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Authors: Bernard Knight

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BOOK: According to the Evidence
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‘And you ascertained where this hanging had taken place, doctor?' asked the coroner.
‘It seemed likely that it was from the hook of that hoist you can see in the photographs. There would have to have been something like a rope as well, which was confirmed by laboratory examination.'
After a few more questions about the lack of natural disease as a contribution to death, Richard stood down, the coroner indicating that he would recall him later. Then Billy Brown invited Dr Angela Bray to the witness box. In a trim navy-blue suit and a small tilted hat, all dark enough for the sombre occasion, she stood calmly erect and took the oath with practised ease. Charles Matthews, who seemed very taken with this elegant scientist, invited her to be seated, but she gracefully declined. He then got her to declare her professional qualifications and the fact that she was a former senior scientist in the Metropolitan Police Laboratory, which again stimulated some whispers and more rapid note-taking on the press bench.
She explained that she had been present at the scene in the capacity of a professional colleague to Dr Pryor and that she was not the official forensic scientist.
Matthews rather brushed this aside and said that no doubt the investigating officers were very glad to have someone of such experience and expertise at the scene. Angela then said that she had removed some fibres from the neck of the dead man and caused them to be sent to the Cardiff laboratory for examination, together with various samples of rope from the barn.
The coroner nodded wisely and followed this up. ‘I have not thought it necessary to bring anyone from that laboratory up to Brecon today, given that you are present, Dr Bray. So perhaps you could read out the report they prepared on the samples you had recovered.'
He gave his officer a sheet of paper, which Billy handed to Angela. She studied this before reading it verbatim, then explaining its significance for the benefit of the jury.
‘It means that the fibres I recovered from the skin of the neck were examined under a microscope and by various other tests and were found to be identical with fibres from two of the lengths of rope that were recovered from the barn.'
‘Does that indicate that one of those lengths was used to hang the deceased, doctor?' asked the coroner.
Angela shook her head. ‘One can't be definite, sir. Sisal rope varies widely in type, but no doubt there are many other coils in this county which are identical. The ropes from the barn were examined at Cardiff for any traces of skin, but none were identified. It would be very difficult to find such tiny fragments on long lengths.'
Matthews nodded wisely. ‘But it shows, does it not, that a rope of this nature had been wrapped around the neck?'
Angela agreed. ‘Also, the laboratory applied sticky tape to the hook of the hoist you described and found identical fibres caught on the rusty surface. Of course, they may have come from previous legitimate use in the workshop, but it seems to point to the use of that hoist to suspend the body.'
‘Is there anything else you can tell us, Dr Bray?'
‘We analysed samples of blood and urine retained from the body and found that there was a moderate amount of alcohol present. It was enough to hamper a person's ability to drive a vehicle safely, but in my opinion well below the level likely to make him obviously inebriated.'
The coroner seemed rather reluctant to let this elegant witness leave the box, but, after receiving profuse thanks, Angela stepped down.
‘He seems quite taken with her,' Siân whispered to her boss. ‘But I don't think he's her type!' she added with a grin.
The coroner then explained to the jurors that he would move on to the second part of the double inquest, so that they could understand the sequence of events. He recalled Arthur Crippen and reminded him that he was already on oath.
‘Detective inspector, I understand that you made extensive enquiries into this matter over the course of the next few days?'
Crippen related how his officers had interviewed all the family members and neighbours within a reasonable distance, without making any progress.
‘Enquiries were also made in Brecon, at the flat where the deceased lived, as well as with the army authorities in relation to Littleman's past history,' he added.
As Arthur had also had a pre-inquest chat with the coroner, he avoided mentioning the revelations about the victim's amorous relations with the two women in the family. At this point, Betsan and Rhian sat immobile in the court, hardly daring to breathe, even though Crippen had explained to them that the coroner had decided that in view of subsequent events he saw no reason to parade embarrassing family matters for the delectation of the press.
Charles Matthews then led the detective through the finding of Mostyn Evans' body in the same barn and the obvious supposition that he had killed himself.
This time it was Jeff Morton who was to identify the body. He was called to nervously relate how he had heard a distant shotgun discharge and gone to investigate.
‘One look was enough to know who it was. And I recognized the four-ten as belonging to Uncle Mostyn,' he said. ‘So I shut the door and ran back to ring the police.'
Both he and his cousin Aubrey testified that they had no idea of Mostyn's actions and that he had not given the slightest indication of committing suicide, so the coroner then recalled Richard Pryor, again reminding him that he was still on oath.
The pathologist gave a brief summary of his findings, describing death as having been caused virtually instantaneously by a shotgun wound to the throat which had penetrated the brain.
‘Mr Evans also suffered from an advanced cancer of the prostate gland, which had already spread into his bones,' he added.
Matthews followed up his report with a few additional questions. ‘Doctor, is there any doubt in your mind that this gunshot was self-inflicted?'
Richard shook his head, feeling on safe ground given that a suicide note had been left.
‘None at all, sir. The position of the wound was one of the prime “sites of election” for suicide. The gun had been resting against the skin, leaving a partial muzzle impression. I measured the length of the weapon from muzzle to trigger and it could easily have been fired by the deceased.'
The coroner turned over a sheet of paper on his desk and nodded. ‘I see that only the fingerprints of Mostyn Evans were found on the shotgun.'
Richard Pryor finished his report by confirming that the body contained no alcohol or drugs and that the time that Jeff Morton heard the gunshot was consistent with the time-of-death examination that he himself had made on arriving at the farm later that afternoon.
Once again, the family's solicitor had no questions, and Richard went back to sit with Angela and Siân.
The coroner then applied himself to the jury, peering at them over his glasses. ‘The only remaining evidence is what you might well consider the most important and revealing,' he began, holding up a couple of pages of pale blue notepaper.
‘This letter was found on the ground near the body, addressed to me. I have no intention of making it public, as it contains very personal family issues which I see no reason to divulge, as the rest of the very full description of the circumstances seem to me to be more than adequate for the purposes of this inquest.'
There was again a low buzz around the court, and one of the reporters hurriedly turned over a page of his notebook in preparation for his scoop of the month.
‘In this letter, Mr Mostyn Evans acknowledges that he had a terminal illness, which, incidentally, he had concealed from his family. He then admits that he had killed Thomas Littleman on the night before the body was discovered, the motive being a personal dispute about which I do not propose to elaborate. Suffice it to say that Mostyn Evans knew that he had only a short time to live due to his fatal illness and decided that he would settle his dispute with Littleman and then kill himself.'
Again the coroner peered intently at his jury as if defying them to challenge his decision. ‘Of course, if this was a murder trial in the Assize Court, every scrap of information would have to be presented in the cause of justice. But again I emphasize that this is an inquest, not a trial. We are here to determine who, where, when and by what means these two men came to their deaths – and I feel you have ample evidence before you to come to a conclusion.'
After delivering this homily, he briefly summarized the evidence they had heard about the two deaths and then charged the jury with providing verdicts on each victim, offering them the choices of natural causes, accident, suicide or unlawful killing.
The result was never in doubt, and within minutes, after a muttered consultation between the ten stalwart Breconians, the beefy butcher rose and provided Charles Matthews with what he wanted.
After expressing his sympathy to the families from Ty Croes and thanking the jury and witnesses for their help, Billy Brown asked the court to rise and the coroner gathered up his papers and left through the door at the side of the bench.
Outside, Arthur Crippen and Detective Sergeant Nichols were standing talking with the two couples from the farm, but broke away for a moment to say goodbye to the Garth House team.
‘Thanks for your help, doctors, you did a grand job for us,' said Crippen. ‘If the opportunity to use you again comes up, we'll look forward to seeing you!'
As they walked towards the gates, the coroner's officer also thanked them and recommended the Wellington Hotel if they wanted some lunch. This was a large Georgian building just up from the Shire Hall, one of the focal points of the small town. As it was now noon, Richard steered his colleagues towards it and treated them to a celebratory meal.
As they sat over their oxtail soup in the old-fashioned dining room, Angela asked Siân what she thought of her first visit to a court.
‘Great, it's all so medieval!' she enthused. ‘That business of the coroner's officer chanting the “Oyez” bit! Do they always do that?'
Richard grinned. ‘It's dying out, but often in the country courts the coroner's officer likes to have his say. Wait until you go to the Assizes, then you'll see scarlet robes, wigs and velvet breeches!'
‘Can I come to the Gloucester trial when you go, doctor?' she asked, almost like a child wanting to visit a funfair.
‘I think Moira has booked a visit there, but I might have to go for more than one day, so be good and I'll see what I can do!'
Over their gammon steaks with egg and pineapple, a treat that had only come back on the menu in the last couple of years, Angela remarked on the skilful way in which the coroner had avoided the embarrassing background to Littleman's death.
‘I'll bet the jury were bursting to know what was in that suicide letter,' she said. ‘There'll be some tongues wagging in the neighbourhood tonight, all with their theories about what was really going on at that farm.'
Richard speared a chip with his fork. ‘I think he cut a few legal corners this morning – but who's to stop him? Coroners are almost a law unto themselves, especially out here in the sticks. Unless a family challenges his verdict and takes it to a Divisional Court for appeal, what he says, goes.'
‘Well, this family certainly won't object,' said Angela. ‘No doubt they're desperately relieved that their dirty washing hasn't been hung out in public.'
After apple tart with custard for dessert and a cup of coffee, Richard paid the bill and they walked back to their car. He drove leisurely back through the sunlit countryside, Angela noticing that on the main roads traffic was noticeably greater than it had been a few years earlier, now that new cars were freely available after their scarcity during the immediate postwar period.
There were still plenty of pre-war cars about, but now the sleeker Fords, Austins and Vauxhalls abounded, with foreign cars like her own Renault becoming too common to be curiosities any longer.
For Siân, the Wye Valley appeared all too soon, and after the last few miles down the side of the river from Monmouth, they finally pulled into the yard at Garth House satisfied with a day away from their usual routine.
EIGHTEEN
A
n early start on Tuesday took Richard and Angela to Newport Station, from where the Red Dragon hurried them eastwards. As he had little doubt that the two War Office bureaucrats always travelled first class, he again overcame his Welsh parsimony and settled his partner and himself in a similar coach on the London train.
Angela, with the prospect of half a day parading around Bond Street, was dressed in a very smart A-line suit of pale blue under a long swing-backed coat of a darker blue, with a matching pillbox hat. Richard appreciated her elegance, but hoped that the suitcase he had carried for her contained something more suitable for attending an exhumation. He had another reason for being glad that she looked so good, as he intended to surprise her by taking her to a theatre and a good meal that evening.
After they had left their overnight cases at the Great Western Royal Hotel at the end of Paddington's huge station, they took the Tube to Oxford Circus. Here they parted company, Angela heading to the shops and Richard saying that he would walk up to the Royal Society of Medicine and then to BMA House in Tavistock Square However, he diverted somewhat, going to West Street, off Charing Cross Road, where he managed to get two tickets at the Ambassadors Theatre for that night's performance of Agatha Christie's
Mousetrap
. It had already been running for three years, and some time ago, during a coffee break at Garth House, Angela had expressed a desire to see it before its run ended.
They had arranged to meet back at the hotel at five o'clock, and Richard found his partner sitting in the foyer lounge with a tray of tea and pastries. Alongside her low armchair were several expensive-looking carrier bags, though the names on them meant nothing to him except to suggest that Angela had just spent a lot of money.
BOOK: According to the Evidence
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