RogerBW's Blog

Forty Years of Murder, Keith Simpson 20 June 2022

1978 autobiography. Keith Simpson was one of the successors of Spilsbury, and one of the first people in England to turn forensic pathology from an act of drama into a science.

This obviously covers much of the same ground as Evidence for the Crown; the first third or so deals with Simpson's wartime cases, though after that he drops the chronological approach and covers cases by loose connection (e.g. poisoners, accused doctors, apparently sexual homicides that turned out not to be).

He does inflate things at times: yes, he did the PM on George Cornell and gave evidence about that, but the rest of his account of the investigation and trial of the Krays isn't anything to do with his own involvement, and doesn't seem to add much to what could be found in other books about them.

He is, perhaps unsurprisingly for someone frequently giving evidence in court, sometimes wrong (though he barely admits it) but never unsure. He's quite certain about whether someone was a murderer, even when the court found otherwise. (Of course, a lot of the time he was right – as with some people suffocated by a faulty gas heater in Portugal, which the local authorities were determined to bring in as food poisoning.) If you take an interest in any of these matters, it's worth reading around a bit to get more than one opinionated viewpoint; he is quite sure that the official view on Michael X's execution for murder is correct and if you only read this you wouldn't know that anyone had disagreed, or how thin the actual evidence was.

He was of course a doctor in an age when the public conception of a good doctor required him to be sure and authoritative more than to be right; and this would only have been reinforced by frequent appearances as an expert witness.

The cases make up the majority of the text, and other things are attached at the side, such as this good bit of advice to the would-be murderer:

There is no question, if you find yourself standing over the body of your mother-in-law clutching a claret bottle and she's lying there bleeding at your feet, you must at least call for help, whatever happened. Whether you can't remember, decide to tell the truth, or lie about hitting the old lady, or say she must have fallen downstairs - these things matter much less than getting help, at once. It looks so much better to do this, for when you don't, you can be sure there will be some hard questioning about it. Why didn't you? Surely it must have been obvious to anyone that she was badly hurt, might die if nothing was done for her? You left her to die, didn't you?

There's very little of Simpson's own personality, perhaps wisely; his recorded opinions on homosexuality, for example, are entirely missing here. But he was still quite happy to say

But when I have seen strangled girls who had deliberately taken the occupational risks of prostitution, drunken sots who toppled downstairs to their death, or the adolescent victims of the lure of drug addiction, I have often said without the slightest emotional disturbance, ‘Better out of this world - really. Never a chance of being a happy and useful citizen.'

which is all very easy to do for someone who has never found themselves at any risk of going down those paths.

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See also:
Evidence for the Crown, Molly Lefebure

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