Episode 7 Murder, Mystery and My Family


Episode 7

Jeremy Dein and Sasha Wass re-investigate an alleged false confession that led to the hanging of William Burtoft for the murder of Frances Levin in Manchester in 1933.


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Transcript


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The British justice system is the envy of the world.

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But in the past mistakes have been made.

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Between the year 1900 and the year 1964

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approximately 800 people were hanged in the United Kingdom.

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Many of those desperately protested their innocence.

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Some of these long-standing convictions

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could be a miscarriage of justice.

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She's received most of the blows in this position

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once she's already bleeding.

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In this series, a living relative will attempt

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to clear their family name...

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They got no evidence. They're just trying to haul anybody in for it.

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..searching for new evidence...

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I can make the 32 fire both calibres.

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

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One for the defence...

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This is a very worrying case.

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I think the evidence is very suspect.

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..and one for the prosecution.

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

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committed during the course of a robbery.

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They're on a mission to solve the mystery,

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submitting their findings to a senior Crown Court judge.

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

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

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both have put before me.

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Can this modern investigation rewrite history?

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Manchester, July the 19th, 1933.

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In the stifling summer heat 61-year-old wealthy widow,

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Frances Levin lay down to rest after lunch.

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Shortly after 2:30pm her maid, Freda Phillips, retired upstairs

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to complete her chores, leaving the back door open for air.

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Returning to the kitchen two hours later, she made a grisly discovery.

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An iron bar lay on the floor,

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a bloodied shirt, used to wipe it clean, thrown on the table.

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Her employer, Mrs Levin, was found in the front room.

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She'd been brutally bludgeoned, and left for dead.

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The murder investigation focused on hunting a man

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who the maid had earlier glimpsed from an upstairs window,

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exiting the house.

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Eight days later, a 47-year-old one-eyed local,

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called William Burtoft, was arrested.

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And, according to detectives, quickly confessed.

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At Manchester Strangeways prison on the 19th of December, 1933,

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he was hanged.

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That's Nanny Cookie.

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And that's dad's... Dad, John.

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Kate O'Reilly, a descendant of William Burtoft's brother,

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only recently discovered her ancestor's fate.

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William Burtoft was my grandad's uncle.

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It's strange to feel like you've got a murderer in the family.

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I'd love to find out what his character was like.

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She and her mum know little about Burtoft's life.

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He spent time at sea in the Navy and during World War I, the merchant

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fleet, before hitting harder times on Manchester's streets.

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He seemed like a little bit of a down and out.

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He had nowhere to live and he was an alcoholic.

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Doesn't mean that people like that go around murdering people.

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-Your dad's grandad.

-Yep.

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Kate is keen to learn more about her great great uncle

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and whether he was really guilty.

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There's a lot of suspicious things that just doesn't add up

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with the case at all.

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It would be nice to find that he is innocent.

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If we can find justice for him, then that would be great.

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Helping Kate to unravel the suspicious case

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are two of the country's best legal minds.

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Jeremy Dein QC is a top defence barrister, with over 30 years

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experience specialising in serious crime.

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Analysing the case for the prosecution is Sasha Wass QC,

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who has successfully convicted some of the country's most notorious offenders.

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Together, they'll scrutinise the facts,

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searching for the new legal argument or evidence needed

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to put the case in front of a modern-day judge.

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Kate, hello. Sasha.

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But before they get started they've asked to meet with Kate.

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Do any of your other family know about this?

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-Yes.

-And how have they reacted?

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My husband thinks he's innocent.

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-Yes.

-He knows the area so he said he couldn't get there that quick.

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Oh, right, OK, yes. You've done your own investigations?

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-Yeah, a little bit.

-OK.

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Obviously, you didn't know your great great uncle.

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-No.

-But if he was wrongly hanged, how would that make you feel?

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Just picked up as an innocent person and then wrongly hanged.

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It's quite sad, though, isn't it?

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Because then there was a real murderer that got away with it.

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So it's a double injustice, isn't it?

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-Well, yeah.

-An innocent man was hanged and a guilty man

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-was free to do whatever he wanted.

-Yeah.

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My role in this inquiry is to look back at William Burtoft's case

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and to see if I can find some new angle, which we can use to form

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the basis for possibly reopening the case in the future.

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I prosecute and defend but I do not want to uphold this conviction

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at all costs. Far from it.

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If I find evidence which causes me to be concerned,

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I will put that before a judge.

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Rest assured, that is my role, to be as fair as I possibly can be.

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-OK.

-Given all the evidence.

-Brilliant.

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All right, thank you very much.

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-Thank you.

-Thanks.

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The first task for Jeremy and Sasha is to get to grips

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with the key facts of the murder.

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Frances Levin, a 61-year-old woman,

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was brutally attacked in her own home in Cheetham Hill,

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on the outskirts of Manchester.

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Mrs Levin was confronted in the sitting room.

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But she wasn't alone in the house.

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Upstairs was her maid, Freda.

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She claimed to hear nothing of the attack.

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Her maid was in an upstairs room and had an opportunity of looking down

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and seeing a man wearing a trilby walking out of the house

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from a side alley of the house.

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She went down to the kitchen, she found a poker, bloodstained,

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immediately ran next door for help.

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And the next door neighbour found Mrs Levin's body.

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They called the emergency services but sadly Mrs Levin died shortly

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-afterwards.

-Sasha, we know that there were a number of witnesses.

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Mrs Levin's maid.

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An electrician next door, Mr Woodcock.

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And Francis Levin had had lunch with her brother.

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So there were people around.

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Witnesses, possible suspects.

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And what is it that led the police to William Burtoft?

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One of the most salient features of this case, of course,

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is that William Burtoft was arrested,

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and made a full confession.

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But what I think we've got to look at very carefully

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is whether there is any evidence capable of supporting

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that confession.

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Whilst the barristers delve into the case,

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Kate has arrived in Cheetham Hill, at the location

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of this brutal murder.

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She's meeting crime writer John Eddleston.

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Could his research into the case provide any new insight?

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-Hello, Kate.

-Hiya, John.

-Nice to meet you.

-Nice to meet you, too.

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This is the street. We're actually looking at the same spot at the time.

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-OK.

-But what you want to see, of course, is the crime scene.

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-Yes, please.

-Come with me.

-OK.

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The victim and her family lived at Claremont House.

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The property no longer exists but John has crime scene photographs

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taken on the day of the murder.

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Well, unfortunately, both her house and the doctor next door, both gone.

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-Yep.

-But you can see, actually, the wall,

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that's where the killer came in and out.

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This is the kitchen.

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Remember that the killer came in through the back door.

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-Yes.

-We've got the fire grate here where the weapon was picked up from.

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-Yep.

-This is the actual room that they think the murder took place in.

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-Right, OK.

-We've got a piano on the side here.

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-Yeah.

-Nice grand clock.

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But if you look at the settee and the window,

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you see a heavily-bloodstained pillow.

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-Oh, yeah.

-So she was lying here.

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Mrs Levin was found lying on the sofa, just as the maid had left her,

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before heading upstairs to her chores.

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That's the view that the maid, Freda, would have had,

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looking down from her room.

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That's the wicker gate.

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And she says she saw a man in a brown coat, trilby hat, walking out.

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That must almost certainly be the killer.

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-Yep.

-Freda Phillips would have got her description of the man from this

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-angle.

-That's all she could have seen, yeah.

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The maid's description of the man, plus the apparent theft,

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led police to suspect the culprit would be found

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amongst the local homeless ranks.

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In the 1930s, the world economy was in a Great Depression.

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Britain's trade collapsed,

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leaving the unemployed in industrial centres, like Manchester, destitute.

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For many, now homeless, queueing at soup kitchens and habitual drinking

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of methylated spirits became a way of life.

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This growing group of vagrants were viewed by society as deviants

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and a menace to the local police.

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But how did the suspicion of an entire group of vagrants

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end up with Burtoft in the frame?

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Kate has come to Manchester Central Library to find out.

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So, there's a paper here.

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There's a picture of William.

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Seeing his face on this photo, I kind of think, ah,

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I feel a bit sorry for him.

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Because he doesn't look like...

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..like a nasty man.

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This is Miss Freda Phillips.

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The police had circulated a general description of the killer

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based on Freda Phillips' account,

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and began arresting any vagrants fitting that description.

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It says here, "Scores of men have been questioned

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"and a batch of 45 found sleeping out in Cheetham early yesterday

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"morning appeared before the magistrates later

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"on vagrancy charges and were discharged."

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It seems to be that they're targeting the homeless people.

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They just have got no evidence whatsoever.

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And they're just trying to haul anybody in for it.

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The man leading the investigation was Detective Inspector Page.

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Eight days after the murder, he was called to Hyde, Manchester,

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where a homeless man fitting the suspect's description

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had been picked up.

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The Evening Chronicle. Thursday July 27th, 1933.

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"Cheetham murder charge: man in court.

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"Dramatic arrest at Hyde.

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"Man with one eye remanded until Saturday.

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"The charge against Burtoft was a sequel

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"to one of the biggest manhunts

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"ever undertaken by the Manchester police."

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They've picked William up and they put him into a possibility category.

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Because, maybe they just want to pin it on somebody.

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A short time after his arrest, whilst in custody in Manchester,

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according to the police, Burtoft confessed to the murder.

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But did the police have any supporting witness evidence

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to corroborate his statement?

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Before we deal with the defendant and his confession,

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I think what would be quite useful is to look at whether we can place

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him anywhere near the scene of this murder by four o'clock,

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which was the time of the attack.

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At quarter past three in the afternoon Mr Burtoft

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was at Bertha's lodging house, about 15 minutes

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from the scene of the murder.

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But there's another witness, Henry Wilcock,

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who records seeing a stockily built man in a trilby at about 3:25.

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And Henry Wilcock was in the waiting room of Dr Lee's, next door.

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-Exactly.

-It's 15 minutes from Bertha's, to the scene of the crime.

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On those timings,

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it's highly arguable that it could not have been William Burtoft.

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These conflicting timings raise significant doubts.

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Was Burtoft really the man at the crime scene wearing the trilby hat?

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So, then, we have Freda Phillips,

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she was in an upstairs room at about four o'clock,

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when she saw a man leave, as if he had come from the kitchen.

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She saw the trilby, and was only able to see the man's chin.

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So it's very, very poor identification evidence.

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What is highly significant is that the police felt

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that they should invite Freda Phillips

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to an identification parade.

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William Burtoft was on that parade.

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Not only did she fail to identify Burtoft,

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but she picked someone else out.

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It's very, very fragile as a basis

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for any supposedly supporting evidence.

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At Manchester Central library, Kate is re-joining crime writer

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John Eddleston, who has pieced together the hours

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after Burtoft's arrest.

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-Nice to see you again.

-And you, too, John.

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So what led to his confession?

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What came after his arrest is very, very contentious indeed.

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The police versions and Burtoft's version of events

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are completely at odds.

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Burtoft is asked to account for his movements over a number of days

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before the murder and after the murder.

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Which he does.

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But he misses out the 19th, the day of the crime.

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When Inspector Page says, "Well, what about the 19th?"

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he pauses briefly and says, "Well, go on, write it down."

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And he makes a confession.

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I actually have here a handwritten copy of his confession.

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-Oh, wow.

-Signed at the top, William Burtoft.

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And it's signed underneath, as well.

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"Go on, I want to tell you everything, write it down.

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"I admit being the murderer of Mrs Levin owing to drinking methylated

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"spirits. And also to the maid being where she was,

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"the old lady lost her life.

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"I was cool, calm and collected, of course,

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"when I got in the front room there.

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"The old lady was up and asking who this was.

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"I went back, got the poker from the fire range

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"and struck her repeatedly."

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So, if you're sitting in your house and a strange person comes in,

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and you know there's someone else in the house,

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what would be your first reaction?

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-I'd shout for help.

-You'd scream as loud as you could.

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You'd shout for help. She hasn't screamed.

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-Hasn't shouted for help.

-Yep.

-Hasn't tried to escape.

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Does that make sense to you?

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-No.

-He's convicted on that confession alone.

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And that confession does not make sense.

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Why do you think he'd make a false confession?

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Burtoft himself says that he was subject to the third-degree.

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"We know you did it, tell us the truth, admit it was you."

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After three hours of incessant questioning, from all sides,

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he finally said, I've had enough.

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So it's a question of who you believe.

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-Yeah.

-Either it's genuine and William Burtoft is the killer,

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or it is manufactured by one or more police officers,

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present in that room.

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-And he's got to sign it under intense pressure.

-Yeah.

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So the police had a confession but the big question is,

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was it a genuine admission of guilt?

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In London, Jeremy has been analysing the confession statement

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and also has grave concerns.

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He says, "I admit being the murderer of Mrs Levin.

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"owing to drinking methylated spirits,

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"and a lot to the maid being where she was,

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"that the old lady lost her life."

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We know that Freda Phillips was upstairs

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and she said she didn't hear anything. And this reads as if

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William Burtoft knew Miss Phillips was there.

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And there's absolutely no reason for him to have known that.

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"The old lady was up and asked who this was.

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"And I went back and got the poker off the fire range

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"and struck her repeatedly."

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Is this a realistic scenario?

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There's no suggestion she screamed.

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She sort of waits patiently for him to come back with the poker.

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Is that credible?

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The way it's supposed to have happened. I don't think so.

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I just don't think anything about this confession

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has the ring of truth about it.

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So, did the police have any information to verify their claim,

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that the confession was genuine?

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Forensics scientist Liz Williams is studying crime scene photos

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and police reports from the day of the murder to find out.

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Was the murder carried out in the way the prosecution

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presented at trial?

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We've got here on screen one possible scenario

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as to how Mrs Levin was killed.

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In this proposed scenario based on the pathology reports,

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the victim never gets up from the sofa,

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but the prosecution had a different story.

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In terms of the way the prosecution case was presented,

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the allegation was that William Burtoft came in,

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that Mrs Levin saw him, stood up, that he went and got the poker,

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came back and then attacked her.

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There's no objective way that you could ever say

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that she was standing up prior to this happening.

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Or that she was laying down prior to this happening.

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-Yep.

-All we know is that she was found with substantial head injuries

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on the couch.

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So there are a multitude of possible factual scenarios?

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Yeah, there's no, like, concrete forensic evidence

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that would tell you what happened beforehand.

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The prosecution account of the murder had no evidential basis.

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So what else did they present without proof?

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Is this blood staining on the cushion?

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It's what I believe it is.

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-It's consistent.

-It's very heavily bloodstained.

0:17:460:17:49

You can see here, we've been able to put little red circles around what

0:17:490:17:53

could be potential bloodstains.

0:17:530:17:55

We also read the police depositions and it said generic splashing

0:17:550:17:59

on the wall, the curtain, the windowsill and a picture.

0:17:590:18:03

What they're describing as splashing is generic blood on stuff.

0:18:030:18:08

The police had Burtoft's clothes tested for blood splatter,

0:18:090:18:13

but curiously, the results came back negative.

0:18:130:18:16

And are you able to do a reconstruction for us

0:18:160:18:18

so that we can actually determine whether there would be blood

0:18:180:18:22

found on an assailant's clothing or person?

0:18:220:18:24

We have blood staining on walls and curtains,

0:18:240:18:27

we have victim on couch.

0:18:270:18:28

The assailant has used some form of weapon to attack the victim.

0:18:280:18:32

Physics hasn't changed.

0:18:320:18:33

We can still recreate any scenario given what we know from the photos

0:18:330:18:38

and from the pathologist's report.

0:18:380:18:41

-Excellent.

-That would be very helpful.

-OK.

0:18:410:18:44

Whilst the barristers evaluate the forensic evidence that was raised at

0:18:440:18:47

trial, in Manchester, John is considering forensic evidence

0:18:470:18:52

that was never heard in court.

0:18:520:18:53

There was a fingerprint found on the purse.

0:18:530:18:56

Everybody in the house, everybody who could have touched that,

0:18:570:19:00

was fingerprinted and checked.

0:19:000:19:02

It was almost certainly therefore left by the killer.

0:19:020:19:05

-Yeah.

-Now, if William Burtoft is the killer,

0:19:050:19:08

the police would have checked that fingerprint against his prints and

0:19:080:19:11

said, we've got you bang to rights.

0:19:110:19:14

It was never mentioned at the trial.

0:19:140:19:16

So, why wasn't the fingerprint evidence heard in court?

0:19:160:19:20

It didn't fit the police evidence.

0:19:200:19:22

It wasn't Burtoft's fingerprint.

0:19:220:19:25

If it had been, it would certainly have been used by the prosecution.

0:19:250:19:28

It was withheld, the defence didn't know about it.

0:19:290:19:32

It wasn't used, so it wasn't William Burtoft's.

0:19:320:19:36

So far, none of the evidence

0:19:360:19:37

supports William Burtoft's confession.

0:19:370:19:40

Forensic scientist Liz Williams is conducting a reconstruction of the

0:19:420:19:46

attack using fake blood.

0:19:460:19:49

And not for the faint-hearted.

0:19:490:19:50

In an apparent setback for the police, Burtoft's clothes

0:19:550:19:58

had been tested and no traces of blood were discovered.

0:19:580:20:01

The police maintained this was perfectly plausible

0:20:050:20:08

despite such a frenzied attack.

0:20:080:20:10

So, were they right?

0:20:120:20:13

So, how did you get on?

0:20:160:20:18

There's a body on the couch with severe head injuries.

0:20:180:20:21

Is it possible, if the person who inflicted these injuries

0:20:210:20:24

with a weapon of approximately this length,

0:20:240:20:27

didn't have any blood on themselves?

0:20:270:20:29

If it's not possible, surely this would rule Burtoft out?

0:20:290:20:33

I have a block of wood and I have a blood-soaked sponge on top of that.

0:20:330:20:39

So, from here, I didn't get anything close to that wall.

0:20:390:20:42

And I didn't get any blood on me.

0:20:430:20:45

So, then, I came around here and from here I ended up with these,

0:20:450:20:50

what we call cessation cast off, on the rear wall here.

0:20:500:20:55

I also got splashing on this curtain.

0:20:550:20:58

The couch edge here is creating a void, but there's nothing on me.

0:20:590:21:04

Did you say you had nothing on your suit at all?

0:21:040:21:07

-No.

-Performing the acts that you've done,

0:21:070:21:10

it's entirely possible you could actually remain blood free

0:21:100:21:16

as far as your clothing was concerned?

0:21:160:21:18

Yep. And we've just demonstrated that from three different positions.

0:21:180:21:23

You're rubber-stamping the possibility that blood

0:21:230:21:25

-might not have got there at all.

-Yep.

-That's what you're saying.

0:21:250:21:28

-Yep.

-Thank you very much.

-Thank you very much indeed

0:21:280:21:30

-for all your efforts.

-Not a problem.

0:21:300:21:32

If I was defending William Burtoft today, I would still make

0:21:320:21:35

the point to the jury that the absence of blood on his clothing

0:21:350:21:38

is further material casting doubt on his guilt.

0:21:380:21:41

It was a good point then and it's a good point now.

0:21:410:21:44

What we've learnt from Liz's reconstruction

0:21:440:21:46

is that the person who attacked Mrs Levin would not necessarily

0:21:460:21:51

have blood on them, so we can't exclude William Burtoft

0:21:510:21:55

as the attacker.

0:21:550:21:57

Was Burtoft the type of person who could have committed this crime?

0:21:580:22:01

Kate has come to Liverpool's famous docks where Burtoft once lived and

0:22:030:22:06

worked, to meet naval historian John Winrow.

0:22:060:22:09

-Kate.

-Hi, I'm Kate, nice to meet you.

0:22:090:22:12

He's researched Burtoft's maritime records, so what do they reveal?

0:22:120:22:17

You can see here where it says his character - good.

0:22:170:22:20

-Good, there, as well.

-So quite a few goods.

0:22:200:22:22

-Yep.

-Unfortunately, in Navy terms if you were just good,

0:22:220:22:28

-you weren't good. You were bad.

-OK.

0:22:280:22:32

That might explain a few things.

0:22:320:22:34

Well, there's more to come.

0:22:340:22:35

So, here you can see he's on the HMS Hogue.

0:22:350:22:40

Unfortunately, while he's on the Hogue,

0:22:400:22:42

he was in cells for three days for some misdemeanour.

0:22:420:22:47

When he comes back to barracks,

0:22:470:22:50

while he's there, he's sentenced to 88 days hard labour.

0:22:500:22:55

Right, OK.

0:22:550:22:57

Just over a year later, he's discharged.

0:22:570:23:00

In 1910, he lost an eye.

0:23:000:23:03

We don't know how that happened.

0:23:030:23:06

It could have been disease, it could have been an injury.

0:23:060:23:09

-We don't know.

-Yeah.

-And in the same year, he was bound over

0:23:090:23:13

for stealing watches.

0:23:130:23:16

Early on in the First World War, Burtoft joined the Merchant Navy.

0:23:160:23:20

In the Merchant Navy at that time,

0:23:210:23:23

they had a discharge book which was a bit like a passport.

0:23:230:23:27

There was a photograph of William Burtoft.

0:23:270:23:30

So, there he is.

0:23:300:23:31

-Wow. Certainly seems like a character, doesn't he?

-Yeah.

0:23:330:23:38

-Yeah.

-By 1923, he's become addicted to methylated spirits.

0:23:380:23:43

Doesn't seem good, does it?

0:23:430:23:45

-No.

-Even if he's done, like, these crimes of stealing,

0:23:450:23:49

nothing really relates to any form of violence, does it?

0:23:490:23:53

No, it's all fairly petty.

0:23:530:23:55

-Petty crimes, really.

-Yeah.

-A sign of poverty, I suppose, really.

0:23:550:23:59

-Yeah.

-The effect of the methylated spirits could bring on aggression.

0:23:590:24:03

And around about the same time again he's doing six months for

0:24:030:24:08

-housebreaking.

-Stealing.

-Yep.

0:24:080:24:11

-GBH.

-Quite shocked, really.

0:24:140:24:15

Having listened to some of this I'm kind of having a change of heart

0:24:170:24:20

about him, to be honest. I thought he might have been innocent.

0:24:200:24:24

But maybe he did do it.

0:24:240:24:29

Now living on the streets in Manchester,

0:24:300:24:33

Burtoft was in and out of prison.

0:24:330:24:35

One conviction for GBH saw him hit a woman during a burglary.

0:24:350:24:40

This record provided police with the perfect suspect.

0:24:400:24:43

But was he capable of murder?

0:24:430:24:45

William Burtoft's trial opened at Manchester

0:24:460:24:49

on November the 13th, 1933...

0:24:490:24:51

..before Mr Justice Atkinson,

0:24:520:24:54

presiding over his first murder case.

0:24:540:24:57

The pivotal feature of William Burtoft's trial was of the alleged

0:24:570:25:00

confession. I think, really, we need to focus on how it was dealt with.

0:25:000:25:04

The arresting officer, Inspector Page,

0:25:040:25:07

took the stand to confirm the police version of events,

0:25:070:25:10

that Burtoft made the alleged confession voluntarily.

0:25:100:25:15

What happened is that the defence took objection to the confession

0:25:150:25:20

on the basis that it was involuntary.

0:25:200:25:23

So, there was then, as there is today,

0:25:230:25:25

a procedure where the argument takes place in the absence of the jury

0:25:250:25:29

because it's a matter of law.

0:25:290:25:30

And William Burtoft was called to give evidence along with the police

0:25:300:25:35

officers. And when he gave evidence in the absence of the jury,

0:25:350:25:38

he said that they subjected him to the third degree,

0:25:380:25:42

that one of the officers went out, came back with a bottle of whiskey,

0:25:420:25:46

allowed him about half a tumbler.

0:25:460:25:49

And when he drank it, said, there'll be more of that, effectively,

0:25:490:25:52

if you cooperate. And that the confession came about in those

0:25:520:25:56

-circumstances.

-He would not have been able to withstand any sort of

0:25:560:26:00

-pressure.

-No.

-And if anybody needed the assistance of a solicitor,

0:26:000:26:03

-it was William Burtoft.

-Well, I have to say,

0:26:030:26:05

really he was at the mercy of these police officers.

0:26:050:26:07

They could have done anything they wanted to to get a confession.

0:26:070:26:10

And when you look at the evidence they gave before the judge,

0:26:100:26:13

my instinct is, that's exactly what they did.

0:26:130:26:15

In the absence of the jury,

0:26:150:26:17

the judge made a determination that he believed the police.

0:26:170:26:21

The judge ruled that the confession was voluntary

0:26:220:26:25

and could therefore be heard by the jury.

0:26:250:26:28

But Burtoft's defence counsel scored a major own goal.

0:26:280:26:32

Firstly, it's astonishing that William Burtoft

0:26:320:26:36

wasn't called to explain how the confession came about.

0:26:360:26:41

And secondly, that it's beyond belief, in my view,

0:26:410:26:44

that a man accused of murder should not be asked by his own barrister,

0:26:440:26:49

do you want to give evidence?

0:26:490:26:51

So the jury had one half of the equation.

0:26:510:26:54

They had an opportunity of hearing the other half,

0:26:540:26:56

but the jury never heard the most crucial part of this.

0:26:560:27:01

Imagine if one of us went before the Court of Appeal,

0:27:010:27:04

having failed to call our client in a murder case,

0:27:040:27:06

and when asked why he didn't give evidence, we were to say, "Well,

0:27:060:27:09

"actually, I'm not sure, I never asked him.

0:27:090:27:11

-"Or advised him."

-Well, I think it's bordering on negligent.

0:27:110:27:15

It wasn't just the defence counsel that were at fault.

0:27:160:27:19

The barristers have uncovered major errors

0:27:190:27:22

in Judge Atkinson's summing up.

0:27:220:27:24

In relation to the three police officers,

0:27:240:27:26

the judge commented that these were witnesses who had made their mark in

0:27:260:27:30

-the force.

-Yes.

0:27:300:27:31

So he was effectively praising these officers.

0:27:310:27:34

He shouldn't have been praising them in the case of a hotly-disputed

0:27:340:27:38

confession such as this.

0:27:380:27:40

He said that, so far as he was concerned,

0:27:400:27:44

the statement was a perfectly voluntary statement

0:27:440:27:47

made by the prisoner in answer to a perfectly proper question.

0:27:470:27:51

-So...

-The jury were ultimately told to convict in this case.

0:27:510:27:54

Well, yeah. That's a highly deficient summing up in an even more

0:27:540:27:58

deficient trial, in my view.

0:27:580:28:00

Burtoft's defective trial has bolstered Jeremy's case,

0:28:030:28:07

but he still needs new evidence or legal angle to persuade the judge

0:28:070:28:10

a miscarriage of justice has taken place.

0:28:100:28:14

This case is all about that confession.

0:28:140:28:17

What we really need to do is to focus on what this man

0:28:170:28:21

is supposed to have said,

0:28:210:28:23

get into the detail,

0:28:230:28:25

that's what will take us in the right direction.

0:28:250:28:28

The barristers have asked investigative psychologist

0:28:290:28:32

Donna Youngs to analyse Burtoft's case.

0:28:320:28:35

Hi, Donna.

0:28:360:28:38

Nice to see you again.

0:28:380:28:39

So, was his contested confession genuine or false?

0:28:400:28:44

This statement, to me,

0:28:440:28:45

does not represent the heartfelt unburdening of a guilty man.

0:28:450:28:49

So not a genuine confession?

0:28:490:28:51

No, for a number of reasons.

0:28:510:28:52

I mean, psychologically, it doesn't have the emotional gravitas

0:28:520:28:57

that we would expect from a confession.

0:28:570:28:59

When somebody's confessing, it's a very intense emotional experience

0:28:590:29:03

for them. Therefore you expect that confession to be lengthy,

0:29:030:29:08

to be emotional, and illogically ordered,

0:29:080:29:12

to have a natural human flow of emotion...

0:29:120:29:14

So, like a stream of consciousness.

0:29:140:29:16

-Yeah.

-Yeah.

-Whereas this is much more functional,

0:29:160:29:20

and just quite simply, it's very short.

0:29:200:29:23

We're dealing with police officers who appear to be fuelling a false

0:29:240:29:28

confession from a vulnerable man,

0:29:280:29:32

knowing that that confession might well not be true.

0:29:320:29:34

I mean, that's what we seem to be dealing with.

0:29:340:29:36

I think this is police officers wanting to follow the appropriate

0:29:360:29:41

procedural steps to get the evidence that they need to convict a man

0:29:410:29:45

that they believe is guilty.

0:29:450:29:48

They've tried and convicted this man already in their heads.

0:29:480:29:52

Donna has added further weight to Jeremy's suspicion

0:29:530:29:55

that the confession was not genuine.

0:29:550:29:58

But this wasn't Burtoft's only confession.

0:29:580:30:01

After his conviction, faced with the gallows,

0:30:010:30:04

he wrote a letter to the Home Secretary, petitioning for his life.

0:30:040:30:08

What I want to do is turn to the petition which, I think you agree,

0:30:080:30:13

is also a confession by Mr Burtoft.

0:30:130:30:17

Because he said, "I wish to state,

0:30:170:30:19

"I am the man who committed the crime but not with the intention of doing murder." So he's saying,

0:30:190:30:26

I did inflict the injuries which caused the death of this woman.

0:30:260:30:31

-Is he not?

-He is, yeah.

0:30:310:30:33

How would you describe that confession

0:30:330:30:36

in terms of whether it makes sense

0:30:360:30:38

and it has the hallmarks of what you would be looking for?

0:30:380:30:41

Much, much more believable.

0:30:410:30:43

His version of events, it's very simple, very straightforward.

0:30:430:30:46

-Yes.

-Very plausible.

0:30:460:30:49

He simply was taken by surprise and he struck out.

0:30:490:30:52

Right. In this document, he provides a motive of what he was doing there.

0:30:520:30:56

-Yeah.

-He says he went to the door,

0:30:560:30:59

the temptation came over me with the express purpose of seeing if I could

0:30:590:31:04

get anything, I was surprised at being confronted with the old lady.

0:31:040:31:09

That's how the struggle started.

0:31:090:31:12

He's almost saying, "Look, I'm human."

0:31:120:31:14

It's not the externally applied motivation that we see

0:31:140:31:18

in the initial, alleged confession, where

0:31:180:31:21

owing to drinking methylated spirit...

0:31:210:31:23

He's talking about his own temptation.

0:31:230:31:26

He's saying, I'm a human being, I'm not a mastermind criminal.

0:31:260:31:29

It seems to be, what you're saying, Donna, is statement number one,

0:31:290:31:32

the confession, not plausible.

0:31:320:31:35

Statement number two, very plausible,

0:31:350:31:38

would you put it as highly as that, or not?

0:31:380:31:40

I think so, yes.

0:31:400:31:42

But notwithstanding that,

0:31:420:31:43

do you accept the possibility that the petition letter might have been

0:31:430:31:47

written by an innocent man in the vain hope that he could escape

0:31:470:31:51

the death penalty? That remains a possibility?

0:31:510:31:54

He hasn't done a very good job of it,

0:31:540:31:56

if that's what he's trying to do.

0:31:560:31:58

Given the analysis that you've done of these two documents,

0:31:580:32:02

are you able to express an opinion as to whether you think

0:32:020:32:05

William Burtoft attacked Mrs Levin, or not?

0:32:050:32:08

-I do believe he attacked.

-Right.

-I believe he was there.

0:32:080:32:12

And I believe he responded in the way that he has described.

0:32:120:32:16

-In the petition.

-In his December petition, yeah.

0:32:160:32:20

Which suggests that he lost his control but, what,

0:32:200:32:24

didn't intend to kill her?

0:32:240:32:25

I don't think he intended to kill her.

0:32:250:32:27

It's a panicked response.

0:32:270:32:29

Right. Right, well, that's very, very helpful.

0:32:290:32:32

So, does the second apparent confession hold any legal weight?

0:32:340:32:38

Has it changed Jeremy and Sasha's view of Burtoft's conviction?

0:32:380:32:43

I'm fortified in my opinion that this admission by William

0:32:430:32:48

was not a true bill.

0:32:480:32:50

And Donna Youngs has reinforced the concern that William Burtoft

0:32:500:32:56

was wrongly convicted on the strength

0:32:560:32:59

of highly fallible evidence.

0:32:590:33:01

I'm very troubled by the contribution that Donna has made

0:33:020:33:06

because she has said in no uncertain terms that the first confession

0:33:060:33:12

is unreliable. And if that had been ruled inadmissible,

0:33:120:33:16

that would have been the end of the case.

0:33:160:33:18

Donna took the view that the petition letter

0:33:180:33:21

has more credibility,

0:33:210:33:23

but I don't agree with Donna on that.

0:33:230:33:26

I don't think that petition letter can possibly influence

0:33:260:33:29

the question of William Burtoft's conviction is unsafe.

0:33:290:33:31

It's unsafe because that confession is worthless, and that's what this

0:33:310:33:35

investigation is all about.

0:33:350:33:37

With judgment day fast approaching, Kate wants to pay her respects

0:33:410:33:45

to William Burtoft.

0:33:450:33:47

Knowing about it now,

0:33:470:33:48

it'll be nice to finally get a little bit of justice for him.

0:33:480:33:51

He was a down-and-out, so he might not have meant anything to anybody.

0:33:510:33:57

It'll be nice. And have a little peace of mind myself.

0:33:580:34:02

In the early '90s, Burtoft's body was

0:34:030:34:06

exhumed from Strangeways Prison

0:34:060:34:08

and reburied along with other executed prisoners

0:34:080:34:11

here at Blakely Cemetery.

0:34:110:34:12

So this is where you're buried.

0:34:130:34:16

William, I've read your case.

0:34:160:34:18

I do believe that you're innocent.

0:34:180:34:20

So, hopefully, we might be able to right a wrong, and clear your name.

0:34:200:34:25

Rest in peace. See you later, William.

0:34:320:34:37

The mistakes made at Burtoft's trial need not have led to his death.

0:34:430:34:48

An appeal against his conviction was heard on the 4th of December 1933.

0:34:480:34:53

Hi, Jeremy, how are you doing?

0:34:530:34:55

Once again, the judicial system let him down.

0:34:550:34:58

The final phase of this tragic case is William Burtoft's appeal.

0:34:590:35:05

And I don't believe, having looked at the appeal judgment,

0:35:050:35:08

that the Court of Appeal did anything to remedy the unfairness

0:35:080:35:14

which had characterised his trial.

0:35:140:35:17

This is the Court of Appeal, the Lord Chief Justice speaking,

0:35:170:35:20

"Whatever doubt we, or some of us,

0:35:200:35:22

"may entertain as to the original history of the confession,

0:35:220:35:26

"it's not possible to interfere."

0:35:260:35:28

So they clearly harboured serious reservations about whether the judge

0:35:280:35:32

should have let that confession go before the jury, but they weren't

0:35:320:35:35

prepared to do anything about it.

0:35:350:35:37

This is an incredibly strong argument here that he was victim

0:35:370:35:41

of a miscarriage of justice.

0:35:410:35:43

Jeremy believes he has a strong case to put before the judge.

0:35:430:35:47

But could the petition letter, Burtoft's second confession,

0:35:470:35:50

get in the way?

0:35:500:35:51

I believe that he did this as a last desperate attempt

0:35:510:35:56

to avoid being hanged.

0:35:560:35:59

And that it would be unfair for any court in the modern world

0:35:590:36:05

to take that petition letter into account in deciding

0:36:050:36:09

whether William Burtoft's conviction was indeed, unsafe.

0:36:090:36:13

We start at first principles.

0:36:130:36:15

Was there enough evidence to charge William Burtoft?

0:36:150:36:18

Well, if you take the confession out of the equation,

0:36:180:36:21

the answer would be no.

0:36:210:36:23

There couldn't be a trial, there wouldn't be a conviction,

0:36:230:36:26

there wouldn't have been an execution.

0:36:260:36:28

So anything that flows as a result of that tainted confession

0:36:280:36:33

cannot be fairly admitted. And on that basis,

0:36:330:36:36

an attempt to have the death penalty commuted to life imprisonment

0:36:360:36:41

wouldn't even arise.

0:36:410:36:42

Judgment day has arrived.

0:36:450:36:46

The barristers will soon present their legal findings

0:36:460:36:49

before his Honour, Judge David Radford.

0:36:490:36:52

But has Jeremy found enough information to persuade him

0:36:520:36:55

that William Burtoft's conviction was unsafe?

0:36:550:36:58

I'm very hopeful of a positive outcome in William Burtoft's case.

0:36:590:37:03

I believe that the case is a prime example of how people

0:37:030:37:08

at the very lower echelons of society back then

0:37:080:37:12

were potential victims of miscarriage of justice.

0:37:120:37:17

Today, Kate will discover if her relative was really the murderer

0:37:170:37:21

he was made out to be.

0:37:210:37:22

-Hello, Kate. How are you?

-I'm good, thank you.

0:37:220:37:25

-Nice to see you again.

-And you, too, Sasha.

0:37:250:37:27

OK, we're here today for the judge's hearing.

0:37:270:37:30

-How are you feeling?

-Excited.

-Really? That's good.

0:37:310:37:34

-OK, would you like to follow me?

-Yes.

-Thank you.

-After you.

0:37:340:37:36

Judge Radford has many years experience at the criminal bar.

0:37:390:37:43

He's tried many murder cases, and sat in the Court of Appeal.

0:37:430:37:46

He'll be treating this matter as he would any other case.

0:37:480:37:51

Mr Dein, Miss Wass.

0:37:540:37:57

We're here this afternoon, with your assistance,

0:37:570:37:59

for me to re-examine whether the conviction that Mr William Burtoft

0:37:590:38:05

for murder should now be regarded as an unsafe verdict.

0:38:050:38:11

Mr Dein, would you like to make submissions first?

0:38:120:38:14

Yes, please. Thank you, your honour.

0:38:140:38:16

The case against Mr Burtoft depended upon 11 lines of confession.

0:38:160:38:22

Donna Youngs, a modern-day criminal psychologist,

0:38:220:38:26

is firmly of the view that, quote,

0:38:260:38:29

"The confession entered into is not representative

0:38:290:38:33

"of a coherent, truthful statement, and appears to have been made

0:38:330:38:38

"under duress or to be in someone else's words".

0:38:380:38:43

Without that evidence,

0:38:430:38:44

there was no evidence upon which he could have been convicted,

0:38:440:38:49

nor, of course, hanged.

0:38:490:38:51

The second point I make relates to the learned trial judge's

0:38:510:38:56

summing up. The judge effectively informed the jury that in his view

0:38:560:39:01

the confession was a perfectly proper,

0:39:010:39:04

and in those circumstances, by inference, truthful confession,

0:39:040:39:08

and that the jury were left with no choice, as a consequence,

0:39:080:39:12

but to accept the evidence to convict Mr Burtoft of murder.

0:39:120:39:16

And I submit with some force that Mr Burtoft could well have been

0:39:170:39:22

unjustly hanged for the murder of Frances Levin.

0:39:220:39:26

Thank you. Yes, Miss Wass.

0:39:260:39:28

You wish to respond.

0:39:280:39:29

Sasha now has the opportunity to validate Burtoft's conviction,

0:39:300:39:34

or support Jeremy's view that he was wrongly hanged.

0:39:340:39:37

Judged by the current day's standards,

0:39:390:39:41

had such a confession been in the hands of the police,

0:39:410:39:46

it would undoubtedly have been excluded by the trial judge.

0:39:460:39:52

And in the context of this case, there was no other evidence

0:39:520:39:57

against William Burtoft,

0:39:570:39:59

so taking into consideration the points that Mr Dein has raised,

0:39:590:40:05

we entirely support his submissions, that this is an unsafe conviction.

0:40:050:40:11

And we do not seek to uphold it.

0:40:110:40:15

Thank you.

0:40:150:40:16

Well, I must, myself, reflect on this matter, make my own judgment.

0:40:170:40:22

Perhaps you'll be kind enough to give me time to do that properly.

0:40:220:40:26

Certainly.

0:40:260:40:27

As the judge said, although Jeremy and I both agree,

0:40:320:40:35

that this was not a safe conviction, it's not our decision.

0:40:350:40:39

It's the judge's decision.

0:40:390:40:40

So he's got to approve it and he's got to really look at our reasoning

0:40:400:40:45

and satisfy himself that he's happy with it.

0:40:450:40:47

It's not just a question of rubber-stamping

0:40:470:40:49

what we've asked him to do.

0:40:490:40:50

He's got to come to his own conclusions.

0:40:500:40:53

All right. So we just have to wait until he's prepared his judgment.

0:40:530:40:56

-He'll call us in.

-Yep.

0:40:560:40:58

How do you think it went?

0:40:580:40:59

I really think the judge will be on our side.

0:40:590:41:03

Good. Well, it's good that you're optimistic.

0:41:030:41:05

-Not long to wait now.

-Yep.

0:41:050:41:07

Will Judge Radford agree with the barristers, or follow suit with the

0:41:080:41:12

original trial judge and Lord Chief Justice at the appeal?

0:41:120:41:15

He's ready to deliver his verdict.

0:41:170:41:20

As the Lord Chief Justice said in the course of the judgment

0:41:200:41:24

in the Court of Appeal, the evidence against Mr Burtoft rested,

0:41:240:41:31

apart from his confession, on little or no other basis.

0:41:310:41:36

As to the confession,

0:41:370:41:39

it was initially for the trial judge to determine whether the prosecution

0:41:390:41:44

had satisfied him, beyond a reasonable doubt,

0:41:440:41:47

that it was a voluntary confession.

0:41:470:41:50

If, but only if, the judge so determined,

0:41:510:41:55

the issue for the jury was not whether it was voluntary,

0:41:550:41:58

but whether the confession was a true confession.

0:41:580:42:01

The confession was,

0:42:030:42:04

as the Lord Chief Justice had said in the course of argument,

0:42:040:42:08

a remarkable, and I quote the Lord Chief Justice's words,

0:42:080:42:12

"It seems to be written straight on without a pause,

0:42:120:42:16

"and with a running pen".

0:42:160:42:19

It seems clear to me that the circumstances

0:42:190:42:22

in which this confession was said to be made

0:42:220:42:26

were obscure and difficult to justify

0:42:260:42:29

as being made in circumstances where the confession

0:42:290:42:34

was voluntary. My conclusion, therefore,

0:42:340:42:37

is that this conviction was not safe,

0:42:370:42:41

based on the evidence that had been allowed to be before the jury.

0:42:410:42:46

I shall rise.

0:42:490:42:50

Thank you both so much.

0:42:580:42:59

-I hope you're pleased with that outcome.

-I am, yeah.

0:42:590:43:02

-All right.

-Feel a little bit emotional, now.

0:43:020:43:05

We understand that. Yeah, of course.

0:43:050:43:07

I'll be telling everybody that me great, great uncle was innocent.

0:43:070:43:10

Yay! Yeah, yeah.

0:43:100:43:12

So, it's nice, yeah. Made up.

0:43:120:43:15

Barristers Jeremy Dein and Sasha Wass re-investigate an alleged false confession that led to the hanging of William Burtoft for the brutal murder of Frances Levin in her home in Manchester in 1933. Now, more than 80 years later, William's relative Kate is keen to learn more about the case and works alongside Sasha and Jeremy to uncover new details about her great-great-uncle.

The case was based on a confession that William signed, but the barristers have grave concerns about how that confession was obtained - can they discover new evidence about the authenticity of the confession? What singled William out as a suspect in this case? Kate goes on a journey of discovery, learning about her ancestor's time in the navy and his previous run-ins with the law - is she still certain of his innocence?

Calling on the assistance of experts, will Jeremy and Sasha uncover enough new evidence to present the case to a former Crown Court judge?


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