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Authors: Bernard Knight

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BOOK: According to the Evidence
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‘I gather he wasn't popular around here?' observed Crippen.
‘Lately he was a pain in the arse. He was alright when he first came and for a fair bit afterwards,' said Morton, echoing Mrs Evans. ‘You could never get close to him; he always had a tight mouth. But the drink ruined him.'
‘When did you last see him?' asked the sergeant and got a recital of the facts that Aubrey Evans had given them about going to Brecon.
‘I understand you worked with him more than your cousin did?' queried Crippen. ‘You must have talked to him a lot, being with him every day?'
Jeff shook his head. ‘Never got much out of him, only what he did when he was in the army and stuff about football. Crazy about the pools, he was. God knows what he spent a week on them. But he never opened up at all about personal things. He'd shy off them if you brought the subject up.'
‘How did the drink affect him? Was he drunk on duty, so to speak?'
Again Morton shook his head. ‘He wasn't falling about or anything,' he replied. ‘Slowed down, but he could still do the job. It was just that often the bloody man didn't show up at all or came hopelessly late when we had a job to finish.'
‘And that was the situation on the last day, with that blue tractor?' said Nichols.
‘Yes. I nagged him all day – at least all afternoon, as he didn't show up until dinner time. Then Aubrey had a go at him and there was a row about not getting that Fordson ready.'
‘Did it get nasty, that row?' asked the inspector. ‘Violent, I mean?'
‘No, it was Aubrey and me that used to do the shouting. Tom would just get sullen and turn away. He wouldn't even reply half the time.'
They went through the same questions again, but Jeff Morton was adamant that, as far as he knew, Littleman had no debts or enemies that came pestering him. No one had ever come asking for him at the farm, and once he rode away on his BSA motorbike he was an unknown quantity as far as his life was concerned.
As he got up to leave, Crippen asked him if his wife was in the house. ‘I'd just like a word with her, same as with Mrs Evans, to see if there might be anything useful she might have heard or seen.'
The cousin looked surprised. ‘Rhian wouldn't have a clue, sir. She hardly ever spoke to Tom. He was always down at the barn, a few fields away.'
‘Just the same, I'll have to speak to her, just for the record. Same as we'll have to take fingerprints from everyone, just to eliminate any we find in the barn.'
Morton gave a wry smile. ‘You'll find prints from half the people in Breconshire down there! Most of the farmers around here come in and handle the stuff they bring in.'
Arthur Crippen thought he was probably right, but it would still have to be done. Just as Jeff Morton was leaving the room, one of the uniformed constables put his head around the door to say that the forensic people had arrived.
The DI got up to follow him out. ‘I'll have to go down to see them. We'll leave talking to Mrs Morton and the father until afterwards,' he said to his sergeant.
‘And the lad, this Shane Williams,' said Nichols. ‘He was the one who found the body, after all.'
In the next county, Angela Bray and Siân Lloyd were working in the laboratory of Garth House, trying not to be distracted too much by the striking view through the wide bay window.
The technician had one side of the room for her chemical equipment, a long bench covered with glassware and some optical instruments. It was divided in the centre by a fume cupboard, a glass-sided cabinet with an exhaust fan that vented out through the side wall of the house.
The scientist reigned on the opposite side, where Angela handled the biological investigations, ranks of small tubes for blood-grouping tests being lined up on the white Formica top. Two box-like incubators were held at body heat and against the third wall, next to the door into Moira's office, was a large white refrigerator.
Siân was working through the specimens that Richard Pryor had brought in from recent post-mortems at Chepstow and Monmouth – a carbon monoxide analysis from an industrial coal-gas poisoning and a barbiturate identification from a suicide. Before coming to Garth House, she had been a medical laboratory technician in a large Newport hospital and was currently studying for an external qualification in biochemistry.
Angela was dealing with a batch of paternity tests, one of the mainstays of their practice. In the six months since they had started, she had worked up quite a reputation among solicitors far and wide for helping them in cases where mothers were claiming that a certain man was the father of their child and should be paying maintenance. She checked the complex pattern of blood groups of the mother, child and putative father to see if he could be excluded, though the tests could never positively prove his paternity.
As they worked, they chatted sporadically. Angela had told Siân about their experiences the previous day in the depths of Breconshire, as the girl was always avid for details of their forensic cases.
‘From what you say, whoever killed that man must be someone on the farm,' she declared with her usual forthrightness. Siân always saw everything in black and white, rather than acknowledging shades of grey.
‘It seems most likely, as there's hardly anyone else within walking distance,' agreed Angela. ‘But we mustn't jump to conclusions in this game. Proof has to be according to the evidence.'
There was a silence as Siân put one eye to the Hartridge reversion spectroscope sitting on her bench. She adjusted a knob to line up the spectra of a solution of blood from the victim of the factory accident, which would give her a percentage saturation with the deadly gas carbon monoxide. She noted down the reading, then picked up the conversation where they had left it.
‘But who else could have done it? You say the place is way out in the sticks?'
‘No doubt that's what the police are doing today, knocking themselves out to see if there's any possibility of someone else being involved. Maybe there's somebody in this chap Littleman's past that's relevant. He was a heavy drinker. Maybe he gambled as well and owed a lot of money.'
Siân thought that strangling the fellow wasn't a very good way of collecting the arrears, but she contented herself with remarking that she would be doing the alcohol estimations on his samples that afternoon.
Moira came in from the office at that point with the typed copies of the short statement that Angela had dictated earlier about her involvement. ‘What about these fibres you collected?' she asked. ‘You haven't examined them yourself?'
‘No, it's an odd situation. I could have dealt with them – it's just up my street – but I can't get involved any further than just handing them over to the police as exhibits. I've got no official standing in the case, unlike Richard. It's the forensic lab in Cardiff who will have to do the business.'
‘Couldn't the cops have employed you to do it, instead of them?' persisted Siân.
Angela shook her head. ‘Then they'd have to pay us, but they get the forensic lab for free, as it's part of the Home Office system. Anyway, Cardiff will probably have to examine other stuff from there, like the clothes that people were wearing, so it would be pointless having two lots of scientists involved, especially if eventually we had to go to court about it.'
Moira went back to her office and Angela swung back on her rotating stool to get on with adding sera to her racks of tubes, while Siân began a duplicate run on the carbon monoxide test. All was quiet for a while, until the sound of a car was heard, hauling itself up the steep drive outside.
‘He's back. I wonder if he's brought me more work?' observed Siân. She was not complaining, as every aspect of the job intrigued her, even after six month's familiarity. Richard Pryor had been doing his routine post-mortems for the coroner at the shabby public mortuaries in Chepstow and Monmouth, which, like Angela's blood tests, were his main contribution to the finances of the partnership. He had been fortunate in that an old classmate of his, when they were medical students in Cardiff before the war, was now a general practitioner in Monmouth and also the part-time coroner for the area. He had given the post-mortem work to Richard, and this, together with a similar function in several hospitals as a stand-in when the regular men were away, brought in a steady income to the Garth House business.
When he came in through the back door and dumped his bag in his room, Moira declared a tea break and went off to the kitchen to put the kettle on the Aga. As she passed him in the passage, she reminded him about returning yesterday's phone call from the lawyer in Stow-on-the-Wold. When they assembled in the staffroom ten minutes later, Richard told them about the brief telephone conversation.
‘It was a chap called Lovesey, a solicitor in Stow. He was a bit guarded about the details, but he wants an expert medical opinion on behalf of the defence of a veterinary surgeon who's been charged with murdering his wife.'
Siân and Moira leaned forward eagerly, wanting to hear more, though Angela's interest was mainly concerned with the possible fee that this might bring to the partnership.
‘How did he do it?' asked Siân, with morbid curiosity. ‘Did he shoot her or strangle her?'
‘The juicy details don't normally get discussed over the phone. He wants an urgent conference, as the case goes to trial at Gloucester Assizes in a few weeks.'
‘Bit late to think of a defence, isn't it?' asked Angela critically.
‘Apparently, they've had one already, but it didn't help them. Now they've got a new defence counsel, some hotshot QC from London, and he's demanding another opinion.'
Moira's brow wrinkled in puzzlement. ‘I don't understand this defence business. If they get a first post-mortem in a murder, then that doctor's opinion is accepted, surely?'
Richard Pryor put his mug of tea on the table, ready to lecture.
‘Don't you believe it! There are almost as many different opinions as there are pathologists. Some of them have very strange ideas and some are just plain inexperienced in forensic work, being basically clinical pathologists in hospitals.'
‘Few forensic pathologists are free from strange ideas,' commented Angela drily. ‘Present company excepted, of course!' she added mischievously.
He made a face at her and carried on with his explanation.
‘In most murders, either the defence gets an opinion from another independent pathologist who has read the first chap's report or who has done another examination of the body himself, as I did a few months ago in that Swansea case.'
‘They had three PMs on that poor woman,' observed Siân, critically.
Now Moira entered the discussion. ‘In this Stow case, you said the defence already had a second opinion and they didn't like it. Presumably, they're hoping you will come up with a different view?'
‘That's obviously the idea – but I may also agree completely with the first pathologist,' replied Pryor. ‘It often happens that way, but at least it means that the accused has had a fair crack of the whip. Doesn't always happen abroad; they have a different system on the Continent.'
‘So what have you arranged?' asked the ever-practical Angela.
‘I'm going to see the solicitor tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps you'd like to come, Angela? There may be some forensic science angle to it.'
The handsome brunette nodded. ‘I've never been to Stow-on-the-Wold. Here's a chance for me, even if it is a homicidal visit, so to speak!'
FIVE
W
hen Arthur Crippen and Sergeant Nichols drove down to the vehicle barn, they found two men talking to the constable left there on guard duty. They had met both of them before, as one was the liaison officer and the other a forensic scientist from the Cardiff laboratory.
The first was Larry McCoughlin, a detective inspector seconded from the Carmarthenshire Constabulary who acted as a go-between when any police force needed technical help.
The scientific officer was a short, rotund man named Philip Rees. ‘I hear Dr Bray was up here yesterday,' he said. ‘She's a well-known name in our business. We were all surprised when she resigned from the Met Lab.'
Crippen explained that she had come up with the pathologist. ‘She was a bit embarrassed at being involved, but we were afraid of losing evidence if we delayed,' he said.
‘No harm done. Your motorcyclist brought the samples down last night,' said McCoughlin. He looked across at the barn, where the big door was now closed. ‘We'd better have a look around, I suppose.'
As they went to the small side door, Arthur Crippen explained the circumstances and what the pathologist had found on the body. ‘Dr Bray suggested that the fibres she found on the neck may have come from a hemp or sisal rope. We sent the lengths that were knocking around the barn down to you last evening.'
As the new arrivals surveyed the inside of the building, Dr Rees asked the detectives if they had all they wanted from the place.
‘Yes, we've got all the photographs we need, and the fingerprint boys were here earlier,' said John Nichols. ‘We've bagged up all the clothes the four men were wearing that day, ready for you to take.'
‘That's probably a waste of time, but I suppose you'll have to look for some bloodstains and try to match those fibres,' observed Crippen. ‘Though as those ropes have been knocking about here for years, I doubt they're of much evidential value. Anyway, the place is all yours now.' He waved a hand at the barn.
The two men from the laboratory unpacked their kit and started on the scene, concentrating on the chain hoist and the area around the Fordson tractor. After watching for a few moments, Arthur Crippen decided that he and his sergeant would be better employed back at the farmhouse and left them to carry on.
BOOK: According to the Evidence
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