20 JANUARY 1961, Page 7

Ten Rillington Place


BEFORE readingTen Rillington Places I was already convinced that Timothy Evans was the victim of a particularly horrifying miscarriage

of justice. He was convicted of murder on his own confession--or one of his confessions—and on the evidence available at the time of his trial this was understandable. But on the evidence that has become available since, it is astonishing that anybody can continue to believe in his guilt.

For there, in the same house, five other women were found to have been murdered in the same way—by a necrophilic strangler; and their murderer was indisputably Christie.

To continue to believe in Evans's guilt, Geoffrey Bing pointed out at the time, entailed believing that there were 'two killers, killing their victims in exactly the same place, completely independent of each other' and, even more re- markable, that Evans, without knowing about the murders committed by Christie (for if he had known, he would obviously have disclosed them), 'nevertheless chose to accuse, just by chance, the one person murdering people in exactly the same way.' Later writers were able to add to the string of 'coincidences,' and no less an authority than Professor Goodhart pronounced them in- conceivable. Certainly it is inconceivable that Evans would have been found guilty, or even arrested, if the truth about Christie had been discovered at the time of Mrs. Evans's death.

Yet it was hard to feel deeply concerned about Evans's fate. Earlier writers had exposed the fallacies of the case for the prosecution and demolished the Scott Henderson report; but they had never managed to present a plausible version of what had happened which would exonerate Evans. Sir Lionel Heald argued that if there had been a miscarriage of justice, it was only on a technicality; and some of us, even if we agreed with the barbed comment 'some technicality!' were inclined to assume that Evans must have been an accomplice—or at least that the part he played in the affair was so base that he was no loss to society. Our feelings about the affair, too, were often aroused by bias against the State in such matters, and against capital Punishment--rather than by any real interest in Evans.

This, I suspect, is why the campaign to clear Evans's name failed to get off the ground. The question whether a man is or is not a loss to society ought, of course, to be irrelevant; no matter how vile Evans might have been, if he was not a murderer his name should be vindi- cated. But most of us, in such circumstances, are sufficiently flabby to do nothing unless we can feel sure that injustice had been done to a man who was a reasonably worthy citizen, as well as being innocent. Besides, the case had already been the subject of an investigation; and whatever might be the weaknesses of the Scott Henderson report the chances of getting another investiga- tion, unless altogether new evidence came to light, would be negligible. Well, we were wrong; and it is the particular Merit of Ten Rillington Place that not merely • By Ludovic Kennedy. (Gollancz, 21a.) does it prove us wrong : it makes us thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. This is not because Ludovic Kennedy has found fresh evidence— though he has. There was really ample evidence before, if it had been presented in a digestible foam What Ludovic Kennedy has done, instead of taking up the prosecution arguments one by one and refuting them, is to concentrate on pre- senting a straightforward and lucid account of what actually happened; so that all the com- plexities and inconsistencies vanish.

From the book Evans emerges, though hardly as an admirable character, at least as one for whom it is impossible not to feel sympathy. True, he was a pathological liar—though, oddly enough, in his confessions he appears to have stuck very closely to the truth : he first went wrong simply because he described the crime as Christie had related it to him—not realising then that Christie was himself lying. But this was the common bragging of the emotionally retarded. Had Evans suffered from some demonstrable physical defect such as blindness he might have been looked after by the community : but when from being a backward tubercular child he grew into a man with an IQ equivalent to that of a boy of ten, society expected him to behave like an adult—which, considering everything, he did. 'Lying and boasting were the compensations for his physical and mental insignificance'; otherwise he seems to have been quite likeable.

But Evans had the fearful misfortune of finding himself up against, first, Christie, a man of cunning and inordinate luck; and, then, a legal system which, for all its emphasis on the principle that a man is innocent until a court finds him guilty, in fact weighs heavily on any man who appears guilty, particularly of an ugly crime. Evans's 'confession' (why he confessed is simply and movingly accounted for) led to the presump- tion of guilt : a dead wife and child was the ugly crime. His execution followed with a really terrifying inevitability. Not simply the prosecu- tion, but nearly everybody concerned with the case leagued against Evans because they all felt so certain he was guilty that they did not seriously examine other possibilities—in fact, in some in- stances. evidence which would have told in Evans's favour was quietly suppressed.

The police persuaded workmen who had been to 10 Rillington Place to revise their evidence on the grounds that it did not fit in with the prosecu- tion's story—evidence which must surely have saved Evans if it had been presented in the form the workmen originally gave it. A time-sheet which would have caused the prosecution the same embarrassment 'disappeared' after the police had borrowed it—the only time-sheet of the firm's employees which is missing for that period, a fact which, as Mr. Kennedy comments, is highly suspicious. His comment on the police, though, is charitable: The breach that had suddenly opened in the wall of evidence was as suddenly sealed up. And the reason why it was scaled up was not because it had occurred to the police that Evans might be innocent and they wanted to cover it up, but precisely because it had not occurred to them. They believed, wrongly and quite incredibly stupidly, but none the less sincerely, that the witnesses had got muddled. . . .

Mr. Kennedy is distinctly less charitable to Mr.

Scott Henderson, whose report he calls 'one of the most extraordinary British legal documents of the twentieth century . . . in its errors of omission and commission, little short of a shambles.' True, Mr. Scott Henderson was not given enough time properly to investigate the case; but shortage of time cannot be accepted as an excuse for some of the errors---certainly not for the failure to publish a material. section of the original brief for Evans's defence, which pointed all too clearly to Christie's guilt. As for the judge's summing-up at the trial, Mr. Kennedy can only comment that 'it is an appalling thing that any English judge should have so grossly distorted the truth.'

Ten Rillington Place carries total conviction; yet it is not without defects. There is no index; as the reader is certain to want to check back from time to time, this seems not so much an irritant as an impertinence. The reference notes at the back are pitifully inadequate. At times Mr. Kennedy's normally workmanlike, lucid style suddenly disintegrates into the jargon of writers of the Famous Crimes series in the evening papers ('Christie may well have hoped that with the rough prostitutes he might eventually find peace. What he did find, at the end of a twisted road, was damnation'). And the author's psy- chological probings, though often illuminating, can be arbitrary and jejune. 'So humiliating the shame, so total the guilt.' Mr. Kennedy says of Christie after his murder of Evans's child, 'that he may have very soon come to convince himself that he had nothing to do with it at all.' This may sound superficially convincing; but on the evi- dence it is at least as likely that Christie was in the category of criminals who, Dr. D. W. Winni- cott has suggested, are responsible for the ugliest crimes, those who have no sense of guilt and who unconsciously crave the capacity to feel guilty. In any case, such diagnoses can only be tentative; Mr. Kennedy is inclined to be too dogmatic.

These are marginal defects; a more serious criticism that can be made of the book—the only serious criticism—is that in his desire to present the story as a story. without jumping back and forward in time, Mr. Kennedy makes little attempt to differentiate between what is known for certain, what can reasonably be deduced from the evidence, and what is his own surmise. He has made an imaginative reconstruction, from all the scraps of evidence available, without bothering too much about weighting them. I am sure that this was the right plan for this book if he had felt compelled to make critical ap- praisals of the evidence for each step in his narrative readers would soon have been bogged down, and the book would have lost all impact. But where this method is adopted the author should make it clear in his foreword that he is using it.

The reconstruction, though, must surely come very close to the truth: and even if Ten Rifling- ton Place errs on details, I cannot believe any substantial fault will be found in it. For once, there is no need to urge that it is a book that ought to be read: it should be the compul- sive reading of the year. And I shall be surprised if it does not clear Evans's name, before the year's end.