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The Murder of John Nisbet


John Simkin
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I thought it might be a good idea to discuss controversial murder cases. The first one concerns the conviction of John Dickman for the murder of John Nisbet. Dickman was born in Newcastle on 17th May 1864. His mother, Zelina Royer Dickman, died while giving birth to a fourth child. Soon afterwards, the three surviving children were sent to live with relatives.

After leaving school Dickman went to work for his father, who ran a successful farming and butchery business in Great Lumley, County Durham. Dickman disliked this work and eventually found employment as a clerk with a company called Mason & Barry in Wallsend. Later he worked as a clerk with shipowners Dixon, Robson & Company.

In January, 1892, Dickman married a young schoolteacher called Annie Bainbridge. After several years of financial stability, Dickman lost his job in 1901 with Dixon's and he was out of work for several months before finding employment as secretary with a colliery in Morpeth.

In 1906 Dickman arranged for the Morpeth Colliery Company to be sold to Moore, Brown & Fletcher. Although the transaction put him out of a job, Dickman received a commission of over £500, which was equivalent of several years' wages. Soon afterwards, a distant relative left him £200 in her will.

Dickman decided to use this money to become a professional gambler. He claims this venture was a success but there is evidence that by 1909 he was experiencing money problems and owed several hundreds of pounds to moneylenders.

On 21st March, 1910, Dickman was arrested and questioned him about the murder of John Nisbet, the cashier of Stobswood Colliery. One of his jobs was to collect the wages of the colliery workers from a bank in Newcastle. On Friday, 18th March, 1910, Nisbet caught the 10.27 train from Newcastle to Widdrington with over £370 in a large leather bag.

At Alnmouth Station, a porter, Thomas Charlton, discovered Nisbet's body on the train. He had been shot five times. The bag that Nisbet had used to carry the £370 was found at the bottom of Isabella pit, a disused mine shaft near Morpeth.

John Dickman was searched and he was found to be carrying £17 9s 5d. The £370 stolen from Nisbet was never found. Nor did the police find the gun that killed Nisbet although they did find evidence that he had purchased a revolver in October 1909.

At his trial Dickman claimed that although he knew John Nisbet he did not travel with him on 18th March, 1910. He admitted that he travelled on the same train as Nisbet but not in the same carriage. Dickman pointed out he bought a ticket to Stannington Station as he intended to visit William Hogg at Dovecot Colliery. However, he missed his station and got out at Morpeth Station instead. The prosecution made the point that the bag that Nisbet had used to carry the £370 was found at the bottom of Isabella Pit, a disused mine shaft near Morpeth.

Charles Raven, a commercial traveller, claimed he knew both Dickman and Nisbet and saw them walking together on the way to Platform 5 of Newcastle Station. In court Dickman claimed he did not know Raven.

Another witness, Wilson Hepple, had known Dickman for over twenty years. He claimed he saw Dickman get on the train with Nisbet. Hepple also confirmed that when the police reconstructed the crime, he correctly identified the carriage where Nisbet's body was found.

Percival Hall, also a colliery cashier, took the same journey as Nisbet every Friday. He saw Nisbet at Newcastle Station with a man he later identified as Dickman. When he got out at Stannington Station he acknowledged Nisbet who was still on the train.

Cicely Nisbet also identified Dickman as the man sitting in the same carriage as her husband at Heaton Station. John Athey, the ticket collector who had been on duty at Morpeth confirmed that Dickman had got off the 10.27 train at his station. His ticket was for Stannington and so paid Athey the excess fare.

Professor Robert Boland of Durham University gave evidence as a doctor of medicine. Boland had examined Dickman's clothing and argued that he had found blood on a glove and on a pair of trousers that he had worn on the day of the murder. Boland also pointed out in court that Dickman's Burberry overcoat shown signs of being rubbed vigorously with paraffin, a substance that was used at the time for removing blood stains.

John Badcock gave evidence on behalf of the National Provincial Bank. He stated that at the time of Nisbet's murder, Dickman was overdrawn at the bank. Robert Sedcole on behalf of Lloyds Bank told a similar story. James Paisley of the Co-operative Society claimed that in October 1907 Annie Dickman had £73 in her account. However, by March 1910, this had fallen to £4. It seems that the £700 John Dickman had in 1906 had all been spent. Superintendent John Weddell also stated in court that when Dickman was searched after the murder he had tickets that showed he had several items with local pawnbrokers.

Dickman was the only defence witness. He admitted travelling on the 10.27 train on Friday 18th March, 1910. However, he denied sitting in the same carriage as John Nisbet. Dickman said he was so busy reading his newspaper he could not recall who else was in his carriage. Although he knew Nisbet he argued he was unaware that he collected the wages for the colliery every Friday.

Dickman was found guilty of the murder of Nisbet on 6th July, 1910, and sentenced to death. Dickman responded to the verdict with the claim: "I can only repeat that I am entirely innocent of this cruel deed. I have no complicity in this crime, and I have spoken the truth in my evidence, and in everything I have said."

A campaign was immediately started to get the verdict overturned. An advertisement appeared in national newspapers. "Execution of Dickman on purely circumstantial evidence. Protest by postcard to the Home Secretary, London. Sympathisers please repeat in local papers."

On 27th July, 1910, the governor of Newcastle Prison received a letter signed by C.A. Mildoning, claiming that he had travelled with John Nisbet in the train from Newcastle, "shot him, then jumped out of the moving train in advance of Morpeth Station". It ended that "one murder is quite enough for me to do without being the cause of an innocent man being hung."

On 6th August, 1910, C. H. Norman published an article in the Daily News entitled "Ought Dickman be Hanged". Norman was a member of the Society for Abolition of Capital Punishment and the Penal Reform League and led the campaign to get Dickman a retrial.

The Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, took a keen interest in the case. He expressed doubts about the blood evidence and asked his civil servants to seek the opinion of another expert. Churchill also instructed Chief Constable Fullarton James to initiate further enquiries about who else got off the 10.27 train at Morpeth Station on the day of the murder.

Churchill also examined the identification evidence. He wrote on the file: "I think Mrs Nisbet's evidence should be disregarded. The strong evidence is that of Raven, Hepple, Hall." Churchill eventually decided that Dickman should be executed. When he heard the news, Dickman told his wife that his conviction was "the greatest outrage ever perpetrated".

C. H. Norman wrote to Churchill arguing that: "Should Dickman be innocent... it would not disturb the digestion or appetite of the gentlemen responsible... to execute a man on suspicion... is a principle so immoral and horrible that it could only emanate from the minds of the Home Office staff".

John Dickman and was hanged in Newcastle Prison on 10th August, 1910. The Newcastle Evening Chronicle reported that Dickman "marched to his execution as erect as a soldier, never flinching, even when the rope came into view."

In 1925 a person called "Condor" confessed to killing John Nisbet. The document of 40,000 words spread over 205 pages was sent to the Truth magazine. The document was sent to the Home Office but they refused to order the police to discover who had written the confession.

Do members think Dickman was guilty of this crime? Feel free to ask questions about the case. I will later tell you about evidence that has emerged recently that reveals who did kill John Nisbet.

Portrait of John Nisbet.

post-7-1190383781_thumb.jpg

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An important clue to the solving of this mystery includes the order that the stations appeared on the line:

Newcastle

Heaton

Forest Hall

Killingworth

Annitsford

Cramlington

Plessey

Stannington

Morpeth

Pegswood

Longhirst

Widdrington

It is agreed that Nisbet and Dickman both got on the train at Newcastle. Charles Raven, Wilson Hepple, Percival Hall claim they saw Nisbet and Dickman together but only Cicely Nisbet identified Dickman as the man sitting in the same carriage as her husband (Heaton Station). However, even Winston Churchill (the Home Secretary), said "I think Mrs Nisbet's evidence should be disregarded.” The reason for this was that Nisbet had known Dickman for many years but failed to admit this during her interviews with police.

When Percival Hall left the train at Stannington he saw Nisbet alive in the carriage. We know that Dickman had a ticket for Stannington but did not get out until he reached Morpeth. The body was found by a porter at the end of the journey. Therefore, for Dickman to have killed Nisbet he had to do it between Stannington and Morpeth.

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Guest Gary Loughran

Hi John,

I have been going back through some of the electronic copies of 'The New Age', I have, looking for an article in a series called 'How the rich rule us' by Cecil Chesterton. I wanted to locate and post an excerpt from this in the Cash for honours scandal re: Tony Blair and will do shortly.

Amazingly, and totally by chance, I found this interesting letter from Beatrice Hastings a frequent correspondent to the journal. It notes Dickman as a suspect in the Luard case and a killing in Sunderland, from a high up Home Office source :D . Further research (scant though it was) links Dickman to a 'scam' involving Luard, and when she was going to blow the trumpet....Can't figure out who killed Dickman - were any of the witnesses (Heppple??) linked to military/Luard/Zulu war in any way? Revenge seems appropriate in this case.

Any way the text of the Hasting's correspondence - The article is from a .pdf - sorry for the length. I've tried to get the urls to the original new age journals without success. When I do get them I'll replace text with URL link to journal.

THE DICKMAN CASE.

TO THE EDITORO F “THE NEW AGE.”

The question of Dickman’s guilt or innocence would no

doubt be settled satisfactorily for a certain type of mind by

the news of his execution.. As one Newcastle paper obsequiously

observed after the failure of appeal : “ The last

doubter should now be satisfied that the verdict given at

the Assizes was the right one.“ The forty thousand (‘last

doubters,” including three of the jurymen, are still, at this

moment, protesting that the verdict was a wrong one, and

that the Appeal Court decision was a grim farce. We,

noted at that court how the Lord Chief Justice had come

to praise his learned colleague. Lord Coleridge staked

more than his own reputation in revealing that trade stock

of legal platitudes and clichés and of tricks of suggestion

and suppression--so old that some of them have Sanscrit

names. The pride and honour of the Bar are none too

secure in these scientific days. Lord Alverstone may go blue

in the face protesting that he doesn’t care tuppence for

public opinion. Justice PhiIlimore may burst himself in

the Appeal Court laughing at John William Smith’s seven

epileptic relatives, and justice Darling may denounce

“these theories of atavism and irresponsibility of which the

air is full ” (though goodness only knows how the learned

judge heard the news). The fact is that many a young.

student is better equipped to decide a murder charge than

these elderly experts in the letter of the law.

Judges have never been popular; but, in these days their

unpopularity seems clearer because humane persons speak

more decidedly, knowing that science is behind them. It

is significant that judges should give each other loud

cheers over post-prandial boasts of their indifference to

public opinion. Some noise is needed to drown the growing

clamour of public opinion againsthe crime of judicial

murder; murder of epileptics, murder of men condemned

on circumstantial evidence, murder of boys under age, and’

of imbeciles. I have cases of all four on my records. No

amount of judicial boasting, however, will impress persons

who realise how sadly the times have changed for judges

since 1833, when Mr. Justice Bosanquet luxuriously sentenced

to death a housebreaker of nine years of age ; since

183 I, when a lad of fourteen was hanged at Maidstone ;

nay, since 1907, when Thomas Parrett, an imbecile, aged

sixteen, was sentenced to death at Crewe by the Lord Chief

Justice-this very Lord Chief Justice who found Judge

Coleridge’s attack on Dickman so “fair and able ” as

seldom he had ever read!

Let us take a sample of this fair and able summary.

About the stain on Dickman’s gloves, a stain which might

have been fish blood. Lord Coleridge said : “The suggestion

of the prisoner in respect of this was that his nose bled,

but this might not appear to them a satisfactory explanation.

The prisoner did not say that on that day his nose

bled.” Very good reason why: his nose did not bleed on

((that ” day, and-a small matter this, of course-his evidence

on oath was that he was not wearing those gloves

on “ that” day.

How differently evidence against this prisoner influenced

Lord Coleridge! Hall-Hall who omitted to tell the jurymen

of his little peep at Dickman through the window--

Hall is positively apotheosised. In commenting upon this

witness’s evidence the judge became rhetorical. “There

are some persons so proud of their accuracy that in that

very pride one may discover grounds for doubt. There are

other persons scrupulous, careful, conscientious, etc.”

(Roget, p. 159.) Hall’s evidence needs a few adjectives to

draw a curtain over that window episode. Mrs. Nisbet, too,

who omitted to tell the jury that she had known Dickman

for years-but probably no one but a judge would judge

this afflicted woman one way or another; merely putting

aside her evidence. I say here, however, that it is a pity

for the sake of justice that women are not on the jury.

In the middle of his summary Judge Coleridge made a

table of the net result of the evidence “so far.”

I . The deceased was in the third compartment of the

third coach.

2. He was murdered between Stannington and Morpeth.

3. There was one man and one man alone in the carriage

with him-certainly between Heaton and Morpeth.

4. The prisoner was seen with the deceased nt the station

in Newcastle apparently in companionship with him.

5. The prisoner was seen with a companion getting into a

compartment that was approximate at any rate to the one in

which deceased was travelling.

That’s the “net result.” Not a word of the defence, although

the defence. Of this numbered evidence, No. 2 is a lie.

It has never been proved to this moment where Nisbet was

murdered. No. 3 depends on Mrs. Nisbet’s Identification.

No,. 4 depends on Hall’s identification. No. 5 depends

upon Hepple’s identification. Except for Hepple, Dickman

would probably never have been charged. Hepple

passed this man he had known for twentyears at a

distance of eighteen feet, yet he never bade him good

morning, nor did the twenty years’ friend give any greeting.

Distinctly fishy! Dickman’s evidence was that he was

already seated in another part of the train, and never saw

Hepple at all.

Clearly, from the moment Hepple swore to Dickman and

the police discovered, from Dickman himself, that he had

no alibi, the man, if innocent, was in a horrible trap.

Lord Coleridge, for the sake of argument, at one period

chose to imagine Dickman as guilty, and he examined on

that hypothesis the prisoner’s story of his movements.

‘(If you believe it,” he commented, after this able but

unfair hit at the prisoner, (‘if you believe it, you must seek

elsewhere for the murderer. . . There is no corroborative

evidence that the prisoner had been on this road at all.

Naturally, of course, a guilty man would seek in any may

he could lay his hands on (sic) to account, otherwise than

how it was spent, for the spending of that crucial interval.”

Lord Coleridge fought Dickman--who had had no breakfast

each day but skilly at 7.15 --as if this man were the

grince of criminal intellects. What an ass he would have

been however, on the judge’s eternal supposition that he

nad planned the murder with marvellous foresight, to have

provided no better story but that he went for a walk and

was taken ill. That explanation seems too simple to be

untrue. Counsel for the defence was ably undermined once

or. twice. “ Dickman has been treated for this sickness in

prlson,” counsel interrupted. His lordship observed that

he had suffered from a malady no doubt. “ Does it not commend

itself to your good sense,” the judge addressed the jury

a few minutes later, “your good sense (a very able touch, this

piffling moral bribery) that a clever guilty man would have

said as much truth as possible without implicating himself ?,”

If to drum in the minds of the jury a disbelief of every

word uttered by the accused, if that is ability, then no

doubt Lord Coleridge was temporarily very able, even

though three of his moral victims soon turned upon him and

upon themselves and remorsefully signed for Dickman’s

reprieve.

I have previously referred to Lord Coleridge’s rule in

summing-up this case, so that every hint, every suspicion,

every bit of evidence against the accussed was arranged to

strike last upon the minds of the jury. This method, successful

as it was in oratory, thumps monotonously through

pages of writing.

Turning from this tedious, inhuman though expert hammering

upon a man in a trap, it is interesting to note theaxt -

traordinary charges have been brought against Dickman

no, no, never brought, only hinted and spread far and wide !

It has been told me on “high authority” that the Home

Office knows-only it cannot prove-that Dickman did “ at

Ieast” two other murders and many forgeries, ever so many

forgeries. The Luard murder was hinted at ! Also the

prosecution knew quite well, only it could not prove, that

Dlckman actually had pistols. An old man was shot in

Sunderland some time ago. Dickman. . . but Heaven defend

us all if the authorities are going to judge us on secret

information-too secret, too damned secret, to be made

public. It is obvious that on the public evidence a reprieve

was Imperative. The Home Office must therefore

have taken into account information not available for the

public ; that is, evidence ,of so unsupported a character that

it would not bear public investigation. I have personally

received letters of unexampled spitefulness, testifying to the

local prejudice and the determination to have some man

or other bloodily executed for this crime. The authorities,

for their part, are notoriously exasperated to have the Gorse

Hall, the Luard and the Sunderland murders still unexplained.

The rumours that another warrant was out for

Dickman proceeded from the police and no one else!

Whether Dickman was guilty or innocent may never be

known, but what is certain to grow in the public mind is the

suspicion that his death was determined upon to satisfy the

police and to save Lord Coleridge’s reputation. When an

innocent man is convicted, the judge is condemned. Dickman

on the evidence was doubtfully guilty. Lord Coleridge

is more than doubtfully innocent.

* * *BEA TRICEH ASTINGS.

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Hi John,

I have been going back through some of the electronic copies of 'The New Age', I have, looking for an article in a series called 'How the rich rule us' by Cecil Chesterton. I wanted to locate and post an excerpt from this in the Cash for honours scandal re: Tony Blair and will do shortly.

Amazingly, and totally by chance, I found this interesting letter from Beatrice Hastings a frequent correspondent to the journal. It notes Dickman as a suspect in the Luard case and a killing in Sunderland, from a high up Home Office source :D . Further research (scant though it was) links Dickman to a 'scam' involving Luard, and when she was going to blow the trumpet....Can't figure out who killed Dickman - were any of the witnesses (Heppple??) linked to military/Luard/Zulu war in any way? Revenge seems appropriate in this case.

Any way the text of the Hasting's correspondence - The article is from a .pdf - sorry for the length. I've tried to get the urls to the original new age journals without success. When I do get them I'll replace text with URL link to journal.

THE DICKMAN CASE.

TO THE EDITORO F “THE NEW AGE.”

The question of Dickman’s guilt or innocence would no

doubt be settled satisfactorily for a certain type of mind by

the news of his execution.. As one Newcastle paper obsequiously

observed after the failure of appeal : “ The last

doubter should now be satisfied that the verdict given at

the Assizes was the right one.“ The forty thousand (‘last

doubters,” including three of the jurymen, are still, at this

moment, protesting that the verdict was a wrong one, and

that the Appeal Court decision was a grim farce. We,

noted at that court how the Lord Chief Justice had come

to praise his learned colleague. Lord Coleridge staked

more than his own reputation in revealing that trade stock

of legal platitudes and clichés and of tricks of suggestion

and suppression--so old that some of them have Sanscrit

names. The pride and honour of the Bar are none too

secure in these scientific days. Lord Alverstone may go blue

in the face protesting that he doesn’t care tuppence for

public opinion. Justice PhiIlimore may burst himself in

the Appeal Court laughing at John William Smith’s seven

epileptic relatives, and justice Darling may denounce

“these theories of atavism and irresponsibility of which the

air is full ” (though goodness only knows how the learned

judge heard the news). The fact is that many a young.

student is better equipped to decide a murder charge than

these elderly experts in the letter of the law.

Judges have never been popular; but, in these days their

unpopularity seems clearer because humane persons speak

more decidedly, knowing that science is behind them. It

is significant that judges should give each other loud

cheers over post-prandial boasts of their indifference to

public opinion. Some noise is needed to drown the growing

clamour of public opinion againsthe crime of judicial

murder; murder of epileptics, murder of men condemned

on circumstantial evidence, murder of boys under age, and’

of imbeciles. I have cases of all four on my records. No

amount of judicial boasting, however, will impress persons

who realise how sadly the times have changed for judges

since 1833, when Mr. Justice Bosanquet luxuriously sentenced

to death a housebreaker of nine years of age ; since

183 I, when a lad of fourteen was hanged at Maidstone ;

nay, since 1907, when Thomas Parrett, an imbecile, aged

sixteen, was sentenced to death at Crewe by the Lord Chief

Justice-this very Lord Chief Justice who found Judge

Coleridge’s attack on Dickman so “fair and able ” as

seldom he had ever read!

Let us take a sample of this fair and able summary.

About the stain on Dickman’s gloves, a stain which might

have been fish blood. Lord Coleridge said : “The suggestion

of the prisoner in respect of this was that his nose bled,

but this might not appear to them a satisfactory explanation.

The prisoner did not say that on that day his nose

bled.” Very good reason why: his nose did not bleed on

((that ” day, and-a small matter this, of course-his evidence

on oath was that he was not wearing those gloves

on “ that” day.

How differently evidence against this prisoner influenced

Lord Coleridge! Hall-Hall who omitted to tell the jurymen

of his little peep at Dickman through the window--

Hall is positively apotheosised. In commenting upon this

witness’s evidence the judge became rhetorical. “There

are some persons so proud of their accuracy that in that

very pride one may discover grounds for doubt. There are

other persons scrupulous, careful, conscientious, etc.”

(Roget, p. 159.) Hall’s evidence needs a few adjectives to

draw a curtain over that window episode. Mrs. Nisbet, too,

who omitted to tell the jury that she had known Dickman

for years-but probably no one but a judge would judge

this afflicted woman one way or another; merely putting

aside her evidence. I say here, however, that it is a pity

for the sake of justice that women are not on the jury.

In the middle of his summary Judge Coleridge made a

table of the net result of the evidence “so far.”

I . The deceased was in the third compartment of the

third coach.

2. He was murdered between Stannington and Morpeth.

3. There was one man and one man alone in the carriage

with him-certainly between Heaton and Morpeth.

4. The prisoner was seen with the deceased nt the station

in Newcastle apparently in companionship with him.

5. The prisoner was seen with a companion getting into a

compartment that was approximate at any rate to the one in

which deceased was travelling.

That’s the “net result.” Not a word of the defence, although

the defence. Of this numbered evidence, No. 2 is a lie.

It has never been proved to this moment where Nisbet was

murdered. No. 3 depends on Mrs. Nisbet’s Identification.

No,. 4 depends on Hall’s identification. No. 5 depends

upon Hepple’s identification. Except for Hepple, Dickman

would probably never have been charged. Hepple

passed this man he had known for twentyears at a

distance of eighteen feet, yet he never bade him good

morning, nor did the twenty years’ friend give any greeting.

Distinctly fishy! Dickman’s evidence was that he was

already seated in another part of the train, and never saw

Hepple at all.

Clearly, from the moment Hepple swore to Dickman and

the police discovered, from Dickman himself, that he had

no alibi, the man, if innocent, was in a horrible trap.

Lord Coleridge, for the sake of argument, at one period

chose to imagine Dickman as guilty, and he examined on

that hypothesis the prisoner’s story of his movements.

‘(If you believe it,” he commented, after this able but

unfair hit at the prisoner, (‘if you believe it, you must seek

elsewhere for the murderer. . . There is no corroborative

evidence that the prisoner had been on this road at all.

Naturally, of course, a guilty man would seek in any may

he could lay his hands on (sic) to account, otherwise than

how it was spent, for the spending of that crucial interval.”

Lord Coleridge fought Dickman--who had had no breakfast

each day but skilly at 7.15 --as if this man were the

grince of criminal intellects. What an ass he would have

been however, on the judge’s eternal supposition that he

nad planned the murder with marvellous foresight, to have

provided no better story but that he went for a walk and

was taken ill. That explanation seems too simple to be

untrue. Counsel for the defence was ably undermined once

or. twice. “ Dickman has been treated for this sickness in

prlson,” counsel interrupted. His lordship observed that

he had suffered from a malady no doubt. “ Does it not commend

itself to your good sense,” the judge addressed the jury

a few minutes later, “your good sense (a very able touch, this

piffling moral bribery) that a clever guilty man would have

said as much truth as possible without implicating himself ?,”

If to drum in the minds of the jury a disbelief of every

word uttered by the accused, if that is ability, then no

doubt Lord Coleridge was temporarily very able, even

though three of his moral victims soon turned upon him and

upon themselves and remorsefully signed for Dickman’s

reprieve.

I have previously referred to Lord Coleridge’s rule in

summing-up this case, so that every hint, every suspicion,

every bit of evidence against the accussed was arranged to

strike last upon the minds of the jury. This method, successful

as it was in oratory, thumps monotonously through

pages of writing.

Turning from this tedious, inhuman though expert hammering

upon a man in a trap, it is interesting to note theaxt -

traordinary charges have been brought against Dickman

no, no, never brought, only hinted and spread far and wide !

It has been told me on “high authority” that the Home

Office knows-only it cannot prove-that Dickman did “ at

Ieast” two other murders and many forgeries, ever so many

forgeries. The Luard murder was hinted at ! Also the

prosecution knew quite well, only it could not prove, that

Dlckman actually had pistols. An old man was shot in

Sunderland some time ago. Dickman. . . but Heaven defend

us all if the authorities are going to judge us on secret

information-too secret, too damned secret, to be made

public. It is obvious that on the public evidence a reprieve

was Imperative. The Home Office must therefore

have taken into account information not available for the

public ; that is, evidence ,of so unsupported a character that

it would not bear public investigation. I have personally

received letters of unexampled spitefulness, testifying to the

local prejudice and the determination to have some man

or other bloodily executed for this crime. The authorities,

for their part, are notoriously exasperated to have the Gorse

Hall, the Luard and the Sunderland murders still unexplained.

The rumours that another warrant was out for

Dickman proceeded from the police and no one else!

Whether Dickman was guilty or innocent may never be

known, but what is certain to grow in the public mind is the

suspicion that his death was determined upon to satisfy the

police and to save Lord Coleridge’s reputation. When an

innocent man is convicted, the judge is condemned. Dickman

on the evidence was doubtfully guilty. Lord Coleridge

is more than doubtfully innocent.

* * *BEA TRICEH ASTINGS.

Have you got a date for this article? Does it provide any references?

As you say, after his execution, information emerged that suggests Dickman was involved in the deaths of Caroline Luard and a Sunderland murder (the death of Herman Cohen). I have already started a discussion on the Luard case here:

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=11057

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Guest Gary Loughran

Hi John,

It was August 11th 1910 Vol 7 No.15. It is a letter in the correspondence section of the New Age Journal (brilliant articles in every edition).

I still haven't found the URL to post but I am trying. All the New Age journals are downloadable in .PDF format and they're worth it.

Will post Chesterton on Blair's cash for honours scandal from the same edition as the Dickman letter - very shortly.

Do you find the letter interesting??

The complete New Age collection downloadable in .pdf format can be found here

The New Age

London: The New Age Press, Ltd.

1907 - 1922

The New Age was a weekly magazine, printed in double columns, folio sized, and mostly in type sizes that varied from small to miniscule. A rather different journal had been appearing under that name, when a group led by G. B. Shaw decided to provide some funding and asked A. R. Orage and his friend Holbrook Jackson to begin a "New Series" in the spring of 1907. From then on, volumes ran for six months, with pages numbered accordingly. Among the notable contributors were Katherine Mansfield, Ezra Pound, Beatrice Hastings, T. E. Hulme, Walter Sickert, Marmaduke Pickthall, and Herbert Read. The magazine played a central role in the debates over modernism and in the social and political issues of the day. (The New Age continued for some years after Orage resigned, but is not of comparable interest

Thanks

Gary

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It was August 11th 1910 Vol 7 No.15. It is a letter in the correspondence section of the New Age Journal (brilliant articles in every edition).

This is an interesting find. In fact, it helps to explain a mystery that dates back to the campaign to save Dickman. The connection between this case and that of Caroline Luard did not emerge until during the campaign to abolish Capital Punishment. It was a memorandum sent to the Royal Commission by a man named C. H. Norman. He also wrote articles for the New Age. I will publish the memorandum later after we get a chance to discuss both cases.

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I have been doing some research into Beatrice Hastings, the author of the New Age article on the Nisbet case. To my surprise she lived and died just around the corner from my house. She committed suicide in 1944.

Hastings lived for a time with Amadeo Modigliani and appeared in several of his paintings.

I have done a page on her and it can be found here:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRIMEhastings.htm

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Guest Gary Loughran
I have been doing some research into Beatrice Hastings, the author of the New Age article on the Nisbet case. To my surprise she lived and died just around the corner from my house. She committed suicide in 1944.

Hastings lived for a time with Amadeo Modigliani and appeared in several of his paintings.

I have done a page on her and it can be found here:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRIMEhastings.htm

Nice page John. I'm taking a bit of a flyer here, but is Beatrice Hastings her real name or a nom de plume. I know she wrote articles for the New Age under different names.

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I have been doing some research into Beatrice Hastings, the author of the New Age article on the Nisbet case. To my surprise she lived and died just around the corner from my house. She committed suicide in 1944.

Hastings lived for a time with Amadeo Modigliani and appeared in several of his paintings.

I have done a page on her and it can be found here:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRIMEhastings.htm

Nice page John. I'm taking a bit of a flyer here, but is Beatrice Hastings her real name or a nom de plume. I know she wrote articles for the New Age under different names.

She was born Emily Alice Haigh. Other names she used included Alice Morning, A.M.A., E.H., B.L.H., Beatrice Tina, Cynicus, Robert a Field, T.K.L., D. Triformis, Edward Stafford, S. Robert West, V.M., G. Whiz, J. Wilson, and T.W.

However, I suspect she might not have been the sole author of the article on the Dickman case. Much of the information used in the article came from C. H. Norman, who was the shorthand writer employed by the court that tried Dickman. He also wrote for the New Age using a variety of different names. Norman was no doubt one of her lovers. Hastings was an attractive woman who had no difficulty attracting men. She claimed that she made notches on her bedpost for all her successes.

The crowd at the New Age in the UK were very much like the people who produced the Masses in the US. They were all socialists, anti-war, advocates of free love and involved in modern art.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/ARTmasses.htm

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Guest Gary Loughran

You sure have done some research on her. I only found a couple of those names...no point posting now.

Take away modern art and the attributes of New Age folk, seem quite agreeable. Bit like Nationalists such as Oscar Wilde's mum 'Speranza', Shaw and company in Ireland around late 19th Century.

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How long are we going to be kept in suspense?

I originally thought that he probably was guilty. After reading more of John's posts, I began to think that things were not necessarily as they appeared.

What was this new information, John? is it conclusive or speculative?

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In 1949 Clement Atlee set up a Royal Commission to examine the issue of capital punishment. C. H. Norman sent this memo to the Royal Commission on Captal Punishment (27th November 1950)

This subject has interested me for many years, particularly since the trial of Rex v. Dickman at the Newcastle Summer Assizes in July 1910, who was tried for the murder of a man named Nesbit (sic) in a train. Dickman was executed for what was an atrocious crime on 10 August 1910, his appeal at the Court of Criminal Appeal being dismissed on 22 July 1910. The case has always troubled me and converted me into an opponent of capital punishment. I attended the trial as the acting official shorthandwriter under the Criminal Appeal Act. I took a different view to the jury; I thought the case was not conclusively made out against the accused. Singularly enough, in view of the nature of the crime, five of the jurymen signed the petition for reprieve, which could only be based upon the notion that the evidence was not sufficient against the accused.

It may be asked, why raise the question now? I am doing so partly because of Viscount Templewood's evidence, when he was reported as saying there was a possibility of innocent men being executed: partly because of the evidence of Viscount Buckmaster before the Barr Committee on Capital Punishment; but mainly because of the remarkable and disturbing matters concerning the Dickman case which have come to my knowledge over the intervening years, which I will now relate.

The Dickman case is the subject of a book by Sir S. RowanHamilton, which was published in 1914, based on the transcripts of the shorthand notes of the trial and certain other material. I did not read this book till August 1939, when owing to certain passages in the book, I wrote a letter to Sir S. Rowan-Hamilton, who had been Chief Justice of Bermuda, who replied as follows in a letter dated 26 October 1939:

The Cottage

Craijavak

Co. Down

Sir,

Your interesting letter of 24 August only reached me to-day. Of course, I was not present at the incident you referred to in the Judge's Chambers, but (Charles) Lowenthal (junior Crown counsel at Dickman's trial) was a fierce prosecutor. All the same Dickman was justly [convicted?], and it may interest you to know that he was with little doubt the murderer of Mrs Luard [who was shot dead at Ightham, near Sevenoaks, Kent, on 24 August 1908], for he had forged a cheque she had sent him in response to an advertisement in The Times (I believe) asking for help; she discovered it and wrote to him and met him outside the General's and her house and her body was found there. He was absent from Newcastle those exact days. Tindal Atkinson knew of this, but not being absolutely certain, refused to cross-examine Dickman on it. I have seen replicas of cheques. They were shown me by the Public Prosecutor. He was, I believe, mixed up in that case, but I have forgotten the details.

Yours truly

S. Rowan-Hamilton, Kt.

In 1938 there was published a book entitled Great Unsolved Crimes, by various authors. In that book there is an article by exSuperintendent Percy Savage (who was in charge of the investigations), entitled 'The Fish Ponds Wood Mystery', which deals with the murder of Mrs Luard, wife of Major-General Luard, who committed suicide shortly afterwards by putting himself on the railway line. In that article, the following passage appears: "It remains an unsolved mystery. All our work was in vain. The murderer was never caught, as not a scrap of evidence was forthcoming on which we could justify an arrest, and, to this day, I frankly admit I have no idea who the criminal was.' This book first came to my notice in February 1949, whereupon I wrote to Sir Rowan-Hamilton, reminding him of the previous letters, and asking for his observations on this statement of the officer who had conducted the inquiries into the Luard case. On 22 February 1949, I received the following reply from Sir S. Rowan-Hamilton:

Lisieux

Sandycove Road

Dunloaghaire

Co. Dublin

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your letter. Superintendent Savage was certainly not at Counsel's conference and so doubtless knew nothing of what passed between them. I am keeping your note as you are interested in the case and will send you later a note on the Luard case.

Yours truly

S. Rowan-Hamilton, Kt.

I replied, pointing out what a disturbing case of facts was revealed, as it was within my knowledge that Lord Coleridge, who tried Dickman, Lord Alverstone, Mr Justice A.T. Lawrence and Mr Justice Phillimore, who constituted the Court of Criminal Appeal, were friends of Major-General and Mrs Luard. (Lord Alverstone made a public statement denouncing in strong language the conduct of certain people who had written anonymous letters to Major-General Luard hinting that he had murdered his wife.) I did not receive any reply to this letter, nor the promised note on the Luard case.

Mr Winston Churchill, who was the Home Secretary who rejected all representations on behalf of Dickman, was also a friend of Major-General Luard.

So one has the astonishing state of things disclosed that Dickman was tried for the murder of Nesbit [sic] by judges who already had formed the view that he was guilty of the murder of the wife of a friend of theirs. If Superintendent Savage is to be believed, this was an entirely mistaken view.

I was surprised at the time of the trial at the venom which was displayed towards the prisoner by those in charge of the case. When I was called into Lord Coleridge's room to read my note before the verdict was given, on the point of the non-calling of Mrs Dickman as a witness, I was amazed to find in the judge's room Mr Lowenthal, Junior Counsel for the Crown, the police officers in charge of the case, and the solicitor for the prosecution. When I mentioned this in a subsequent interview with Lord Alverstone, he said I must not refer to the matter in view of my official position.

I did my best at the time within the limits possible. I went to Mr Burns, the only Cabinet Minister I knew well, and told him my views on the case and the incident in the judge's room; which I also told Mr Gardiner, the editor of The Daily News, who said he could not refer to that, though he permitted me to write in his room a last-day appeal for a reprieve, which appeared in The Daily News. Mr John Burns told me afterwards that he had conveyed my representations to Mr Churchill, but without avail.

What do you make of this memo? Do you think it solves the case of John Nisbet and Caroline Luard?

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  • 2 weeks later...

The police case against John Dickman was that he was short of money and so he shot John Nisbet in order to steal £370. The problem for the police was that the £350 was never found. The police also failed to find the murder weapon or conclusive evidence that Dickman had ever owned a gun.

As the people who campaigned against the verdict pointed out, Dickman was only convicted on circumstantial evidence. Dickman was also badly served by his defence counsel. He only called one witness, Dickman. Amazingly, he did not call one character witness. This is important as Dickman had a completely clean record. He had never been in any trouble with the police and was a highly respected member of the community.

The prosecution made much of the fact that he was short of money at the time. However, he still had more money in the bank than the vast majority of people living in Newcastle. If Dickman had a motive to kill Nisbet, so did 95% of the people living in England at the time.

It has been claimed that Dickman would never have been convicted if he did not give evidence in court. Most observers concluded that Dickman was lying when he said that he was unaware that Nisbet carried the wages of the colliery workers from a bank in Newcastle every Friday. After all, Dickman also carried out this task when he worked as a clerk of the colliery. In fact, this was probably the way the two men got to know each other. One can understand why Dickman lied about this matter. However, this only makes him guilty of lying, not murder.

The other piece of evidence used against Dickman was the discovery of the wages bag at the bottom of Isabella Pit, a disused mine shaft near Morpeth Station. Dickman admitted he got out at Morpeth Station. However, this was known when Dickman was arrested. The bag was not found until several weeks later. The murderer may well have placed the bag in the pit in order to get Dickman convicted.

Why would Dickman hide the bag in the disused mine shaft? He would have known that it was only a matter of time before it was found because Peter Spooner, the colliery manager, carried out inspections of the pit on a regular basis. In fact, the real puzzle was that the bag was not found until the 9th June, whereas Nisbet was murdered on the 18th March. Why did Spooner not find it earlier? Maybe it was only put there after Dickman had been arrested. Why did Dickman hide the bag in a mine shaft that he knew would be found? Why didn’t he hide it with the revolver and the money that was never found?

It is also very difficult to believe that a 46 year old man with a completely clean record would become a cold-blooded killer so late in life. He had not even served in the armed forces which often worked at removing the taboo about killing.

Let us assume for a moment that Dickman did decide to kill Nisbet. How would Dickman have done it? The fact that Nisbet was shot is clear evidence that it was planned. Therefore, you would assume that he would have followed Nisbet a couple of times to work out his routine. This would have included at least one trip when he sat in the same carriage as Nisbet. He would then have realised that Nisbet’s wife always stood on the platform at Heaton to say hello to her husband. Having this information he would have acted in a very different way to the way he did. For a start, he would never have walked along with Nisbet on Newcastle Station before entering the same carriage. If he did, he definitely did not plan to murder Nisbet that morning. Nor would he have continued with the idea after being identified by Mrs Nisbet as sitting in the same carriage with her husband.

If Dickman did plan to murder Nisbet he would have caught the train at a station after Heaton. He would have needed an excuse for being at the station if identified as a suspect, but that would not have been a difficult thing to do. He could then have got in Nisbet’s carriage if he was alone. If he killed him before reaching the next station, no one would have put the two men together in the same carriage.

Dickman would also have purchased a ticket for Alnmouth. One of his problems was that he had bought a ticket for Stannington and had to pay excess fare at Morpeth. This made it easy for the ticket collector to identify Dickman as the man who got off the train at Morpeth. Interestingly, Dickman admitted the first time he was interviewed by the police, that he got out at Morpeth. This is important as if he was guilty of the crime, he would have known he had hidden the wages bag at Morpeth.

The killing of Nisbet in a railway carriage was always going to be a very risky activity. It seems to me that this was an opportunistic killing and involved very little planning. If Dickman wanted to kill Nisbet the best way of doing it was on the walk from Widdrington Station to the colliery. He could have hidden in the bushes, stepped out and killed Nisbet, taken the money and fled into the nearby forest. Some distance from the scene he could have buried the revolver and the wages bag. He could have also hidden the money in another more local place. This would have been removed over a gradual period and be portrayed as winnings from his bookmaking activities.

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