I met her by chance on platform 5 at Victoria Station. It was Saturday 22 July 1969, a typical rainy London day. I remember well that day because the newspaper posters and headlines were sensational and unforgettable –“Man lands on the moon!”
I was waiting to catch the 10.05 train to Brighton. I wanted to see Julie and make up with her after our quarrel the day before. The large white clock on the station wall marked 9.45. The station was, as usual, awfully busy with commuters’ hurrying to catch their train or to reach their place in the capital.
She came from behind, put her hands around me and whispered in my ear – “Oh George, I thought that you would not come”. Then, as I turned round and she saw my face, she exclaimed – “Oh my God! I’m so sorry; I thought you were my husband!”
She was, perhaps, 35 years old; a charming face, long auburn hair, navy blue coat, red scarf. She apologized for her mistake, saying how much I looked like her husband from behind. “These things happen” I said, “Don’t worry about it”. We shook hands and she hurried out of the station.
I saw her again a year later. She was on trial for allegedly shooting and murdering her husband in his own flat in Putney. I looked at her face but I was unable to place it anywhere. I racked my brain but it transmitted no reply. Then her coat jogged my memory. The woman in the navy blue coat I had met at Victoria Station. What a coincidence!
She stood silently in the dock with her eyes looking down. She was alone, facing the Judge, the Jury and the Court audience. As I looked at her, she seemed somewhat different from the woman I had met barely a year ago. The twelve month gap seemed to be showing on her. Her assurance and self esteem appeared to have deserted her. In truth, I felt sorry for her.
The trial drew a lot of interest from the general public, so much so that the Court was full up when Peter Russell-Lodge, appearing for the Crown as Prosecutor, rose from the bench to make his opening address. He gestured widely with his hands showing a determination to make an impact with his audience.
In skilled and broad sentences, the prosecuting lawyer outlined the Crown’s case against the defendant. “Before this trial comes to an end, I will prove that this woman, intently and cold-bloodedly, murdered her husband because she was in love with another man!”
He explained, in graphic details, the sequence of events leading to the couple’s meeting in the Putney apartment, the argument, the quarrel, the confrontation and the shooting. He based his main thrust on the intent of murder and on the evidence of witnesses that it was the defendant who had actually killed the unfortunate victim-her husband George.
He called his witnesses. The neighbours who heard the couple quarrelling and shouting; the taxi driver who drove the accused from outside the Putney apartment to her place in Earl’s Court; the Police who confirmed her fingerprints on the gun used in the shooting; the doctor who described the victim’s cause of death.
“The facts presented and the witnesses who have given evidence before this Court today make it justifiable clear that the accused had committed the crime” stressed Russell-Lodge. “Your Honour, gentlemen of the Jury, these are factual and not circumstantial evidence. The accused is guilty of murder and should be punished according to law for her crime. I rest my case.”
The people in the Court room sighed and murmured among themselves. It looked like the case against the woman in the dock was irrefutable and that, whatever the line of her defense, she was doomed.
The Court adjourned for the afternoon when Peter Paul Smith Q.C. started his defense. His appearance brought smiles and light laughter from the spectators in Court. He was fat, wore a three-piece suit that must have been out of date when his father owned it. His tie, obviously stained, was knotted the wrong way.
But behind this facade, he was one of the best criminal lawyers in England. It was said that he had never lost a case in his career. Today, however, the audience was thinking that it would be his Waterloo.
“Your Honour, gentlemen of the Jury”, he began. “Despite the evidence brought up by my learned friend the Prosecutor, my client is innocent.” he continued. He looked straight into the eyes of the jurists, as obviously it was them he wanted to impress and convince. “She has not committed the crime she is being accused of doing.” He was turning from left to right and then left again, so as not to miss the attention of the Judges, the Jurymen and the whole audience. “She did not commit the crime because she was not with her husband, the victim, when the crime was actually committed!”
Peter Paul Smith, astute and dramatic as ever, then began casting doubts on the defense witnesses – the neighbours, the taxi driver and the Police. He attacked their character, exposed their health failings and highlighted their dubious moral behavior.
He also, slowly and skillfully, played on the emotions of the jurors like a master musician – making them laugh, bringing tears to their eyes and always holding their rapt attention.
“My client has an ‘alibi’ which would show that, at the time when her husband was being killed in Putney, she was with another man at Victoria Station!” The audience was stunned. How could this be possible? If this man would confirm this statement, the woman in the dock would stand a chance.
“But your Honour, I have a problem. We sought this man everywhere but we cannot find him. I have absolutely no doubt, however, that my client is saying the truth. She saw him from behind, thought he was her husband and embraced him. But she was mistaken. He was not her husband!”
I was perspiring. My mind was running amok. It was true that she met me at Victoria Station, but how could she, at the same time, have been at the Putney apartment as confirmed by the Prosecutor’s witness. Something was definitely wrong here.
“In the circumstances, gentlemen of the Jury, I would like you to ask your conscience that, just because this man seems to have disappeared and cannot be found, it does not necessarily mean that my client’s sworn testimony is not true. I ask that my client, this innocent woman before you, be found not guilty. I rest my case.”
The presiding Judge adjourned the case for tomorrow morning when the Jury’s verdict and the Judge’s sentence would be given. The audience, now evidently agitated by the turn of events, left the Court talking among themselves.
The following morning the Court resumed its work. The audience sat down anticipating the outcome of this case. The jury had been left isolated from the public in order that it would not be influenced in its decision in any way whatosever. It had discussed the case throughout the previous night, going through all the evidence and submissions brought before the court.
The nine-man jury represented men and women from practically all walks of life. As they entered the Hall to give their verdict, the presiding judge solemnly asked, “Gentlemen of the jury, having considered all the evidence presented and having heard the arguments of the Prosecution and the Defence, do you find the accused guilty or not guilty?” The silence in the court room could be cut with a knife.
All eyes were fixed on me. I looked at the woman in the navy blue coat standing in the dock, awaiting anxiously her fate. For a fraction of a second her eyes met mine. I rose up from my chair and, as head of the jury, spoke on behalf of my colleagues – “NOT GUILTY”