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Authors: Bernard Knight

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BOOK: According to the Evidence
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‘Nearly everything you see is made of aluminium alloy. It's been shot up by repeated previous exercises, but the walls of the fuselage, stripped of their lining, are Duralumin, as are the seat frames. I'm convinced that one of the bullets fired by the staff sergeant must have hit a seat frame with a glancing impact and ricocheted away to hit Bulmer in the head.'
‘Why a seat frame and not the walls of the plane?' asked Moira.
‘The skin of the plane is so thin it would probably have gone straight through. The seats are much more substantial,' he replied.
‘Does that fit with the nature of the wound?' asked Siân.
Richard Pryor nodded. ‘It explains it very well. The bullet would have been knocked off its direct trajectory and would probably have started tumbling, perhaps end over end. It hit the scalp sideways on, and even the scuffing at one end of the wound suggests that it was a tangential impact.'
‘Anything else?' asked Moira.
‘The bullet didn't go right through the head, probably because it had lost much of its energy by hitting the seat frame. Even high-velocity missiles like that can get stopped inside the skull if they strike the thick bars of bone in the base, but this one hadn't done that. It just didn't have enough momentum to break out at the front of the head.'
‘I suppose we should have excluded carbon monoxide in the tissues under the scalp,' added Angela. ‘Though maybe the embalming would have obscured it if it had been there.'
Siân pricked up her ears at this, as carbon monoxide estimations were part of her job. ‘What's that got to do with it?' she asked.
‘Where the gas from a close discharge is blown into the tissues, the carbon monoxide from the explosion in the cartridge combines with the blood and muscle in the tissues,' explained Angela. ‘It persists a long time. I recall finding it in a case we had in the Met Lab six months after death.'
Moira looked satisfied that Dr Pryor had proved his case. ‘So the sergeant didn't deliberately shoot his boss!'
Richard shook his head. ‘I don't think so. He fired some rounds past the warrant officer at the dummies down the far end of the plane, but for some reason one bullet hit the top of a seat and went pinging off at an angle, tragically hitting the victim on the back of the head.'
‘So the poor widow won't win her claim?' said Siân rather truculently. ‘It seems a bit hard. Are you really sure about this?'
Richard grinned at his technician's crusading spirit. ‘Hold on. I'm not a judge or a court of law! I was asked to give an opinion on how that wound came about, and I'm quite sure that what I think happened, did happen. It's not for me to say what is done with my opinion, but I reckon there's no justification for suggesting that it was a deliberate attempt to kill the warrant officer. No one could arrange a ricochet that just happened to hit the poor guy!'
‘So she'll get no satisfaction at all out of this?' grunted Siân.
‘I didn't say that, did I? It may well be that she can sue the War Office for employing a faulty, dangerous practice – though I suspect that Crown Indemnity might mean that you can't sue the government, but I'm not a lawyer.'
‘What a stitch-up!' exclaimed Siân. ‘That's what we get for electing another Tory government this year!'
Pryor sought to head off a political argument. ‘Hold on a minute! Bannerman, the chap from the War Office, mentioned to me at lunchtime that they would probably make an ex gratia payment to the widow, as a matter of good public relations. So she wouldn't have to try to bring any legal action or start campaigning for justice in the
Daily Mirror
if the army coughed up a reasonable sum in addition to the pension she will get as of right.'
This seemed to mollify Siân, and she joined in the general self-congratulations that the Garth House forensic consortium had triumphed once again.
Richard finished his tea and got up. ‘Right, I'd better start writing a full report for the dear old War Office, so that Moira can type it up in the morning and get it off to London. It will mean a few more shillings to keep us all out of the workhouse!'
TWENTY
S
iân had accompanied Angela and Richard to the inquest in Brecon, so it was tacitly agreed that it was Moira's turn to have an outing to the Assizes when her employers were warned for the ‘veterinary case', as it became known in Garth House. As a former clerk in a local lawyer's office, she was not unaware of the archaic system of solicitors, barristers and Queen's Counsel, but she had never experienced the almost medieval rituals and costumes of the English legal establishment and looked forward to her day in court with almost adolescent expectation.
Richard had made another trip to Stow-on-the-Wold for a conference with George Lovesey and his junior counsel, Leonard Atkinson. Their colourful QC, Nathan Prideaux, had not been present as he was busy making a fortune in the London courts, but his junior was an able deputy.
‘Nathan will want another “con” with you on the day you go to Gloucester, Dr Pryor,' he explained. ‘But I'm keeping him abreast of all the details we discuss here.'
As well as this visit to Stow, where all the evidence was gone through in minute detail yet again, the solicitor was on the telephone several times to Garth House. Richard sensed that he was very anxious about the outcome of the case, as he told the others over a coffee break a few days before the trial was due to start.
‘Lovesey says that it will hinge almost totally on the conflict between the medical evidence. Even though it's admitted that Samuel Parker was having a long-term affair with another lady, virtually all the rest of the evidence is circumstantial and not very convincing.'
Angela put her cup down in its saucer, looking serious.
‘So it's all down to the cause of death, then,' she said soberly. ‘It's a heavy responsibility for you, Richard, challenging the prosecution's expert.'
He shrugged. ‘All I can do is tell the truth as I believe it, based on this research about potassium,' he said. ‘I can only provide the bullets for Nathan Prideaux; it's up to him to fire them as effectively as he can.'
The analogy with bullets reminded them all of the recent case in the Gulf, which ended in a sudden death. Another sudden death was a possibility if Richard's hypothesis was not accepted, this time at the end of a hangman's rope.
‘What will happen if you fail?' asked Moira almost tremulously.
‘Our vet will be found guilty!' he answered succinctly.
‘They won't hang him, will they?' asked Siân, a keen opponent of capital punishment.
Again her boss shrugged. ‘Unless Prideaux could plead for clemency by playing the mercy-killing card, it seems very likely. It couldn't be an accident and it can't be manslaughter, so there's only murder left. Unless some powerful mitigating circumstances can be dredged up, then a death sentence is almost mandatory.'
‘The poor man!' whispered Moira, looking quite upset.
‘If he did it, then he should be found guilty,' said Siân, stubbornly. ‘Though he should be locked up, not thrown down a hole with a rope around his neck!'
Like the bullet analogy, this again recalled the Brecon farm murder, but Moira was casting around for some less awesome solution.
‘But what about manslaughter, doctor?' she asked. ‘If she was already dying of cancer, surely that's a factor.'
‘I'm not clear what's murder and what's manslaughter,' added Siân.
Richard looked across at Angela. ‘These ladies certainly ask some difficult questions, don't they?' he complained, but he did his best to answer them.
‘Look, I'm not a lawyer, but as far as I know, murder is when someone in their right mind unlawfully kills another, with the intention to either kill or seriously injure them. The death must follow within a year and a day of the attack. It's the intention that's the crucial factor, because manslaughter is where the first person kills another during some unlawful or negligent act but did not intend that to happen. There are all sorts of caveats about the definitions, but that's the general idea for simple folk like me!'
‘So if he did inject potassium chloride into his wife, there's no way he could plead manslaughter, unless he was so off his head that he didn't know what he was doing,' supplemented Angela.
Richard was thankful that this explanation seemed to satisfy the two women, but they moved on to the logistics of the forthcoming trial.
‘What will happen when they come to argue over the medical evidence?' asked Moira. ‘Do you take it in turns to put forward your points of view?'
Richard nodded. ‘The prosecution get first go, by calling their witnesses one after the other. The defence then cross-examine them and when the prosecution have finished, the defence have their turn.' He paused and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. ‘At least, that's the usual batting order, but George Lovesey hinted that, typically, Nathan Prideaux may make an application to the judge to call witnesses out of order. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.'
Moira looked at her boss with her big eyes. ‘Aren't you nervous at having to stand up in an Assize Court in front of all those people and argue about things that might mean a man's life?'
He smiled at her reassuringly. ‘You get used to it – it happened often enough in Singapore; they get far more murders there than we do. The secret is not to chance your arm, just to stick to what you know without embroidering anything. If you don't know the answer, just say so – not bluster or wriggle or exaggerate. If you do, the opposing counsel will nail you to the wall!'
He said this with the slightly uneasy feeling that this particular case would be stretching medical science to the limit. But with Moira looking at him as if he was God's gift to jurisprudence, he thought that he had better look as confident as possible.
The following week the newspapers carried detailed accounts of the first day's evidence from the Assizes in Gloucester, which had even attracted the notice of the national press. Like naughty vicars in the
News of the World
, a professional man such as a respectable veterinary surgeon became an object of prurient interest, especially when his neck was in jeopardy – particularly with the added bonus of a secret mistress in the background. The Garth House contingent were glad that the lady had not so far been named, as it seemed that both prosecution and defence, once both had admitted that such a woman existed, saw no particular advantage in identifying her.
The
Gloucestershire Herald
, which covered the whole county including Stow and nearby Eastbury, quite naturally carried the most detailed account, a blow-by-blow record of almost every word that was said in the courtroom. That Tuesday morning, Siân bought a copy in Chepstow and brought it to the house, where it was pored over at coffee time.
‘This opening speech they've printed,' said Siân, jabbing her finger at the report of the first day's proceedings. ‘Only the prosecution made one. That doesn't seem fair to me.'
Angela, herself no stranger to the criminal courts, pacified the firebrand technician. ‘They get their turn later, after the witnesses have been heard.'
The papers reported the evidence of a number of people, some of whom seemed to have only a tenuous connection with the main issue, such as the farmer's wife who made the phone call asking Samuel Parker to come and deal with the injured goat. More relevant was her husband, who described how the vet had arrived and given two injections into a vein of the animal, using the same syringe but two different fluids.
Then the District Nurse, Brenda Paxman, related how she had made a routine visit to Mrs Mary Parker in the late morning of that day. She had done her nursing duties of washing and bedmaking, then administered the first of two daily injections of morphine into the left arm. The patient was extremely drowsy, but certainly conscious and spoke a few words to her.
When asked in cross-examination, the nurse said that Mrs Parker's condition was deteriorating from day to day but was not markedly different on that morning.
This was confirmed by the vet's housekeeper, Mrs Cropley, who said that she gave her some warm milk from a feeding cup at breakfast time but could not coax her to eat anything. Her mistress, as she called her, spoke a few words to her, but she only wanted to fall back on the pillows and sleep, as she had done for the past week.
Nathan Prideaux confirmed with the housekeeper that Samuel Parker was most concerned and solicitous about his wife's condition and spent much of his time when he was not working sitting by her bedside, often holding her hand.
The deceased woman's sister, the pharmacist Sheila Lupin, was called next and, even through the dispassionate print of the newspaper, it was obvious that she had a quite different outlook on the situation.
‘She's got it in for him alright!' observed Siân as she read out the passage aloud for the others as they sat drinking their elevenses.
‘“Miss Lupin described how she had gone across to her sister's house at about one o'clock, as she visited the sick woman several times a day. She found her unmoving in the bed, and there was a fresh injection mark on her forearm, from which a bead of blood was oozing. As she cleaned this off, she realized that her sister was dead and she then ran into the veterinary surgery to fetch the husband, who hurried to the sickroom and confirmed that his wife had passed away.”'
Further down the news report, Siân read out the part where the sister said that her suspicions were aroused when she saw a used syringe and containers of sodium Pentothal and potassium chloride lying on the examination table in the surgery. Being a pharmacist, she knew the significance of that combination and confronted her brother-in-law with the accusation, given that there was an injection mark on the arm still oozing blood and that there had been no sudden change in her sister's condition that day to suggest that she had died of the disease from which she had been suffering for over a year.
BOOK: According to the Evidence
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