Episode 5 Murder, Mystery and My Family


Episode 5

Jeremy Dein and Sasha Wass re-examine a story of love, infidelity and murder - the case of Edith Thompson, sentenced to hang following the death of her husband in 1922.


Similar Content

Browse content similar to Episode 5. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!

Transcript


LineFromTo

The British justice system is the envy of the world.

0:00:020:00:05

But in the past, mistakes have been made.

0:00:050:00:08

Between the year 1900 and the year 1964,

0:00:080:00:11

approximately 800 people were hanged in the United Kingdom.

0:00:110:00:14

Many of those desperately protested their innocence.

0:00:160:00:19

Some of these long-standing convictions could be a

0:00:190:00:22

miscarriage of justice.

0:00:220:00:24

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

0:00:240:00:27

once she's already bleeding.

0:00:270:00:29

In this series, a living relative will attempt to clear

0:00:290:00:31

their family name.

0:00:310:00:33

It's the justice. It would be great to prove that they were wrong.

0:00:330:00:36

Searching for new evidence...

0:00:370:00:39

I can make the 32 fire both calibres.

0:00:390:00:42

GUNSHOT

0:00:420:00:45

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

0:00:450:00:48

one for the defence...

0:00:480:00:50

This is a very worrying case.

0:00:500:00:52

I think the evidence is very suspect.

0:00:520:00:55

..and one for the prosecution.

0:00:550:00:57

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

0:00:570:01:01

committed during the course of a robbery.

0:01:010:01:04

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

0:01:040:01:06

..submitting their findings to a Crown Court judge.

0:01:080:01:10

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

0:01:100:01:15

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

0:01:150:01:19

both have put before me.

0:01:190:01:21

Can this modern investigation...

0:01:210:01:23

GUNSHOT

0:01:230:01:24

..rewrite history?

0:01:240:01:25

Essex, 1922.

0:01:320:01:34

Percy Thompson is stabbed only yards from his house.

0:01:360:01:39

His wife makes a shocking revelation -

0:01:400:01:42

she knows the murderer.

0:01:420:01:44

It's her boyfriend, Frederick Bywaters.

0:01:440:01:47

Accused of conspiring to murder Percy,

0:01:510:01:53

Edith is tried alongside Freddie.

0:01:530:01:55

Shocked, Edith proclaims her innocence.

0:01:570:02:01

Both are found guilty...

0:02:010:02:02

..and hanged.

0:02:030:02:05

But should Edith have been executed?

0:02:050:02:07

This is a picture of her.

0:02:130:02:14

And this is actually her husband, Percy.

0:02:160:02:18

And this is Freddie, who she had an affair with.

0:02:180:02:21

Now, 95 years later, Edith's relative has discovered

0:02:220:02:26

this family secret.

0:02:260:02:28

I'm Nicola Toy and my grandfather was Edith's cousin.

0:02:280:02:35

He was a very private man.

0:02:350:02:37

He hated scandal.

0:02:370:02:39

And therefore, he didn't discuss it.

0:02:390:02:41

So, no, we didn't know anything about it.

0:02:410:02:44

Edith, I think she was a modern woman.

0:02:440:02:46

She wasn't the dull housewife. She was a working woman, a career woman.

0:02:460:02:53

She was quite special, quite unique, in the 1920s.

0:02:530:02:57

And I think that she might well have been innocent.

0:02:570:03:00

Edith lived and worked in a rapidly changing post-war London.

0:03:020:03:06

It was the Roaring '20s

0:03:060:03:08

and she was keen to escape the shackles of Victorian attitudes.

0:03:080:03:11

Nicky is making her way across London to meet the barristers who

0:03:130:03:16

will be reinvestigating the case.

0:03:160:03:18

Proving my cousin Edith is innocent

0:03:190:03:22

would be absolutely fantastic.

0:03:220:03:25

I'm hoping that the barristers will talk me through the trial

0:03:250:03:29

and explain a lot of things that perhaps I don't understand

0:03:290:03:33

and really confirm what I feel, that she's not guilty.

0:03:330:03:37

I just want to get things right and see if we can find some justice.

0:03:370:03:41

Edith protested her innocence,

0:03:430:03:45

but the jury were convinced that she had planned her husband's murder.

0:03:450:03:49

Can a modern-day legal team uncover the truth?

0:03:490:03:52

Sasha Wass QC has over 30 years' experience of the criminal bar

0:03:530:03:58

and has prosecuted high-profile cases ranging from money-laundering

0:03:580:04:02

to murder.

0:04:020:04:03

Defence barrister Jeremy Dein has successfully defended countless

0:04:040:04:08

homicide cases since being called to the bar in 1982.

0:04:080:04:11

The barristers will be reinvestigating Edith Thompson's

0:04:130:04:16

case on Nicky's behalf.

0:04:160:04:18

But is she prepared to learn the truth about Edith

0:04:180:04:22

and the murder of Percy Thompson?

0:04:220:04:24

-Hello, Nicky.

-Hello.

-Nice to meet you.

0:04:260:04:28

-My name's Jeremy.

-Hello, I'm Nicky.

0:04:280:04:30

-Hi, Nicky.

-Hello.

-Hello, there, hi.

0:04:300:04:32

First of all, what is it that's led you to take an interest

0:04:330:04:37

in Edith's case? Tell us, please.

0:04:370:04:39

Well, I didn't know about the case.

0:04:390:04:42

I didn't know about Edith until recently, but from what I've read,

0:04:420:04:46

I don't feel that there was strong enough evidence to convict her.

0:04:460:04:50

If the upshot of our enquiry is to suggest that Edith

0:04:500:04:54

was wrongly hanged, what would you feel about that?

0:04:540:04:58

I already think...

0:04:580:04:59

..she was wrongly hanged.

0:05:000:05:02

It's obviously something that means a lot to you.

0:05:020:05:04

Yes, it does.

0:05:040:05:06

It does. Not just because she's my cousin, it's the justice.

0:05:060:05:10

And it would be great to prove that they were wrong.

0:05:100:05:13

If, at the end of the day, a judge rules that the conviction is safe,

0:05:130:05:20

is that something you think you can deal with?

0:05:200:05:23

Well, yes, I'll have to.

0:05:230:05:25

It would be very sad.

0:05:250:05:26

I would rather it the other way.

0:05:280:05:29

It was absolutely brilliant meeting the barristers.

0:05:310:05:33

I'm really excited about them going back and having a look at the court

0:05:330:05:36

case, and whether it was fair or not,

0:05:360:05:38

and whether the outcome was just and true.

0:05:380:05:41

While Nicky sets out to learn more about her relative...

0:05:430:05:45

..Sasha and Jeremy will scrutinise the facts of the case.

0:05:470:05:50

Percy Thompson died as a result of blood loss

0:05:520:05:54

from multiple stab wounds.

0:05:540:05:56

Suspicion fell on his wife...

0:05:560:05:58

..the only eyewitness to the incident.

0:05:590:06:02

What's interesting about this case

0:06:020:06:04

is Edith's reaction to the attack on her husband.

0:06:040:06:09

Her first reaction, according to passers-by, was to say, "Oh, my God,

0:06:100:06:16

"will you help me? My husband is ill."

0:06:160:06:19

Later, she was asked by somebody what had happened to her husband,

0:06:190:06:22

and she said, "Don't ask me, I don't know."

0:06:220:06:24

"Someone flew past. When I turned to speak to him,

0:06:240:06:27

"blood was pouring out of his mouth."

0:06:270:06:30

So there's a recognition that there WAS a third person there.

0:06:300:06:34

But when the police decided to question her,

0:06:340:06:37

she just said that her husband had suddenly dropped down

0:06:370:06:40

and she couldn't account for his wounds at all.

0:06:400:06:43

So her first reactions were really all over the place.

0:06:430:06:48

So I see that, um, really, as a potential sign of guilt.

0:06:480:06:53

Edith's story quickly unravelled once Freddie Bywaters,

0:06:540:06:57

who was known to be a family friend, was brought in for questioning.

0:06:570:07:00

His belongings were searched, revealing a stash of letters

0:07:020:07:05

from Edith, and it became clear the pair had been having an affair.

0:07:050:07:09

The other matter that formed the backbone of the prosecution case was

0:07:100:07:15

the correspondence the police found.

0:07:150:07:17

Edith had been talking about poisoning her husband,

0:07:170:07:21

about wanting him out of the way.

0:07:210:07:23

Really saying things which provided very cogent evidence of her

0:07:230:07:28

complicity in what Freddie Bywaters had done, namely,

0:07:280:07:32

murdered her husband.

0:07:320:07:34

Now, I'm interested in looking further at the way Edith Thompson

0:07:340:07:38

was portrayed during the trial.

0:07:380:07:41

The judge summarised the case to the jury on the basis that this

0:07:410:07:46

was a common or ordinary charge of a wife and an adulterer

0:07:460:07:49

murdering the husband. But was that regarded by the jury as the

0:07:490:07:53

linchpin for the prosecution case in an improper fashion?

0:07:530:07:58

So my first impressions are that Edith Thompson

0:07:580:08:03

was wrongly convicted of murder.

0:08:030:08:06

So with the barristers immediately at odds regarding Edith's guilt...

0:08:060:08:10

..Nicky is retracing her cousin's fateful steps

0:08:110:08:14

on the night of the murder to understand the facts of the case.

0:08:140:08:18

On October 3rd 1922, the Thompsons had attended the theatre in London

0:08:190:08:24

and were walking home when they were ambushed.

0:08:240:08:27

They came from Ilford station

0:08:270:08:28

and they crossed over onto this side of the road

0:08:280:08:31

and we believe that Freddie was hiding in a garden on the corner.

0:08:310:08:36

And so they were walking down here together

0:08:380:08:40

and Freddie must have attacked them.

0:08:400:08:42

Edith went down and Percy and Freddie continued to fight.

0:08:420:08:47

For 44 feet, apparently, there was blood all over the pavement.

0:08:470:08:51

The case put forward at trial is that Edith and her lover, Freddie,

0:08:550:08:59

planned the attack on Percy together

0:08:590:09:01

and were jointly responsible for the murder.

0:09:010:09:03

Freddie claims, however, that the killing was accidental

0:09:040:09:07

and that Edith had nothing to do with it.

0:09:070:09:11

If he hadn't had the knife in his pocket,

0:09:110:09:13

and we all wonder why that was there, but apparently

0:09:130:09:15

seamen do carry knives around with them, and

0:09:150:09:18

he was going off to sea the next day.

0:09:180:09:19

I don't think he wanted to murder Percy,

0:09:190:09:22

I think he wanted to have it out with Percy.

0:09:220:09:25

He was desperate for Edith to be free, so, I guess,

0:09:250:09:28

when he came back, he could be with her.

0:09:280:09:30

The love affair between Edith and Freddie was presented as the motive

0:09:320:09:35

for Percy Thompson's murder.

0:09:350:09:38

Jeremy and Sasha have opposing views on whether the facts support this.

0:09:380:09:42

Freddie Bywaters was nowhere near his home address when, um,

0:09:430:09:48

Percy was stabbed.

0:09:480:09:50

And the jury might have questioned how it was that he knew that Edith

0:09:500:09:55

and Percy were going to be walking along that road, just at that time,

0:09:550:09:59

in the early hours of the morning.

0:09:590:10:01

Sasha, she told him that she was going to the theatre with

0:10:010:10:05

Percy Thompson that night.

0:10:050:10:06

The fact that she had imparted that information to Fred Bywaters

0:10:060:10:12

does not mean that she had given him the green light to slaughter

0:10:120:10:16

her husband.

0:10:160:10:17

Jeremy, we have to be realistic about this.

0:10:170:10:20

Freddie Bywaters would not have acted

0:10:200:10:24

without the consent of his lover, Edith Thompson.

0:10:240:10:28

And Edith lied from the moment that murder was committed

0:10:280:10:33

and she did so in order to protect his identity.

0:10:330:10:37

Remember, it was only when she saw him at the police station that she

0:10:370:10:42

came clean and said that he was the killer.

0:10:420:10:45

Until that moment, she had hoped he'd have got away with it and she'd

0:10:450:10:48

have hoped he'd have got away with it because she had set him up to it.

0:10:480:10:52

Having been to the scene of the crime,

0:10:520:10:54

Nicky is visiting the home Edith and Percy bought together.

0:10:540:10:57

With both their careers flourishing, they were coming up in the world.

0:10:580:11:02

But it seems Edith's professional success was not matched by her

0:11:020:11:06

personal happiness.

0:11:060:11:08

They moved in in 1920.

0:11:100:11:12

I think they'd only been married a couple of years.

0:11:120:11:14

So they were doing well.

0:11:140:11:16

But I think she was very unhappy.

0:11:160:11:18

I think she was bored of being with him and...

0:11:180:11:22

..it wasn't exciting enough, I don't think, and she wanted more.

0:11:230:11:26

Plus, she had this young, um...

0:11:260:11:28

..exciting, romantic person that sailed the world

0:11:290:11:35

that was very interested in her and there was a lot of passion between them.

0:11:350:11:38

And I think that that's what she longed for.

0:11:380:11:41

Edith wrote to Freddie of her plans for the future.

0:11:410:11:43

But did she really want to divorce Percy?

0:11:450:11:47

In reality, if she left her husband, she would have lost everything.

0:11:530:11:58

In those days, she wouldn't have got anything.

0:11:580:12:00

She would have walked away from all of this.

0:12:000:12:02

So, it makes me wonder, was the other option for him not to be here

0:12:020:12:06

and maybe if he had died, she might be left with this lovely house.

0:12:060:12:10

Police discovered over 80 letters and notes that Edith had written to

0:12:140:12:17

Freddie. More than half of these were used at trial.

0:12:170:12:21

Sasha has found some shocking evidence in these letters.

0:12:210:12:24

What we do know from the letters is that there are repeated references

0:12:340:12:41

by Edith to a wish that her husband should be dead.

0:12:410:12:48

I mean, for example, she says in one letter:

0:12:480:12:51

She's obviously referring to herself.

0:12:590:13:02

"How unfair everything is," she says.

0:13:020:13:05

That's just a passing comment, isn't it?

0:13:050:13:07

Yes, it could be a passing comment if it were once,

0:13:070:13:10

but we have repeated references to poisoning him.

0:13:100:13:14

She sends cuttings referring to wives killing their husband.

0:13:140:13:19

And at one stage she says:

0:13:190:13:21

And then she talks about grinding up glass from a light bulb.

0:13:300:13:35

Sasha, if I may say so,

0:13:350:13:37

you might well be falling into the same trap as the jury.

0:13:370:13:42

My feeling is that too much was made of these letters.

0:13:420:13:48

Did Fred Bywaters take it upon himself to kill Percy Thompson?

0:13:480:13:54

Is that why she said to the police when she saw Fred Bywaters at the

0:13:540:13:58

police station, "Oh, God, oh, God, what can I do?"

0:13:580:14:03

"Why did he do it? I did not want him to do it.

0:14:030:14:06

"I must tell the truth."

0:14:060:14:08

I am of the view that even if these letters

0:14:080:14:13

are indicative of her thought process,

0:14:130:14:15

that is a very different issue to her being complicit in the

0:14:150:14:19

vicious stabbing of Percy Thompson on the night in question.

0:14:190:14:24

Edith's defence at trial was that these letters were just fantasy.

0:14:240:14:28

It's just unfortunate, from her point of view,

0:14:280:14:30

that her fantasy involved the demise of her husband

0:14:300:14:35

and on the 3rd October, her lover killed her husband,

0:14:350:14:41

fulfilling that fantasy.

0:14:410:14:43

Edith's letters were crucial to the case.

0:14:450:14:48

But do the barristers agree with the 1922 assessment that they were

0:14:480:14:52

clear evidence of Edith's guilt?

0:14:520:14:54

The letters, which were the bedrock of the prosecution case, in my view,

0:14:540:14:58

are ambiguous.

0:14:580:15:00

Those letters were a cry for help.

0:15:010:15:03

But what she wasn't asking for was for Percy Thompson to be stabbed to

0:15:030:15:07

death and that's what Fred Bywaters did.

0:15:070:15:09

That's what he said he did.

0:15:090:15:11

He said she wasn't involved and I fear that that may well be the

0:15:110:15:15

true scenario from the point of view of a miscarriage of justice here.

0:15:150:15:18

Well, the letter evidence suggests that Edith Thompson had

0:15:210:15:27

fantasies about killing her husband.

0:15:270:15:30

She didn't keep those fantasies to herself,

0:15:300:15:32

she shared them with the man who eventually killed her husband.

0:15:320:15:36

Coupled with that, of course,

0:15:360:15:38

we've got the fact that he knew that Edith wanted her husband dead

0:15:380:15:43

and Edith did everything possible to try to shield the identity of the

0:15:430:15:48

person who had killed her husband in the street,

0:15:480:15:50

although she knew full well from the outset that it was her lover.

0:15:500:15:55

So I don't see this as a weak case.

0:15:550:15:58

It may have been an unfortunate case, it's clearly a tragic case,

0:15:580:16:01

three people lost their lives,

0:16:010:16:03

but that's not the same as saying it's a miscarriage of justice.

0:16:030:16:07

Nicky has come to the National Archives at Kew,

0:16:150:16:18

hoping to learn more about Edith.

0:16:180:16:20

But she might be surprised by what she reads in newspapers

0:16:210:16:24

from the time.

0:16:240:16:26

Daily Chronicle, 16th December '22.

0:16:300:16:34

"Large numbers of people are visiting Mr Barrington Matthews'

0:16:340:16:37

"office to sign the petition for a reprieve.

0:16:370:16:40

"Among those who signed the petition

0:16:400:16:42

"yesterday was Mr and Mrs Graden,

0:16:420:16:44

"the parents of Mrs Thompson and

0:16:440:16:46

"her brother and her sister."

0:16:460:16:48

What gets me is there's not a petition for their own daughter.

0:16:490:16:53

And he's the one that killed Percy and she didn't.

0:16:530:16:58

So why is there not a petition for Edith?

0:16:580:17:01

I don't understand that.

0:17:010:17:03

While there was no public petition for Edith's reprieve,

0:17:050:17:08

several of Edith's friends and family members wrote to the press,

0:17:080:17:12

to government and to the king and queen, making pleas for mercy.

0:17:120:17:16

This is a letter handwritten from...

0:17:170:17:20

..Mrs Laxton, who is the sister of Mrs Thompson's mother,

0:17:220:17:26

so she is the sister of my great

0:17:260:17:31

grandmother. "My husband and I were the aunt and uncle with whom

0:17:310:17:35

"Mr and Mrs Thompson spent the evening at the theatre and I assure

0:17:350:17:39

"you, gentlemen, that from Mrs Thompson's manner,

0:17:390:17:43

"conversation and also arrangements we all made to go to dinners,

0:17:430:17:48

"dances and other theatres,

0:17:480:17:50

"it was absolutely impossible for Mrs Thompson to have entered into

0:17:500:17:56

"any arrangement with Bywaters to commit the crime.

0:17:560:18:00

"But, gentlemen, my real plea is on behalf of the parents.

0:18:000:18:05

"By hanging the unhappy couple, it is not them who suffer,

0:18:050:18:09

"but the family...

0:18:090:18:11

"..left behind."

0:18:140:18:15

-TEARFUL:

-Well, it's the truth, isn't it?

0:18:190:18:21

They lost their lives, but, um...

0:18:230:18:25

..the punishment's carried with the family...

0:18:260:18:29

..and the generations.

0:18:320:18:33

It's dreadful.

0:18:350:18:36

So they're pleading, pleading with them, to just intern them

0:18:360:18:41

and not have them die by hanging.

0:18:410:18:44

And how it would affect the family.

0:18:450:18:47

-TEARFUL:

-God, they must have been so desperate.

0:18:500:18:53

The barristers are meeting criminal psychologist Doctor Donna Youngs.

0:19:010:19:06

She's been analysing Edith's letters

0:19:060:19:08

to try to profile her intentions with regards to Freddie's actions.

0:19:080:19:12

Was she trying to incite her lover to murder her husband?

0:19:140:19:17

Or was she weaving an elaborate fantasy inspired by

0:19:180:19:21

fiction and newspaper stories?

0:19:210:19:24

Donna, what I'd like to know from you

0:19:250:19:27

is what sort of character was Edith?

0:19:270:19:29

She's a very interesting character, er...

0:19:290:19:32

..in the fact that there are a lot of quite contrasting personality traits.

0:19:340:19:37

-Her thinking is... I'd almost characterise it as childlike.

-Mmhm.

0:19:370:19:42

This letter, to me, is a clear indication of her general

0:19:420:19:46

immaturity of cognition.

0:19:460:19:49

"I'm not going to look any further forward and you're not, either."

0:20:000:20:03

Being incapable of seeing beyond three months into the future,

0:20:030:20:06

that's how a child talks about time.

0:20:060:20:09

This is not a mature woman.

0:20:090:20:11

Edith faced charges of conspiracy to commit murder

0:20:110:20:15

and of soliciting and inciting Frederick Bywaters

0:20:150:20:18

to kill her husband.

0:20:180:20:20

One of the features of the case was that Edith was an older woman,

0:20:200:20:25

using her dominant personality, preying on a young man.

0:20:250:20:29

Have you seen anything in the letters which supports

0:20:290:20:32

a more dominant relationship on her part?

0:20:320:20:34

No, absolutely not. That's an utterly ridiculous characterisation of her.

0:20:340:20:39

-Unwittingly, she has encouraged him, clearly.

-Yeah.

0:20:390:20:43

But, no, I don't think there was any direct intention to...

0:20:430:20:48

..move directly towards a murder.

0:20:490:20:51

I mean, she wanted to motivate his passion.

0:20:510:20:53

In fact, what seems to have been completely ignored is that,

0:20:530:20:57

actually, Edith pleas with Freddie against him taking

0:20:570:21:02

any kind of direct action.

0:21:020:21:04

We see this here in this quote in this letter.

0:21:050:21:08

So here she's saying, "Darling, I'll do and say all

0:21:090:21:13

"and everything you tell me to about friend.

0:21:130:21:16

"Only remember not to do anything that will leave me behind,

0:21:160:21:19

"by myself."

0:21:190:21:22

She's pleading with him not to do anything.

0:21:220:21:24

The thing is, Donna, clearly, she has had fantasies,

0:21:240:21:28

and it goes right through these letters, of killing her husband.

0:21:280:21:32

In the criminal sphere we look at all sorts of threat letters,

0:21:320:21:35

terrorist propaganda,

0:21:350:21:37

to see if we can identify which threats are really likely to be carried out,

0:21:370:21:40

anything that shows a genuine commitment,

0:21:400:21:43

and there's nothing here which is consistent with a genuine commitment.

0:21:430:21:46

-To what?

-To killing her husband.

-Right. That's very, very clear.

0:21:460:21:50

-BOTH:

-Thank you very much indeed.

0:21:500:21:52

Having learned that there was little public sympathy for Edith,

0:21:570:22:00

Nicky wants to understand what life was like for women in the 1920s.

0:22:000:22:05

She's come to Redbridge town hall in Ilford

0:22:070:22:09

to meet historian Professor Lucy Bland.

0:22:090:22:11

Edith Thompson, she was a fascinating woman.

0:22:150:22:17

I mean, she left school at 15.

0:22:170:22:19

She worked for a milliners.

0:22:190:22:21

She was a buyer, she was a book-keeper

0:22:210:22:24

and she became a manageress.

0:22:240:22:26

She taught herself French.

0:22:260:22:28

-I didn't know that.

-She went to Paris.

0:22:280:22:30

Yes, she went to Paris to buy things and could speak pretty good French.

0:22:300:22:33

She was very vivacious, she loved dancing.

0:22:330:22:36

A girl after my own heart!

0:22:360:22:37

We're in this room here because this was one of the dance halls

0:22:370:22:40

-she'd come to.

-Ah, OK.

0:22:400:22:42

As a fashionable young woman,

0:22:440:22:46

Edith embraced the changing look of the 1920s

0:22:460:22:50

and adopted the new flapper style.

0:22:500:22:52

The flapper is thought of as a young woman who's very much into things

0:22:530:22:59

precisely that Edith's into.

0:22:590:23:02

Dancing, having a good time, smoking, drinking.

0:23:020:23:06

-Being kind of wild.

-A bit flirtatious?

-A bit flirtatious.

0:23:060:23:10

And the clothes - fashion changed. Much shorter skirts...

0:23:100:23:13

-Bit more revealing.

-..shorter hair. She had a bob, which was, you know,

0:23:130:23:17

she's one of the first, in the early '20s, women started to do this.

0:23:170:23:20

-She was a bit of a trend setter, then?

-She was.

0:23:200:23:22

Edith worked throughout the war and, unusually,

0:23:260:23:29

continued to be known by her maiden name, Graden,

0:23:290:23:31

by her colleagues and employers at Carlton And Prior.

0:23:310:23:35

Huge numbers of men have died in the war, but there is actually

0:23:350:23:38

very high unemployment and so there was a kind of disapproval about a

0:23:380:23:42

married woman still holding on to a job. She should be back in the home,

0:23:420:23:46

looking after her husband, having children.

0:23:460:23:48

-So she was seen as behaving inappropriately...

-Right.

0:23:480:23:51

..and that she'd got this rather fast way of living.

0:23:510:23:53

Reports in the press were initially supportive of Edith,

0:23:540:23:58

who was described as glamorous and fashionable.

0:23:580:24:01

But once the contents of her letters to Freddie were released,

0:24:010:24:04

the tide of public opinion soon turned against her.

0:24:040:24:08

Was she supported in any way by the public?

0:24:080:24:11

There was no petition for her,

0:24:110:24:13

but The Daily Sketch, a very widely read paper at the time,

0:24:130:24:16

they got a petition going for his reprieve, not hers.

0:24:160:24:21

-Oh, really?

-They got over 1 million signatures,

0:24:210:24:24

which was the biggest petition that anyone had ever got for someone who

0:24:240:24:28

was convicted of murder.

0:24:280:24:30

This older woman led him astray, she had incited jealousy.

0:24:300:24:34

He was blameless.

0:24:340:24:36

But she was in a no-win situation, really, wasn't she...

0:24:360:24:38

-She was.

-..right from the beginning.

0:24:380:24:40

Edith's lifestyle was frowned upon by many, including the judge,

0:24:400:24:45

which may have influenced the verdict.

0:24:450:24:48

Some people still living in the Victorian era of the woman must be

0:24:480:24:52

at home, she must be a housewife,

0:24:520:24:55

she must have children.

0:24:550:24:57

This is not what Edith was doing at all.

0:24:570:24:59

She was out having fun, she had a great career

0:24:590:25:02

and earning good money.

0:25:020:25:04

She was moving forward

0:25:050:25:07

and I think that that actually went against her in the court.

0:25:070:25:11

It was really quite sad, really.

0:25:110:25:14

Edith also faced charges of attempted murder by administering

0:25:170:25:21

poison and broken glass to Percy through his food.

0:25:210:25:24

The barristers call on consultant pathologist Doctor Stuart Hamilton

0:25:250:25:29

to investigate these allegations.

0:25:290:25:32

There are several references in Edith's letters to putting

0:25:320:25:36

ground glass in her husband's food.

0:25:360:25:40

If that had actually been done, what would a pathologist be looking for

0:25:400:25:44

and what might he expect to find?

0:25:440:25:47

So, the two things that you can have with ground glass

0:25:470:25:50

is if it's ground up to a very fine powder, it has no sharp edges,

0:25:500:25:54

it will pass through the system,

0:25:540:25:56

doing absolutely nothing to you on the way past.

0:25:560:25:59

-Right.

-If you have larger pieces of glass,

0:25:590:26:02

something that I would describe more like a shard of glass,

0:26:020:26:05

you'll notice it, it'll cut your mouth.

0:26:050:26:07

So on the one hand, it's totally ineffective,

0:26:070:26:10

on the other hand, it would be patently obvious.

0:26:100:26:13

She's mentioned belladonna, quinine. Would they actually,

0:26:130:26:17

or are they capable of, causing someone's death in the correct dose?

0:26:170:26:21

So, belladonna, it's got alkaloids in it,

0:26:210:26:23

that simply break down the system, stop your body working effectively.

0:26:230:26:28

It is still recognised as a deadly poison.

0:26:280:26:30

Quinine, because it's so bitter,

0:26:300:26:33

it would be very difficult to get large amounts into somebody without

0:26:330:26:37

them being aware of that.

0:26:370:26:39

The methods that she's talking about are the sort of things that anyone

0:26:390:26:43

who was relatively well-read at that time would know about from novels.

0:26:430:26:48

They're childish ideas.

0:26:480:26:50

Percy was stabbed 11 times, including the wound

0:26:510:26:54

to the side of his neck, which proved fatal.

0:26:540:26:57

The cause of death was obvious to the coroner -

0:26:590:27:01

heart failure due to blood loss.

0:27:010:27:03

Edith's letters, however,

0:27:040:27:06

raised the question of whether Edith had ever attempted to poison her

0:27:060:27:09

husband. There was only one thing to do -

0:27:090:27:13

dig up the body.

0:27:130:27:14

Is there any evidence that she had administered to Percy

0:27:140:27:18

any of the substances she discussed in her letters?

0:27:180:27:21

There is no evidence from either the initial postmortem examination,

0:27:210:27:25

or the examination after the exhumation,

0:27:250:27:27

that these things actually happened anywhere other than in Edith's own mind.

0:27:270:27:31

The experts have told Jeremy and Sasha that Edith's letters

0:27:320:27:35

were pure fantasy and that there is no evidence that Edith

0:27:350:27:39

carried out her plans to injure or harm her husband.

0:27:390:27:43

But will this provide them with enough new evidence to put a case

0:27:430:27:46

-before Judge Radford?

-Having spoken to Stuart

0:27:460:27:50

and considered the postmortem evidence,

0:27:500:27:52

there is no support for the fact that Percy's body contained poison

0:27:520:27:57

or ground glass.

0:27:570:27:59

But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

0:27:590:28:03

It doesn't mean it didn't happen.

0:28:030:28:06

Donna's analysis was that the letters may have

0:28:060:28:10

unwittingly encouraged Fred to kill Percy.

0:28:100:28:14

My view is that the jury had the option of coming to the

0:28:140:28:19

conclusion that they were deliberately encouraging...

0:28:190:28:22

..Fred and that must have been the conclusion they drew.

0:28:240:28:28

If Donna's analysis suggests that Edith was unwittingly persuading

0:28:290:28:35

Fred to kill Percy, then Edith remains not guilty of murder,

0:28:350:28:38

because a fundamental prerequisite for proof of murder is intention.

0:28:380:28:43

So even if she was doing it unwittingly...

0:28:430:28:45

..she had an innocent state of mind.

0:28:460:28:48

While the barristers evaluate their findings so far,

0:28:510:28:54

Nicky is reflecting on the human tragedy of this case.

0:28:540:28:57

An innocent man, Percy Thompson, was murdered,

0:28:590:29:02

and two people died as a result.

0:29:020:29:04

This photo speaks loads to me.

0:29:070:29:10

You know, the body language of the two men

0:29:100:29:14

and she's stuck in the middle,

0:29:140:29:15

living in this fantasy world of this young romantic man that gave her

0:29:150:29:19

everything exciting that she read in these novels

0:29:190:29:22

and yet she went home to this rather dull life.

0:29:220:29:24

You can see she's desperately thinking, "What am I doing?

0:29:260:29:30

"Where am I going? Where's this going to lead to?

0:29:300:29:33

"How am I going to deal with this?"

0:29:330:29:34

And I'm not saying she's thinking about killing her husband.

0:29:350:29:38

I don't think that's what she wanted to do.

0:29:390:29:41

She just didn't know.

0:29:410:29:43

She was stuck between these two men.

0:29:430:29:45

And ultimately, through Freddie's mistake one evening,

0:29:470:29:54

they ultimately all lost their lives.

0:29:540:29:56

-TEARFUL:

-And I find that extremely sad.

0:29:570:29:59

I think that's a really strong image.

0:30:010:30:04

Nicky has returned to meet the barristers

0:30:150:30:17

so they can update her on the progress of their investigation.

0:30:170:30:21

Will what they have discovered so far be enough to convince a judge

0:30:210:30:24

that Edith's conviction was unsafe?

0:30:240:30:27

So, with the assistance of a criminal psychologist,

0:30:280:30:31

we've looked long and hard at the letters and Doctor Youngs is

0:30:310:30:35

of the view that they're far more consistent with

0:30:350:30:38

Edith expressing her innermost thoughts

0:30:380:30:42

than this being the framework of a criminal plot.

0:30:420:30:46

The other aspect of the case is the pathologist confirmed that there is

0:30:460:30:52

no evidence in this case of any attempt to poison Percy Thompson.

0:30:520:30:57

Unfortunately, that's not the kind of angle that we're going to succeed

0:30:570:31:01

-on all these years later.

-No.

0:31:010:31:03

Judge Sherman, he had the final address to the jury...

0:31:030:31:09

..and it was very negative.

0:31:100:31:12

And I just wondered if this is normal practice, to be so personal?

0:31:120:31:16

Well, Jeremy and I are about to conduct an exercise to see whether

0:31:160:31:20

-the judge did cross the line in that case.

-Oh, right, good.

0:31:200:31:22

Again, however, the judge's summing up was open to complaint

0:31:220:31:26

-at the appeal.

-Yes.

0:31:260:31:28

So, in order for me, at least,

0:31:280:31:31

to be able to progress things now, I need to find something significant

0:31:310:31:35

that wasn't complained about at the time.

0:31:350:31:38

And that is something that's of interest?

0:31:380:31:41

Yes, absolutely, without any shadow of a doubt, it's of great interest.

0:31:410:31:44

-Great, OK.

-Yes.

0:31:440:31:46

I think it's really good that modern-day barristers

0:31:460:31:49

are looking at this.

0:31:490:31:50

And I'm really hoping that there's a legal outcome that's much better

0:31:500:31:54

than what actually happened in real life.

0:31:540:31:56

They need to find something new and that's the worry.

0:31:560:31:59

That's what I'm really concerned about.

0:31:590:32:01

Edith was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.

0:32:020:32:06

Her subsequent appeal was dismissed and calls for mercy were rejected.

0:32:060:32:11

She was hanged at 9am on 9th January 1923.

0:32:110:32:15

As was the rule, her body was buried within the walls of Holloway Prison.

0:32:170:32:21

In 1971, however, Edith's remains were reburied

0:32:230:32:26

at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey,

0:32:260:32:29

along with those of three other women who'd been executed.

0:32:290:32:32

-TEARFUL:

-So, here you are, Edith.

0:32:360:32:38

It's been a journey, I have to say.

0:32:390:32:42

And I feel like I know you now.

0:32:440:32:47

Certainly much more than I did a few weeks ago.

0:32:470:32:49

I'm really finding it quite moving that my cousin is here

0:32:510:32:57

and, strangely enough, only eight miles away from where I grew up.

0:32:570:33:02

And she was right here the whole time and I never knew.

0:33:020:33:05

Edith Jessie Thompson,

0:33:050:33:09

25th December 1893...

0:33:090:33:14

..to 9th January 1923.

0:33:150:33:18

So you were just 29 when you died.

0:33:200:33:24

It's so sad.

0:33:270:33:29

So sad that she never had a life.

0:33:290:33:31

It was taken away from her by a jury.

0:33:330:33:35

I wish you'd had a longer life.

0:33:420:33:44

I wish I'd known you, Edith.

0:33:450:33:47

With judgement day looming, Jeremy and Sasha are struggling to identify

0:34:070:34:11

new information that could be put before Judge Radford.

0:34:110:34:15

They're examining the manner in which the original trial judge

0:34:150:34:18

summed up the case to the jury in 1922.

0:34:180:34:22

The summing up was harsh.

0:34:220:34:24

It was judgmental.

0:34:240:34:26

I can see that the jury might have been influenced by it.

0:34:260:34:29

I mean, the judge, although he was rather impolite about Edith,

0:34:290:34:34

he did make it plain in the summing up

0:34:340:34:37

that facts were a matter for the jury.

0:34:370:34:40

He is effectively dehumanising the defendants.

0:34:400:34:43

They've both been stripped of their dignity by him long before they were

0:34:430:34:48

taken to the gallows.

0:34:480:34:50

Edith's defence barrister, Sir Henry Curtis-Bennett KC,

0:34:510:34:55

was bitterly disappointed by his failure to have his client acquitted,

0:34:550:34:59

saying that she paid the extreme penalty for her immorality.

0:34:590:35:03

Will Jeremy be similarly forced to admit failure with regard to

0:35:030:35:07

Edith Thompson's case?

0:35:070:35:09

The day of judgment has arrived.

0:35:120:35:14

Today, Jeremy and Sasha will have the opportunity to make submissions

0:35:160:35:20

before his Honour, Judge David Radford.

0:35:200:35:22

But have they found enough new information to convince him that the

0:35:240:35:28

original verdict was not safe?

0:35:280:35:31

Last time Jeremy and I met Nicky, we told her we were going to go away

0:35:310:35:36

and really study the summing up in considerable detail.

0:35:360:35:39

We have done that.

0:35:390:35:41

There's plenty to say about the quality of that summing up

0:35:410:35:44

and I'm hoping that Judge Radford will feel that there is real force

0:35:440:35:49

in the submissions I have to make.

0:35:490:35:51

I'm really feeling rather nervous.

0:35:520:35:55

Obviously, I want the outcome to be positive for the family

0:35:550:35:59

and positive for Edith.

0:35:590:36:01

I'm just hoping that Jeremy's found enough evidence to support the

0:36:010:36:06

fact that she's innocent, which is what I believe.

0:36:060:36:09

Based on Jeremy and Sasha's legal arguments,

0:36:110:36:14

and his own reading of the case,

0:36:140:36:16

Judge Radford will recommend if the original verdict in this case was

0:36:160:36:20

safe or not.

0:36:200:36:22

I'm here today to consider the safety of the conviction of

0:36:220:36:28

Mrs Edith Thompson,

0:36:280:36:30

in December 1922, of the murder of her husband.

0:36:300:36:35

Well, Mr Dein, perhaps you would like to start.

0:36:350:36:38

What I have to say has to be seen in the context of a highly

0:36:380:36:42

circumstantial case.

0:36:420:36:44

Edith Thompson did not stab Percy Thompson.

0:36:440:36:49

She was a secondary party, according to the prosecution.

0:36:490:36:52

The incident took place in a highly emotive context

0:36:540:36:59

and it was incumbent upon the judge, even in 1922,

0:36:590:37:04

to deliver the fairest and clearest possible summing up.

0:37:040:37:08

In fact, he did the reverse.

0:37:080:37:11

The tone is set when the learned judge speaks

0:37:110:37:14

of the woman in the dock as...

0:37:140:37:16

Is there anything prejudicial in making clear he was referring to the

0:37:160:37:20

female defendant, as opposed to the male?

0:37:200:37:23

Well, only to say that when one reads the summing up as a whole...

0:37:230:37:27

..there are numerous occasions where I would submit that Edith Thompson

0:37:290:37:33

is effectively dehumanised by the judge in the way comment

0:37:330:37:38

is made about her. An example of this is where the judge introduces

0:37:380:37:42

the case by saying, quote,

0:37:420:37:45

"This is an ordinary case of a wife and an adulterer

0:37:450:37:49

"murdering her husband."

0:37:490:37:52

And at one stage, he even invites the jury to put aside the evidence

0:37:520:37:56

of the man and the woman because you may think the whole of it is made up.

0:37:560:38:02

He concludes by saying to the jury,

0:38:020:38:05

"If you find the man guilty of murder,

0:38:050:38:08

"you have to go on to consider the woman."

0:38:080:38:11

And it's my submission that it's not surprising that these two defendants

0:38:110:38:15

were hanged not long after the conclusion of the summing up,

0:38:150:38:19

in the light of the approach the judge took.

0:38:190:38:23

And if Edith Thompson was not fairly tried,

0:38:230:38:27

then the risk of miscarriage of justice, of course, follows,

0:38:270:38:31

and in those circumstances, I invite your Honour to order that the case

0:38:310:38:36

be reopened.

0:38:360:38:38

Thank you, Mr Dein. Ms Wass?

0:38:390:38:42

Sasha's role is to evaluate the case and any new evidence from

0:38:420:38:46

the point of view of the prosecution.

0:38:460:38:48

But will she agree with Jeremy that the judge's summing up prejudiced

0:38:480:38:52

Edith's verdict?

0:38:520:38:54

I have considered, with care,

0:38:540:38:57

the adequacy of the summing up of Mr Justice Sherman

0:38:570:39:02

and judged it by the standards of today.

0:39:020:39:06

And I say straightaway, the summing up was so defective,

0:39:060:39:11

-that it meant the defendants did not have a fair trial.

-Yes.

0:39:110:39:16

And for that reason, I'm not going to be resisting Mr Dein's

0:39:170:39:21

-application to you.

-Well, thank you, Ms Wass.

0:39:210:39:25

Well, I'll take time to consider the submissions made and to look,

0:39:250:39:32

once again, at the summing up.

0:39:320:39:33

Jeremy and Sasha are in agreement on this case.

0:39:350:39:39

But will the judge concur?

0:39:390:39:40

For Nicky, this could be the justice she has sought for Edith.

0:39:410:39:46

Or it could be the end of her journey.

0:39:460:39:49

We did say to you that, you know, we would go back to the summing up

0:39:490:39:53

and we looked at it separately and together

0:39:530:39:56

and, as criminal lawyers,

0:39:560:39:57

I think we both found the summing up to be highly unacceptable.

0:39:570:40:01

I think we need to stress that the decision is the judge's.

0:40:010:40:04

I know, but it's looking so much better than I thought it would,

0:40:040:40:07

-which is brilliant.

-He challenges everything and everyone,

0:40:070:40:11

which is exactly the right way to be.

0:40:110:40:14

But he's not simply going to agree with us just because we agree with

0:40:140:40:18

each other in this instance.

0:40:180:40:20

-We'll know soon enough.

-Yes.

0:40:200:40:22

-That's great. Thank you so much, both of you.

-Not a problem.

0:40:220:40:25

If Edith never attempted to poison her husband,

0:40:260:40:29

and her letters were pure fantasy,

0:40:290:40:31

should she have been found guilty of murder?

0:40:310:40:34

Were the jury unduly influenced by the judge's opinion

0:40:340:40:37

of Edith's morals?

0:40:370:40:40

The judge is ready to give his final verdict.

0:40:400:40:43

Whatever may be the apparent strength of the prosecution case

0:40:470:40:52

against an accused person,

0:40:520:40:54

every defendant is entitled to a fair and just trial.

0:40:540:40:59

That was as true in December 1922 as it is today.

0:40:590:41:05

With great respect to the distinguished trial judge in this case,

0:41:050:41:10

I have concluded for myself, with regret,

0:41:100:41:13

that the summing up in this trial failed, fundamentally,

0:41:130:41:18

to direct the jury properly as to key legal matters.

0:41:180:41:23

It was, as a whole, fundamentally lacking in balance and fairness.

0:41:230:41:29

My task today is not, I make clear,

0:41:290:41:33

to pass judgment on whether either Mr Bywater and/or Mrs Thompson

0:41:330:41:38

were innocent, but to express my judgment

0:41:380:41:42

as to whether Mrs Thompson, her conviction is a safe one.

0:41:420:41:47

I find that, clearly, there are grounds for coming to the

0:41:470:41:52

final decision...

0:41:520:41:53

..that the conviction of Mrs Thompson was

0:41:540:41:58

unsafe and, indeed, unsatisfactory.

0:41:580:42:01

And that is my view of this case.

0:42:010:42:04

That's such good news.

0:42:100:42:12

Well done.

0:42:120:42:14

I was extremely pleased, particularly for Nicky,

0:42:140:42:16

but I was pleased because I felt justice had been done.

0:42:160:42:19

From the time I looked at the Edith Thompson papers, I never felt happy

0:42:190:42:25

with the conviction.

0:42:250:42:27

I couldn't really work out why,

0:42:270:42:30

and it was only when I saw the summing up and really pulled it apart

0:42:300:42:33

and analysed all the defects,

0:42:330:42:35

that I realised why I had that instinctive discomfort.

0:42:350:42:40

Obviously, I think we both agree the judge has made the right decision.

0:42:400:42:43

Absolutely. Absolutely.

0:42:430:42:46

Fantastic. So, finally, some justice.

0:42:460:42:49

To get where we are now, it's been quite incredible, really.

0:42:490:42:52

And a real adventure, but also really emotional.

0:42:520:42:57

And to find that the verdict was incorrect,

0:42:570:43:00

or not as it should have been, it's absolutely brilliant.

0:43:000:43:03

I'm really, really thrilled.

0:43:030:43:05

Barristers Jeremy Dein and Sasha Wass reassess a tragic case of love, infidelity, and murder - the conviction and execution of Edith Thompson.

Ilford, 1922 - Edith Thompson and her lover are convicted of the brutal murder of her husband Percy. A product of an unhappy marriage, Edith began an affair with Freddy Bywaters, a relationship which would end with their joint conviction for murder and ultimately their executions.

However, now in 2017 Edith's cousin Nicki has questions about how safe the original conviction of Edith was. How much did she really know about her husband's brutal murder at the hands of Freddy? Did Edith's infidelity influence the minds of the 1920s judge and jury? Can Jeremy and Sasha uncover crucial new evidence to clear Edith nearly 100 years later?


Download Subtitles

SRT

ASS