Series re-examining the Ruth Ellis case. Gillian Pachter looks at Ruth's execution and the last-minute attempts to save her life, though Ruth herself was determined to die.
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This is a picture of a bedsit taken in 1982,
which I have faithfully attempted to recreate.
It was the last home of a man called Andre McCallum,
who, at the age of 37, took his own life.
In the room, he left a cassette,
which was recovered by his family after his death.
Andre's mother was one of the most famous killers of the 20th century.
Her name was Ruth Ellis.
In 1955, she became the last woman hanged in Britain
for shooting dead her lover David Blakely.
My name is Gillian Pachter.
As a documentary film-maker,
I've told stories about killers in America.
There, gun violence and state executions
are part of the landscape.
So I am fascinated by Ruth and her legacy.
I've spent the past year re-investigating her crime,
looking not only at the legalities of her case,
but at the complex post-war society that made and destroyed Ruth Ellis.
With the help of experts, I've already uncovered serious flaws
in the original police investigation.
Detectives hadn't thoroughly examined Ruth's motive,
or the source of the murder weapon,
and they didn't speak to her son Andre,
who could have provided key information.
It just appears there was no direction at all.
There was just an acceptance
of what was put in front of them on the desk.
"Well, that's it, then."
I've also examined Ruth's trial, which lasted a day and a half.
At a time when sustained domestic violence
could not be taken into account in a murder case,
her barrister ran a risky defence of provocation, which failed.
And he couldn't move the jury to recommend mercy.
I'm not sure he was a man who understood women,
and I think he probably had very limited experience of women.
Now I'm going to look into Ruth's execution.
I want to examine the campaign to get her reprieved,
and the Home Office's decision to go ahead with the hanging.
I don't think even Justice Havers really expected her to hang.
Even in the light of new evidence.
But that's the Home Office putting a full stop on it.
It's the Home Office also saying,
"Nobody's asked yet, so let's just leave it where it is."
Did Ruth have to hang for her crime, or did Lady Justice get it wrong?
After a trial which began on the 20th of June 1955,
and finished the following afternoon,
Ruth Ellis had been found guilty of murder,
and sentenced to death.
..and that you be there hanged by the neck until you be dead.
The Crown Prosecution had successfully proved that her crime -
shooting dead David Blakely outside the Magdala pub
in Hampstead, North London - was coldly premeditated.
Ruth was sent back to Holloway Prison
to await execution on the 13th of July.
My name is Albert Pierrepoint, and I was executioner for 25 years.
But there was a chance that Ruth could still be saved,
and her sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
Britain had grown uncomfortable with executing women.
The vast majority sentenced to death
in the first half of the 20th century were spared the gallows.
I've come to the National Archives at Kew in London
to search for clues to how Ruth felt in the days following her trial.
These files from Holloway contain notes from the prison doctor
during the last days of Ruth's life.
They are so sparse.
On the 27th and the 28th of June, it just says, "Jigsaws."
Underneath, a note that Ruth's sister Muriel
has been approved for a visit.
I wonder what Ruth said to her.
I contact Muriel's daughter Marlene,
who has been helping me throughout my investigation
into her aunt's case.
-Come on in.
-You look nice!
My understanding is that Ruth apparently wanted to hang,
or accepted that.
She did, yes, that's what Mum said.
She said... She said she was prepared to die.
She wanted to be with David.
That's what she told Mum when Mum went to visit.
She said, "No, I need to be with David.
"I want to be with David."
Given her crime, it's shocking that Ruth wanted
to be reunited with David.
She even wrote to David's mother, whom she had never met.
"I shall die loving your son, and you shall be content
"knowing that his death has been repaid."
I go back to the tape that Ruth's son Andre recorded
shortly before taking his own life at the age of 37.
It seems that Ruth's feelings for David, which had driven her to kill,
eclipsed everything -
her feelings for Andre, and even her own execution.
I wonder whether Ruth's solicitor John Bickford
accepted her wish to die, because he'd fought hard
to get a recommendation of mercy from the jury.
I discover this plea letter from Bickford to Gwilym Lloyd George,
the Home Secretary.
Bickford explains what he had wanted to come out of the trial -
that Ruth was a damaged woman,
the victim of sustained psychological and emotional abuse
at the hands of David Blakely.
Because I love you.
Because I'm going to marry you,
and I don't want to spend my honeymoon hanging around Sing Sing
blowing kisses to you in the exercise yard.
David's violence was something Ruth had played down in the witness box.
Ruth was sentenced to hang three weeks after her verdict,
which offered a very short window to win a reprieve.
I've come to the Foreign and Commonwealth offices.
this is where Home Secretary Lloyd George had his office.
The decision to grant Ruth a reprieve rested with him.
And it was from here that he pondered her fate
against a backdrop of social change.
There were increasing calls to abolish capital punishment,
but the Conservative administration in office
had made keeping it a campaign promise.
Murder as such demanded the death penalty, subject, of course,
to the right of appeal, and the right of reprieve
by the Home Secretary.
1953 - there was a Royal Commission two years before,
because there was concern in capital cases
that people were being hung,
when in fact there were all sorts of mental conditions,
including what became known as diminished responsibility.
The defence of diminished responsibility,
whereby a potential verdict of murder is reduced to manslaughter,
would only become law in England in 1957, two years after Ruth's death.
It was a crucial aspect of the movement to end capital punishment,
which had intensified around two recent cases.
Timothy Evans, wrongfully hanged
for the murder of his wife and daughter in 1950,
and Derek Bentley,
wrongfully hanged in 1953 for the murder of a policeman.
Ruth's case became part of the national debate,
and as I discover in Home Office files,
ordinary members of the public wanted their say.
Some had written in support of execution.
Men and women from all walks of life called Ruth "cold-blooded"...
a "foul harpy,"
There's even a poem.
There is the man who fears that if Ruth is reprieved,
it will give his wife licence to kill him...
I'm not mixed up in anything. Get your hands off.
..and a woman who says that if she doesn't hang,
hundreds of homes will shake.
These letters would not be out of place in 19th-century Britain.
They reduced Ruth to a dangerous type
whose reprieve could shake the very foundations of society.
Can you spot what she's doing wrong?
But there are far more letters in favour of saving Ruth Ellis.
I can see from the addresses and the way they describe themselves,
that people across classes, and genders, and occupations,
feel hugely invested in Ruth's fate.
They point to her miscarriage, how she was mentally unbalanced,
her two small children, that execution is monstrous, barbaric,
that her abusive background should be taken into account.
People write that she is a social and moral product
of the post-war years.
They refer to equality between the sexes.
Yes, the two housewives find time in between their normal chores
to tackle the man-size job of bricklaying.
These letters speak of a modern Britain,
and they accept Ruth as a modern woman.
This is very different from how Ruth has been treated by the press,
the police and the court,
who mainly looked at her through the lens of class and gender prejudice.
I might have known no woman could be on the level.
She can with a man she REALLY loves.
I'm struck that the Home Office
conscientiously responds to every single letter.
I contact social historian Frank Maude
for insight into the Home Office reaction to the public.
We meet in one of the few Soho clubs that survives from the 1950s.
I think there are, at that moment, er...
issues about capital punishment, really,
which have surfaced in the Christie case,
and the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty
is accelerating in the mid-1950s.
In 1950, Timothy Evans had hanged for a murder
that was actually committed by serial killer John Christie.
And it's almost as though the police and the Home Office
are constantly looking over their shoulder
to see that everything must be done in triplicate,
four times, five times.
Just a degree of nervousness, I think,
about public responses to legal execution.
But despite the volume of correspondence,
the Home Secretary is unmoved.
I find this confusing,
as I know that a death sentence wasn't always as final as it sounds.
In the week before Ruth Ellis was hung, he reprieved another woman,
a woman who'd killed a neighbour after a seven-year feud -
murdered her with a spade.
Apparently that's reprievable.
And I think two other men were reprieved
in the same spring period, 1955.
Why not Ruth Ellis?
I think there was a social attitude taken towards her,
because of the work she did, because she was a glamour model,
because she was a nightclub hostess,
and I think that infected possibly the Home Secretary as well.
From what Michael tells me, it seems it's not the crime,
but Ruth herself,
who was irredeemable to the government of the day.
I think the moral landscape which surrounds the trial
is quite hard-nosed.
I think... I couldn't imagine a case of this sort
leading to a reprieve in that period, actually.
Just think of the context of the mid-1950s.
Think about the emphasis on domesticity,
on maternalism, which is,
you know, so central to women's magazines
like Woman and Woman's Own, the big sellers of the mid-1950s.
Think about the Queen, and the way she's portrayed
as sovereign in the early 1950s, as wife and mother in particular,
as well as head of the Commonwealth, and all of her public role,
a big emphasis on her maternal and domestic role.
So, Ruth represents everything which is abhorrent
to the conservative standards of 1950s Britain.
It seems the same prejudices that played out
during her investigation and trial
were affecting her chances of reprieve.
On the 11th of July 1955, two days before Ruth's scheduled hanging,
Lloyd George announces that his decision is final.
He says he has not discovered any special considerations
in Ruth's case, that the crime was premeditated,
and carried out with deliberation.
He says that Ruth's sex shouldn't be grounds for preferential treatment,
that the prisoner had expressed no remorse.
"If her reprieve were granted in this case,
"I think we should have seriously to consider
"whether capital punishment should be retained as a penalty."
This seems the heart of the issue.
Lloyd George belongs to a party who have backed capital punishment.
If a woman who stated in court that she intended to kill her lover
didn't hang, who could?
On the 11th of July, the prison doctor writes
that Ruth is informed the reprieve has failed,
and notes her weight - 103 pounds.
But then, she does something surprising.
Until now, she has done almost nothing to help her own defence.
But on the 11th of July,
the same day she's told she won't be granted reprieve,
she fires her lawyer John Bickford...
And I'm beginning to wonder if my attorney is for me.
..and hires a new lawyer called Victor Mishcon.
Has Ruth decided she wants to live?
Mum went to see her a few days before,
so...perhaps Ruth did realise that she needed to speak up.
But why wouldn't she have done that through Bickford?
I don't know.
That's why I think something was going on.
That Bickford was involved with...?
Desmond Cussen and Bickford.
My father saw them chatting on the stairs, as two friends,
and then when my father walked up,
they sort of looked as if they didn't know each other.
Desmond Cussen was Ruth's other lover,
who I'm certain had more involvement in the crime
than the jury in Ruth's trial ever knew.
And then when my father -
they saw my father walking towards them,
they separated, and made out they didn't know each other.
But he'd seen a glimpse of them chatting as friends.
So, he... Yeah.
And I think that's where it comes from Mum
to say to Ruth, "Change the solicitor, speak up for yourself."
Did Ruth fire Bickford
because of his relationship with Desmond Cussen?
According to Bickford,
Cussen admitted that he had provided Ruth with the murder weapon,
drove her to find David, and trained her to shoot the gun.
But Bickford never revealed the information to the police or court,
maintaining that's what Ruth wanted.
It appears Ruth was conflicted when it came to Cussen.
Bickford discussed his sacking during a 1977 TV interview.
She said, "No wonder he hasn't been to see me.
"You've been taking money from Cussen...
"..to see that I go down," or words to that effect, "and...
"..he goes free."
I must, of course, ask you, Mr Bickford,
did Mr Cussen ever give you money?
Certainly not, my friend.
I asked John Bickford's nephew, David,
if he can shed light on the relationship
between his uncle and Desmond Cussen.
Do you know when he met Cussen for the first time?
I don't. I assume...
I don't. I don't. I can't assume anything.
-But he didn't mention whether or not he'd known him before the case?
John Bickford had done everything he possibly could to save her,
and at the last minute, she had no hesitation in saying,
"Well, I'm going to go to somebody else."
What does that tell us about her?
That she was really damaged.
And that John had got it absolutely right.
Whether Ruth was correct in her suspicions of Bickford or deluded,
by the 12th of July, one day before she is due to hang,
she has a new lawyer.
who would one day represent Diana, Princess of Wales in her divorce,
had handled Ruth's own divorce from dentist George Ellis.
Victor Mishcon was a great lawyer, and I knew him, and a very fine man.
I was in the House of Lords with him in the years leading up, you know,
before he died.
He was a very distinguished lawyer,
and a very clever, astute person around the human condition,
and he said to her,
"Tell me, it's important to get your story out about what happened.
"It's not going to probably make a difference to you,
"but your son deserves to know.
"Your son deserves to know."
And it was a piece of very, very wise
and clever psychological work on his part.
So, in just one visit, Mishcon has persuaded Ruth
to tell her side of the story regarding the day of the murder,
something she didn't do during police questioning, the trial,
or Bickford's appeals.
Ruth's niece Marlene has never seen the statement
that Ruth made on that day.
"I, Ruth Ellis, have been advised by Mr Victor Mishcon
"to tell the whole truth in regard to the circumstances
"leading up to the killing of David Blakely,
"and it is only with the greatest reluctance
"that I have decided to tell how it was
"that I got the gun with which I shot Blakely."
She says she spent the day drinking Pernod with Desmond Cussen,
her close confidant and sometimes lover.
"All I remember is that Desmond gave me a loaded gun.
"Desmond was jealous of Blakely, as, in fact, Blakely was of Desmond.
"I would say this - they hated each other.
"I was in such a dazed state that I cannot remember what was said.
"I rushed out as soon as he gave me the gun.
"He stayed in the flat.
"I rushed back after a second or two, and said,
""Will you drive me to Hampstead?"
"He did so, and left me at the top of Tanza Road."
So, had he not given her the gun, she wouldn't have shot him.
So, he was as much...
..to blame as she was, really.
This contradicts what Ruth told the police,
which is that she had had the gun in her possession for years,
that on the night of the murder,
she took a taxi alone to the Magdala pub,
where she fired six bullets at David Blakely...
Put down that gun.
..four of which hit their target.
Ruth is now confessing that she was not the only person
involved in the murder.
If Lloyd George thought there were no special considerations
in Ruth's case before, would this change his mind?
We know that Mishcon recognised
that there was a problem with the conviction,
and the safety of the conviction of Ruth Ellis.
And even though it was, you know, literally,
hours before she was to be hung,
he did his absolute best to try and either use it
to obtain some measure of clemency, and to commute the sentence,
or perhaps to move towards an appeal or a retrial.
But it's important to recognise that, even at that point,
Ruth Ellis was saying to Mishcon, "I don't want you to do this.
"I do not want you going down this road."
And he understood that, as a lawyer, he had a higher calling,
which was to put the best case he could for his client.
And Mishcon isn't the only one still fighting.
It's 12:30pm the day before Ruth is scheduled to hang.
The gates of Holloway Prison are crowded with protesters chanting,
Putting Ruth's name together with two men
who were hanged for crimes they were subsequently cleared of.
In four hours, Albert Pierrepoint's preparations will begin.
The execution chamber is usually next door to the condemned cell.
It is a small room with a trap in the centre of the floor.
A bag is filled with sand, and we rehearse the drop,
to see that all is in order.
Mishcon goes to Whitehall to speak to Frank Newsome,
the permanent under-secretary.
But he is at Ascot, so his deputy Philip Allen
gets an announcement made over Tannoy,
and calls him back to the office.
Now, what's all this about?
It looks as though Ruth's confession may indeed provide
the special considerations that Lloyd George felt were lacking.
Philip Allen asked the detectives on Ruth's case whether,
given her statement,
it would be possible to charge Cussen as an accessory.
Look, I don't know anything about all this.
-Hardly sufficient evidence to hang a cat on.
-Oh, I've plenty more.
The police report that it is possible, given evidence,
but the most important consideration
must be that Cussen knew the revolver he had given her
was to be used for the purpose of shooting Blakely,
and this must be substantiated by evidence other than Ellis's.
Basically, the source of the information
that Cussen gave her the gun
was the person who was convicted of murder.
So the question was, why would we believe her, a convicted murderess,
when she says that he was the person who gave her the gun?
And she'd given a different account to the police,
which was that she'd been given it in lieu of a debt.
How would you know what to believe? No jury would convict him.
Why would she be credible? No court would be able to rely on her.
He was a lucky man, Cussen.
He was lucky because she was...
In many ways, the most honourable thing in all of this
is that she decided to carry this herself,
to be the person who carried the can.
So, I mean, it is interesting.
He owed her a lot.
So Cussen's involvement may amount
to what the Home Secretary has termed a special consideration.
But only if it's corroborated by someone other than Ruth.
Bickford knows, but isn't saying anything,
because he says his client asked him not to.
Andre knows, but no-one thought to ask him.
And now, just hours remain until Ruth will lose her life.
When I probe a little deeper into the files,
I discover that, weeks earlier, Ruth's close friend Jackie Dyer
had come forward, first to the Home Office, and then to the police.
She, too, tells the police that Cussen had provided Ruth with a gun,
and drove her to the scene of the murder.
This is two weeks before Ruth's confession,
and would have left plenty of time to investigate.
But the detective chief inspector
had concluded that she was unreliable,
due to being a French woman.
And he reported back to the Home Office.
"I am of the opinion that Cussen did not supply the gun...
"neither did he drive Mrs Ellis to Hampstead on that night."
It's starting to feel like the police
were just not inclined to properly investigate Cussen.
And the man himself had sworn to the police,
in a statement riddled with gaps and inconsistencies,
that he wasn't involved.
Acting on a directive from the Home Office
the night before the execution,
two inspectors are sent to Desmond Cussen's home
in Goodwood Court to try to locate him.
At some point that evening, they give up and go home.
Mishcon gets a phone call at 2:00am.
The execution is going ahead.
I think that, to me, was the most extraordinary thing,
that if they actually thought
that Cussen might be involved in some way...
you find him.
I mean, it was much easier to find people in those days,
and they could easily have extended the period,
and told Mr Pierrepoint
that he didn't have to hang anybody that morning,
and I'm sure he would have adjusted to that.
But Lloyd George was adamant.
He is reported to have said,
"If she doesn't hang tomorrow, she never will."
Ruth was hanged at 9:00am on the 13th of July 1955
by Albert Pierrepoint.
He would retire the following year
after conducting the last execution of a woman in Britain.
To me, the documents pertaining to Ruth's death
speak more loudly than any image could.
They are so spare and efficient.
A bureaucratic box ticked.
Just three months after her arrest, Ruth was dead.
A Conservative Home Secretary had refused to grant a reprieve,
against the wishes of a large number of people
who were uncomfortable with her sentence,
and despite the emergence of new evidence.
It was an extraordinary decision, in John's mind, that she hanged.
He really couldn't understand why.
I don't think anybody did at the time.
The only person who understood why was probably the Home Secretary.
I don't think even Justice Havers really expected her to hang.
He expected her to be found guilty, that's for sure.
Which she was, no doubt about that.
But Ruth's hanging was not the end of the story.
In early 1956, six months after Ruth's execution,
crime reporter Duncan Webb, who had interviewed Ruth before she died,
petitioned Gwilym Lloyd George to reopen the case.
Right, this is the letter from Duncan Webb to the Home Secretary
in February '56.
So he's offering the Home Secretary access to some of the documents
that he's come across which indicate that Ruth Ellis
should not have been executed.
So it's a sign that he's going for the Home Secretary.
"Here and now, I challenge Lloyd George
"to justify the wanton killing of Ruth Ellis.
"I challenge him to read my evidence,
"to study and investigate my facts,
"and to prove they do not amount to a case
"warranting a full-scale inquiry into the murder investigation
"which sent Ruth Ellis to the gallows."
Duncan Webb is making the point that he should be ashamed of himself,
and I think quite rightly.
I discovered that the source
of Duncan Webb's new evidence was Andre.
During my investigation, snippets of what he knew have emerged.
But Andre had never been spoken to by anyone in authority.
Now, finally, his version of events was going to see the light of day.
Andre remembers a conversation between Ruth and Desmond.
"If I had a gun, I would shoot him".
"I have one, but it's old and rusty, and needs oiling.
"Shall I get it?"
On the morning of the murder,
Desmond and Ruth were meant to drop Andre at Hampstead Fair.
But it was closed, so they took him with them to Penn, Buckinghamshire,
to try to find David.
He remembers his mother bought an Easter egg for him
from a sweet shop, and he was nibbling on it and reading a comic
when they left that night.
The detail is heartbreaking.
Andre also states that Ruth's solicitor, Bickford,
accompanied Cussen when Andre was delivered to his aunt
the day after the murder...
..which is when Andre was supposedly told
to keep quiet about what he witnessed.
If true, it explains why Ruth's family
maintain that Bickford and Cussen were connected.
The Home Office are forced to respond
to Duncan Webb's allegations.
Andre's testimony -
the testimony that was never sought by the police
who investigated Ruth's crime - has finally come to light.
I ask a serving detective called Simon Davy
to help me interpret the Home Office's response to Duncan Webb.
What does it say about the boy, and whether what the boy would say...
It says that "This suggestion of incitement
"rests solely on the statement of the boy.
"Even if this conversation is incitement,
"there's no corroboration of his story, and none can be forthcoming."
And I totally agree with that,
but I still feel that those questions
need to be put to Cussen in interview, directly.
The Home Office's position is surprising.
Both Ruth's last-minute confession and the Jackie Dyer statement
corroborate Andre's account.
But is the boy's testimony not evidence?
Would it not be?
Well, I think it's enough to suspect him
of involvement and to arrest him.
-Where were you yesterday afternoon, Mr Warner?
-Well, let's see.
In my job I get around a bit, you know.
This is the kind of difference in culture,
is that decisions are being made.
"OK, we could go down this road,
"but it's not going to produce anything, so we're not going to."
Whereas I think nowadays, we'd probably say,
"Well if we can go down this road,
"and it's not going to cause any harm, let's go down that road."
And just to double check that it's not going to produce anything.
And it's surprising.
I know from the tape that Andre wanted to be heard.
Webb's appeal to the Home Office leads to nothing.
It feels like the last trail leading to Cussen has been erased.
The latest in a series of moments where questions were raised
about Cussen's involvement,
only to be dismissed without comprehensive examination.
There were clues that he may have had
a more central role in the killing
during the police investigation, while Ruth awaited execution,
and after she was dead.
But still he was never arrested.
I go back to the Duncan Webb report.
I find something I initially missed.
Long before the murder,
Cussen has talked to Ruth's parents of a brother he'd had,
a barrister working at the Director of Public Prosecution's office.
And do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty of murder?
I discover a brother called William, but he was not a lawyer.
So who is this barrister Desmond is related to?
I dig a little deeper, and I find the right person.
Desmond had a cousin called Edward James Patrick Cussen, a barrister.
This census document from 1911 shows Edward's parents and brother
were living with Desmond's father in a house in Putney.
This suggests to me that the two families were close.
Is this why Desmond had referred to Edward as a brother?
At the time of Ruth's trial,
Edward was a junior Treasury Counsel member,
part of a small group of top prosecutors
who were based at the Old Bailey.
Would this mean that he worked alongside Christmas Humphreys,
the prosecutor in Ruth's case?
And if so, could that have affected
how Desmond was handled by the police and the court?
I asked Richard Whitham, who until recently
held the same post as Humphreys.
So this is the list of all of the persons
who've been nominated Treasury Counsellor.
Yeah, independent members of the bar, different,
some from the same chambers, but a mix of different chambers.
They were working in the same room.
If you've got a problem that somebody else has had before,
very much a team performance of helping others.
And there's Christmas Humphreys.
Christmas Humphreys, so appointed in '34.
Now, one thing we discovered since the last time we spoke to you...
..which we were really surprised to discover is,
-have you ever heard of Edward Cussen?
Because Edward Cussen was junior Treasury Counsel in 1955.
He later became senior Treasury Counsel.
He was also Desmond's first cousin.
Because one of the things we're trying to assess
is why Desmond Cussen wasn't interrogated more deeply,
and why he was never arrested.
Could an answer be that he had a cousin in the Treasury Counsel?
Would that help?
I can understand why you ask the question.
It seems to me quite a leap to think that...
..the police officers decided not to ask,
investigate something, because that police officer knew
that Cussen was a Treasury Counsel.
And it may well be it was very close-knit and everybody did know,
but did the investigating officer know?
It's very important, certainly now, to have transparency.
And if somebody thought somebody wasn't prosecuted
or called as a witness or investigated
because of their status,
people would be very upset, and rightly so.
But you would declare it.
I would imagine it was rather different then.
In retrospect, and in a different time,
perhaps easier to say whether things were
not investigated as fully as they might have been
because of who people were and whatever else,
isn't leading to a more comfortable trial for her.
So the fact that somebody else may or may not have been culpable,
or perhaps should have been prosecuted,
if there was the evidence, that doesn't really help her.
It doesn't make it OK.
Oh, absolutely, it doesn't make it OK.
Richard is right.
One can't assume that just because
Desmond was related to a senior barrister,
that there was any suggestion of wrongdoing.
There is no evidence that the police knew about the connection,
or considered it important.
But I wonder if being connected to such an influential figure
could have helped Desmond Cussen in other ways.
I don't want to make assumptions based simply on type.
That's the same sort of prejudice
which contributed to Ruth's execution.
I decide to find out more about Edward Cussen's career,
and whom he came in contact with.
This takes me to Oxford, to Dr Roderick Bailey,
a Second World War historian.
OK, so Cussen worked for MI5
pretty much for the entire Second World War,
and MI5, during the Second World War, the security service,
it was a domestic intelligence.
So that's home intelligence, home-grown intelligence concerns.
Not like MI6, which is external,
which is gathering intelligence overseas.
MI5 is about security and counter-espionage
inside the British Isles.
They had various, several duties during the Second World War, MI5.
So for example, MI5's roles during the war included
monitoring German agents, counter-espionage,
German communications inside Britain.
But then, as the war develops, he also moves on to another role.
Cussen's role towards the end of the war is dealing with
what were called renegades,
so that's investigating cases of renegade Englishmen,
British nationals, who have been working for,
supposedly, working for the Germans,
or passing information to the Germans or other enemy countries.
I take this new information about Edward
back to the National Archives.
I discover Edward had meetings with Frank Newsome,
who would go on to be permanent under-secretary
to Gwilym Lloyd George,
and who was the person Mishcon approached
with Ruth's final statement.
So Edward was well connected, not only in the legal establishment,
but in government.
Getting in right with politicians is a good idea.
And remember, if you get into trouble,
he's a mighty good friend to have around.
I need to speak to someone who knew Edward personally,
to find out if these connections
could have led to preferential treatment for his cousin.
Could they explain why Desmond was never investigated
for his likely role in the murder, even after Ruth's death?
Edward's daughter, Fleur, agrees to meet me in Oxford,
where her father was a student.
Do you remember having heard
about the Ruth Ellis case in your childhood?
I just had always known that there was a connection, that it was...
You know, that Desmond Cussen was our cousin,
and that he'd been involved.
There was always... I think I remember, sort of, it was always,
you know, "poor Desmond."
My father perhaps would have felt that Desmond needed looking after,
and...so I think would have done for him what he could.
Do you think he would have helped him with legal advice before that,
while he was all embroiled in it?
I would have thought he would have, yes, if Desmond had asked for it.
So far as he could, you know.
Definitely put him in touch with people,
perhaps, or something like that.
-Did he mention, ever, Christmas Humphreys?
-Oh, yes, very much so.
In fact, he wrote me a very charming and kind letter when my father died.
Do you think people knew that they were related?
People in the legal profession, definitely.
I mean, it's not that common a name.
So I'm sure they did.
I can't imagine that they wouldn't.
You know, my father knew all the people involved in the trial
quite well, I would have thought...
..so I'm sure they knew that this was his cousin.
I find it hard to believe that they wouldn't.
One of the big mysteries around the Ruth Ellis case,
and there are a number of them, is why Desmond wasn't ever arrested,
and also why they didn't interrogate more fully his involvement.
And why do you think?
Well, we wonder if it had something to do with your father.
Do you think your father could have had
-anything to do with him not being arrested?
No, definitely not, because I don't think
he would have wanted to have anything to do...
He wouldn't have wanted to...
..get in the way of a case taking its proper course.
I mean, anything he would have done...
He would have certainly been someone for Desmond to talk to...
..and he would have, I'm sure,
introduced him to good barristers, had he needed one.
He might even have advised him how to deal with an interview
if he was going to be interviewed by the police.
But he would never have prevented him being interviewed
if the police had suggested that they wanted to interview him.
I mean, that would have not been...
you know, the proper course of action.
I wonder, because he was so admired and loved,
you know, whether somebody,
without him requesting that, or even wanting it...
Oh, I see.
Yeah, well I suppose that's possible.
All I can judge on,
I'm certain my father would never have ASKED anyone to do anything.
But whether somebody did without being asked...
And it's important that one views what happened
through the eyes of then, not now.
Although it's interesting to look back on it now,
it was a very different world, wasn't it?
Edward did not intervene to help his cousin.
But it was indeed a different world.
And the same class prejudices that hurt Ruth might have helped Desmond.
The standards Ruth would be judged by today
are not the same as those she faced in 1955.
Some changes are dramatic - wholesale shifts in the law.
Others are more subtle,
like the shifting of unconscious prejudices,
and a move towards transparency.
The Home Office drew a line under Ruth's case
and the question of Cussen's involvement.
Something which Cussen denied up until his death in 1991.
Let me state quite clearly, I did not give Ruth the gun.
Nor on that occasion did I drive her up to Hampstead.
But the impact of Ruth's verdict and execution did not go away.
Millions are asking, should anyone hang at all,
or should there be degrees of murder?
For quite a long time, there had been discussions
about the need for a much more nuanced approach to homicide,
and I think that the Ruth Ellis case was the pinnacle of that.
And this came about with the creation of the Homicide Act in '57,
which then said,
actually, there should be ways of mitigating murder,
and turning it into manslaughter,
where someone is provoked beyond endurance and snaps,
and where somebody is suffering
from an abnormality of mind, and is therefore not,
shouldn't be held fully responsible for their actions.
And I think Ruth Ellis was impaired in her functioning,
but the law had not changed in time for her.
Two years after her death,
diminished responsibility offered the possibility of a verdict
of manslaughter in place of murder for defendants like Ruth.
It was a key shift which set the course
for the total abolishment of capital punishment in Great Britain
12 years later.
Soon after her execution, Andre was told the truth
about his mother's disappearance from his life.
Victorian Holloway Prison was demolished
to make way for a new one.
Today, I have to imagine the forbidding building
where so many protested Ruth's execution.
What's here now are the derelict remains of a modern prison,
closed for good in 2016.
Between 1903 and 1955, five women were executed here.
The last was Ruth.
She was buried on site.
But in 1971, Ruth's remains needed to be moved.
"I suppose you have heard no more from Mr Turner, or,
"as I believe he now calls himself, Mr McCallum."
That's Andre, who also went by the names Ellis and Hornby.
The Home Office eventually located him as next of kin.
They describe him as "A nervous, pale-faced,
"slightly shabby young man of 26,
"who looks as though he could do with a good meal.
"He believes passionately that his mother should not have been hanged,
"and the execution has clearly shaped the course of his life".
15 years after his mother's death,
Andre has been contacting New Scotland Yard.
There is a log of conversations with a Chief Inspector Mason,
who reports that Andre is schizophrenic.
A few months before, Andre telephoned,
saying that he had new evidence
concerning the murder of which his mother was convicted.
Andre decides to have his mother reburied
in Amersham, Buckinghamshire.
I visit the cemetery with ex-detective Brian Hook,
who helped me look into the police investigation, and who lives nearby.
And this is Ruth's grave.
It's in this corner here.
There was a headstone here until 1981 or 1982, when Andre,
in the throes of severe depression, destroyed it.
The only marker now, really, is that small triangular piece of concrete.
Just an unkempt, untidy corner in an...
..overgrown, unkempt cemetery.
Andre's choice of location suggests that his mother
may not be the only person he was mourning.
So the only reason she's in Amersham is that it's near David Blakely.
It's about as near as you could get.
Is her son buried there?
Yeah, his ashes are in there.
-His ashes are in there?
I go back to Andre's tape, where he talks about his feelings for David,
who is buried only three miles up the road.
For David to have inspired that kind of feeling in Andre,
he must have been kind to him.
And, of course, he must have sometimes been kind to Ruth.
I now understand that it wasn't just the loss of Ruth
that Andre couldn't recover from.
It was the loss of both of them.
Ruth's crime claimed three lives.
David's, her own, and ultimately Andre's.
He didn't ever really make anything of himself.
He just sort of wandered, really.
Never really held a good job down.
Even with all that good education that he had.
And being a clever boy.
Young boy. Never...amounted to very much...
..and ended up in a one-room bedsit.
Why do you think he took his own life?
He'd had enough of life, I think.
Didn't turn out the way he wanted.
Missed his mother.
Carrying... Carrying all that with him.
I do understand why he did that.
Just had enough.
Did he give you any indication of his plans?
He was trying to give the children things.
-What was he giving them?
-All his little possessions,
all that he had in the world, which wasn't a lot, but...
His tape recorder.
He would record us all chatting, and say, "Come on, talk into it."
We'd all get embarrassed and say, "Don't be silly."
He'd say, "Come on, talk," and the children would talk to him.
-Jolly good show!
And he'd always walk around with this microphone.
Yeah, he was always doing it.
INDISTINCT SINGING ON TAPE
48 years after her sister's death in 2003,
Muriel Jakubait tempted to appeal Ruth's verdict.
She wanted the court to reconsider Cussen's role.
Michael Mansfield QC was hired as her barrister.
By that stage, I'd done many miscarriage of justice cases.
I'd always thought that the humanity that needs to be infused
into the way we practice law had not happened.
And I'd always thought that this particular case illustrated,
if you like, the division between what's happening in the real world,
and the way the courts sometimes regard...
people who they think are a certain category
deserve to be treated in a particular way,
so they might be understanding of a situation.
Whereby, I think if Ruth Ellis were tried now, or even in 2003,
there would be a defence to go to a jury,
and I think she would have a very reasonable chance
of an acquittal on murder,
but a conviction on manslaughter, obviously.
The court upheld the original verdict,
saying that it was the correct judgment
according to the law of 1955.
Richard Whitham was junior counsel for the Crown.
Easiest to put it into a context.
Despite the interest in the case,
and despite all the matters that we've discussed,
and the tragedy of the whole thing...
..the court was of the view that it had probably
taken an unnecessary amount of the Court of Appeal's time.
And so they obviously formed a view
that their time could have been better spent.
The appeal had failed.
Ruth's sister Muriel was devastated.
The legacy of Ruth's crime had been catastrophic for her family.
These are Muriel's thoughts.
But Ruth's legacy for women in criminal justice is more hopeful.
We've learned a lot, even in the last 50 years,
about the human condition, and long may it be so,
because you can only deliver justice
if we understand the human beings that we're dealing with.
My journey began a year ago with Andre's objection
to the prosecutor's description of his mother.
Over the months that I have spent examining the police investigation,
trial and execution of Ruth Ellis, I have learned just how inadequate
the ancient expression "murder in cold blood" truly is.
the English criminal justice system was not able to consider
the complexity of Ruth and her crime.
She was a type - the case was open and shut.
Just two years later,
after diminished responsibility was introduced,
she may have been found guilty of manslaughter, and served a sentence.
And she'd be 90 now.
I might be able to speak to her.
I wonder what she'd have to say.
In April 1955 Ruth Ellis shot her lover David Blakely dead. It's a case that shocked the nation and it still fascinates today. It has its place in ushering in the defence of diminished responsibility and the eventual abolishment of capital punishment. We all think we know the story, but why, when it was seemingly such an open and shut case, does it still divide opinion on whether Ruth Ellis got the justice she deserved?
Film-maker Gillian Pachter wants to find out. The result is a fresh investigation with fascinating true-crime twists and turns that also shines a unique light on attitudes to class, gender and sex in 1950s London.
In episode three Gillian turns her attention to Ruth's execution and the last-minute attempts to save her life even though Ruth herself was determined to die. Despite this Ruth decides to change her solicitor and Gillian is intrigued as to the reasons why. When Ruth does finally admit that someone else was involved in the murder, her new solicitor races to the Home Office in a bid to stop the execution.
He isn't alone in not wanting to see Ruth hanged. Gillian looks at the hundreds of letters that were sent by the British public to the government asking for Ruth to be reprieved. It's a fascinating snapshot of British attitudes in the 1950s; the letters point to Ruth's mental state, the domestic violence she'd suffered and even the trauma experienced by those who'd lived through the Blitz.
The police are sent to track down Ruth's other lover Desmond Cussen, who Ruth now claims gave her the gun and drove her to the scene of the murder. But they can't find him and won't take Ruth's word for it. The Home Office decides to press on with the execution; they worry that if they don't follow through on such a high-profile murder case that this will accelerate the abolition of capital punishment.
Ruth is hanged and Gillian explores the role of her case in the introduction of the defence of diminished responsibility in England and its place in the eventual abolition of capital punishment in Britain in 1965. But Ruth's personal legacy is much more tragic as Gillian explores the effects of the events of 1955 on Ruth's family. This takes Gillian to a taped conversation recorded by Ruth's son in the 1980s, where his despair at what happened when he was ten is movingly clear; Andre lost his mother and he lost David who he loved. He took his own life in the 1980s and today his ashes are close to his mother's in a cemetery in Hertfordshire not far from where David Blakely was buried. Three victims of a truly tragic set of circumstances.