yes, yes. Try that, shall we?

-Yeah, sure.

0:38:420:38:45

They've come to Jesmond Cemetery

0:38:450:38:47

to search for John Dickman's unmarked grave.

0:38:470:38:50

-There's an open patch just here.

-Yes, that's right.

0:38:520:38:55

Maybe if he's looking on,

0:38:550:38:57

maybe we can just say to him, "Well, we tried."

0:38:570:38:59

This is the best we can do for you.

0:38:590:39:02

-And not forgotten.

-Not forgotten.

0:39:020:39:04

Hopefully, in time, we can clear his name.

0:39:040:39:06

It's those last few words, isn't it? Perhaps one day...

0:39:060:39:09

The truth will come out.

0:39:090:39:11

Well, maybe we will do that.

0:39:110:39:13

Well, hopefully, we will and I'm glad that we actually met up.

0:39:130:39:17

-I know that I've got an extended family.

-It's great, isn't it?

-Yeah.

0:39:170:39:20

And in one sense, that's brought us together, hasn't it?

0:39:200:39:23

-Yeah, it has, really, yeah.

-Yeah.

0:39:230:39:25

Hey, John.

0:39:250:39:27

-And you, mate.

-Come here.

-Yeah.

0:39:270:39:29

Well, hopefully he's looking on.

0:39:310:39:33

Yeah, I hope he is. I really do.

0:39:330:39:36

Judgment day has finally arrived for Rowan.

0:39:450:39:48

He's returned to London and will soon find out if the barristers

0:39:480:39:51

have uncovered the evidence they need.

0:39:510:39:53

I really am hopeful that some of the evidence there is strong enough

0:39:530:39:56

to convince the judge that we can relook at this case,

0:39:560:40:00

because I truly believe that should happen.

0:40:000:40:02

Jeremy and Sasha have spent days scrutinising the facts,

0:40:020:40:06

and considering their legal arguments.

0:40:060:40:09

Hello, Sasha, lovely to see you.

0:40:090:40:11

-Hi, Rowan.

-Nice to see you again.

0:40:110:40:12

-How are you?

-I'm fine, thank you.

0:40:120:40:14

-Looking forward to today, yeah.

-Right.

-A little bit nervous.

0:40:140:40:17

-Do you want to say anything at this stage?

-No, I think, the best thing

0:40:170:40:20

is if we update you when we're all sitting round

0:40:200:40:23

with our papers open on the table in front of us.

0:40:230:40:25

So, shall we go on through?

0:40:250:40:27

-I am looking forward to it.

-All right. OK.

-Thank you.

0:40:270:40:29

For Rowan, this could be the start of the legal process

0:40:300:40:34

to exonerate his great-grandfather.

0:40:340:40:36

Or it could be the end of any hope

0:40:360:40:38

that the conviction can be overturned.

0:40:380:40:41

-Come and sit down.

-Thank you.

0:40:430:40:46

What I want to do now is really update you on what's been happening.

0:40:460:40:51

Rowan, you can see that there isn't a judge here.

0:40:510:40:54

a judge won't be coming to this room today

0:40:540:40:56

and what I'm going to do is explain why not.

0:40:560:40:59

We have explored as many as the features of this case as we can,

0:40:590:41:05

but it seems to me

0:41:050:41:07

that there is no real basis

0:41:070:41:10

for saying that this was a miscarriage of justice.

0:41:100:41:14

So, I am sorry to be the bearer of such bad news.

0:41:140:41:19

The burden lay with me to identify new material.

0:41:190:41:25

I have significant concerns about the safety of this conviction,

0:41:250:41:30

but try though we have,

0:41:300:41:34

no new material has emerged

0:41:340:41:36

sufficient to argue before a judge

0:41:360:41:39

that the conviction is unsafe,

0:41:390:41:41

which means that we simply cannot progress the case before a judge.

0:41:410:41:45

I'm desperately sorry

0:41:460:41:47

that we haven't been able to take it forward.

0:41:470:41:50

I think there are issues, without a doubt, that I think make it unsafe.

0:41:500:41:54

I do think there are issues about the testimonies that were given,

0:41:540:41:58

I am concerned that the identification parade

0:41:580:42:01

wasn't as as professionally carried out as possible...

0:42:010:42:04

-Absolutely.

-Yeah, absolutely.

-I have, for the last 50 years,

0:42:040:42:08

accepted that my great-grandfather may well have been guilty to a point

0:42:080:42:12

where I have very strong doubts now.

0:42:120:42:14

But I appreciate that doubts isn't enough to take any form of appeal.

0:42:140:42:20

But, yeah, a bit more emotional than I thought I would be.

0:42:200:42:23

We just want to wish you the very best of luck

0:42:230:42:27

in taking this forward in the future,

0:42:270:42:30

which having met you, we are confident you will.

0:42:300:42:33

Oh, certainly. And, I must say, we will.

0:42:330:42:36

I'm pretty sure I can speak for the family.

0:42:360:42:39

I feel very disappointed and far more emotional than I thought

0:42:410:42:45

-I ever would do.

-All right.

0:42:450:42:47

However, through my journey,

0:42:470:42:50

I've gained a family

0:42:500:42:51

and I'm getting to know them.

0:42:510:42:55

And we are of one mind that we're going to follow this further.

0:42:550:42:59

Apart from the disappointment, I've gained so much from this.

0:42:590:43:03

The case of John Dickman, who in 1910 became the last man to be hanged in Newcastle Prison, is re-examined by criminal barristers Jeremy Dein and Sasha Wass. They reveal a story of robbery, murder and a potential miscarriage of justice.

On Friday 18 March 1910, 44-year-old John Nisbet boarded a 10.27am train from Newcastle Central Station. By the time the train reached the end of the line, he was dead. He had been shot five times, his bag, containing £370 in cash, had been stolen, and his body had been stuffed beneath the carriage seats. Local bookmaker John Dickman was convicted of his murder and sentenced to death, but he always protested his innocence.

Now, over 100 years later, his great-grandson Rowan is on a mission to find out the truth. Rowan enlists the help of Sasha and Jeremy, who retrace the steps that John Dickman took on that fateful day, and they work together get to the bottom of this notorious case. Was John Dickman really responsible for this brutal crime? Or was he the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice? And will the team find enough new evidence to present the case to a Crown Court judge?


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