Garrow and Horatio Nelson – The Trial of James Carse for Murder

This is an interesting case in which Captain Nelson (he was not yet an Admiral) gave evidence for a deranged sailor and made some interesting statements about service in the royal navy. It was also a case in which the Judge, Mr Justice Heath, correctly told the jury that in a trial for murder (but not otherwise) the burden of proof lay on the prisoner to prove his innocence. That remained the position in law until the House of Lords belatedly reversed it in the case of Woolmington in 1935.

James Carse was indicted on 12 December 1787 for murdering Sarah Hayes with a clasp knife with which he cut her throat, an injury from which she died instantly.

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Garrow Trials

Garrow’s London was a vast cosmopolitan city with a small central area that was alive with criminal activity.  Despite the wealth concentrated in the West End of London the artisans and the poor of the city generally lived in insalubrious and crime-ridden areas so graphically described later by Dickens.  Most of them were law-abiding but there were criminal districts where schools of particular crimes were concentrated including shoplifting, coining and horse stealing.  At the time many goods which are mass produced and cheap today were made by hand and were expensive to buy.  These included handkerchiefs, clothing, pots and pans, goods made of wood or cast iron, rope and spoons and forks all of which were frequently stolen and easily sold.

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Save Garrow’s Pegwell Villa

A Revolutionary for Criminal Justice

High on chalk cliffs with a stunning panorama across the natural beauty of Pegwell Bay in Kent, lies an old marine villa. Like its vista across the Bay it was once striking but is now in a state of rapid dilapidation. Its owner is Mrs Alma Beaty, a feisty lady in her eighties, who claims the local council offered her a grant towards the restoration of the house some five years ago. However, this is denied by the council. Nonetheless, the house has historical associations which fully justify a grant and needs to be more widely known.

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Garrow v. Erskine

A Battle of Forensic Giants

William Garrow and Thomas Erskine were good friends. They were also two of the greatest barristers this country has ever seen. Garrow as champion of the poor and disadvantaged in the Old Bailey and Erskine as a freedom fighter in the shockingly biased State Trials that stained English criminal law at the end of the eighteenth century. But the two of them overlapped.

Sometimes they appeared on opposite sides in a trial and sometimes they worked together. One of the trials where they were opponents was that known as “Mrs Day’s Baby”. It is reported in the book “Sir William Garrow: His Life Times, and Fight for Justice” on pages 66 and 67. However, there is an aspect of it not mentioned in the book. The case was heard at the Huntingdon Assizes before Mr Justice Heath in 1797. It caused an enormous amount of gossip and large crowds attended the hearing. The issue before the court was whether the defendant, who was heir to a large estate, had in reality been a child purchased from a poor woman in a workhouse.

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