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THE GREAT JUDICIAL SCANDAL ADOLF BECK'S MARTYRDOM., Evening Post, Volume LXVIII, Issue 91, 14 October 1904
THE GREAT JUDICIAL SCANDAL ADOLF BECK'S MARTYRDOM.
SIR FORREST FULTON IN DEFENCE CHORUS OF CONDEMNATION. STRANGE SiLENCii; OF GOVERNMENT. (From Our Own Correspondent.) LONDON, 2nd September. Still arises day by day the loud cry i>f public indignation and disgust \tfltn Regard 'to the frightful judicial 'error 1y which poor Adolf Beck 6uffo«d so long and terrible a martyrdom. Still is maintained by the Government the most profound silence. Evidently the hope is entehtained by those in authority that this reticence may gradually wear out the popular indignation. •But this is a very fallacious notion. The press and the public now begin to feel that they are being treated .with conteVnpt, and thus a personal feeling of wrong is added to the intense indignation felt about Mr. Beck himself and to the anxiety that each person must needs feel lest he or she may some day come in for like 'outrage. It is quite "characteristic of the gross .impropriety of the whole case that the first answer comes from the man who ought to have been the last to reply and tvh6 fchiuld have replied only to a proper tribunal of investigation—hftmely, from th& Judge who tried Beck on the first occasion in 1896, Sir Forrest Fulton, now Recorder of London, then Common Sergeant. His attempted' self-vindication takes the shape of a letter more than a column ih length which appeared in the Times last Monday. Sir Forrest Fulton's aim frdrn first tft last is to excuse himself. He throws the Government overboard "at tne outset. He says : — THE CASft FOR THE DEFENCE. "The question whether A'ddlf Beck was John Smith was never at any time in issue in the trial before me; the Treasury, represented by Mr. Horace Avoy, threw him over from the first, (a) They deliberately tried the ihdi'cttnehi for misdemeanour in Which the previous conviction was hot charged, (b) Mr. Gill, for the defence, called several Witnesses to Beck's character, which entitled Mr. Avory at once t6 prove the question in any Way. The onhr conclusion I could draw Was that the Treasury had satisfied themselves either that Beck was not Smith at all, ot that they were not in a position to prdve that he was. There were four further indictments on the lile of the Court charging four of the cases as felony, and in each indictment alleging the previous conviction.., After Beck's conviction on the misdemeanour indictment, Mr. Avory applied for a postponement of these cases to the next session, stating that he should advise the Public Prosecutor to apply to the Attorney-Gen-eral to enter a nolle prbseqtii, Mr. uill asked me to try one df the indictments; and I told him (which, of course, he well knew) una't I could riot dohipel Mr. Avory to try the accused a. second time oa the same facts for felony, ho having already been cinvicted t>f misdemeanour, but that I must follow the usual practice and postpone the four felony ihdictmehts to the next session to give the Public ' Prosecutor time "to make up his mind whether he would offer no evidence and take an acquittal or advise the Attorney-General to enter a nolle prosequi. ' I may here explain that if an acquittal were taken the previous conviction as well as the substantive charge would both have been finally wiped out, but if the course were pursued of entering a nolle prosequi the previous conviction might be revived should the Crown at any time find thenyselves in -possession of conclusive evidence in support of.il. The proper person to aecide what should fee done ih such a case was the Directbr of Public Prdseculions— a statutory officer specially appointed by Parliament for (inter alia) such a purpose, in due course* a nolle prdseqUi was entered, and the indictments thus disposed of so far as the file of the vJourt was concerned." But, as the Daily Telegraph justly remarks : "All that is trite; but We look in vvain in JSir Forresl Fulton's letter for any answer to wha,t ia, after all, the main criticism, passed Upon his action. If Beck was tried as Beck, why was he sentenced not alone as Beck, but as John Smith, an ex-convict? Would the Common Sergeant have given Beck seven years' jienal servitude on a first conviction? Is it not perfectly clear that, whatever evidence was allowed or not allowed, both Judge, and Jury wore convinced that Beck was Smith, and gave him no opportunity of showing that he was not: Moreover,, even if Beck was not tried and convioted as Smith, it at least cannot be denied that he was entered in the gaol books as Smith) for he bore the mark connoting conviction in 18/7 "(Smith's year), and the Home Office two years later officially admitted the error by removing the mark. . . Here is a palpable fact wanting 'aft explahatiohj and none is given; it wants it tlie ltidre because the gaol authorities must have known ' that Beck could not have been John Smith. Sir Forrest writes at great length, but .he "does hot show how it is that, though John Smith was never before the Guurt at all in 1896, it \yas as John Sniith that Beck went to prison." A REMARITABLE POSIT- -N. After giving sdrne details, which I need not reproduce, Sir Forrest Fulton goes on to say' 1 : — "To show motive the Crown presented a considerable body of evidence to prove that beck was in needy pirctiinslAnCfes at -the tim 6, and glad to borrow 6s. It was further proved that ,Beck was in the habit of occasionally frequenting the smoking-room of the Grand Hotel, and would thus have access to the hotel note-paper, and that the "Grand Hotels Company took over the Hotel Victoria on Ist January> 1698. Several of the documents in the case bore the impress of the Victoria Hotel.- Laßtly, Mr. Guernr was called, and gave elaborate evidence swearing that to the best of his belief all the documents in the case were in the handwriting (disguised) of the prisoner, he having, of course, comparecT them with documents in his (Beck's) admitted handwriting. It was at th& point that Mf. Gill desired to cross-examine Mr. Guerin, so as to raise the issue that, the writing in the Smith case feeing the same was the writing in Beck's case, according to Mr. Guerin'9 evidence before the Magistrate, the man who committed the one crime must have committed 'the Other. From Mr. Gill's paint of view, Mr. Ghierin's evidence was perfectly worthless , as establishing the fact that the same man must have committed the. crime of 1876 and the crime of 1894. If Mh Gill was right that the same man hufst h*ve committed both crimes, and Beck was not that man, Becli was ex hypothesi innocent; yet Guerin had awofn to tlie best of his belief, having Beck's admitted writing before him ( that all the docuirrents m the case before hie Were in Beck's handwritihg. If ;he Was Wrong Ih this* of what value was his evidence aa establishing in Whose handwritihg the Smith documents tirere? I may here add that in my summing-up I specially cautioned the jury against re^ lying too much oft the expert evidence as to handwriting; I carefully explained to them that it only amounted to ,an opinion, and that they ought to exercise their own independent judgment? on the matter; and to enable them to db bo I todk r t!afe that the documents should oe handed to them one by ona as they were referred to by Mr. Guerin, It was
never suggested that Beck had any alibi as to any of the ten charges laid against him in the indictment which I tried, and I thought that the defence were seeking to draw the jury away from the real issue — viz., whether all or any of the ten charges laid in the indictment were proved — by calling an alibi as to something not in issue before them.. viz., whether Beck had been convicted of felony as J»hn Smith in 1876. I considered this issue was wholly immaterial, ana, in accordance with" the well-known rule of law, I excluded the evidence. It only could be material on the assumption that the man who committed the one crime must have committed the other, and upon this point I was of opinion there was no sort of proof before nte." These are the main features in the Judge's self-defence, - and I quote them fully because of the enormously important public interest that is involved. For if a Government may carefully arrange a prosecution so as to exclude the true and only possible defence, and if a- Judge may then rule out as irrelevant the only way in which that defence could yet be brought forward by an .accused person, then, indeed, the liberty of every man, woman* and child in the Empire stands in most grave peril. CRITICISM AND CONDEMNATION. The press criticisms of the Judge's letter are without exception severely adverse. Thus the Daily Telegraph remarks:—"lt is rarely that a Judge descends into the dust of the arena in justification of his own sentence, nor is it desirable that he sh6uld. General surprise, therefore, will be felt that Sir Forrest Fulton should write a lofag letter to The Times defending the action he took in 1896, when, as Common Serjeant> he presided at the trial of Adolf Beck. The circumstances, however, are special=— it is hoped, indeed^ that they may be absolutely unique — and the irregularitj may be dverlooked owing to the interest which the case has aroused. .. . . Unless we are greatly mistaken, the Recorder's letter, so far from settling anything, will only" make public opinion the keeneer to get at the bottom of this mysterious case. The Home Office hitherto has been deaf to the pppular demand for an enquiry. It would seem as though the officials were agreed to treat the agitation as a. midsummer or hbliday fantasy of the newspaper press. Considering that the demand has the unanimous support of the British pressi is strongly backed by public opinion on general grounds, and by such authorities as Sir Edward Clarke and Sir George Lewis, on 'leg|il — as well as general — grounds, silence is a strange petversity on the part of a, very capable and conscientious Home Secretary, who is not himself responsible for any portion of this miscarriage of justice. The public is not thirsting for any man's blood; it is not demanding an example to be made to salve 'its own tidwßcfence s it is merely insisting upon knowing how it came about that an innocent man was twice found guilty. An enquiry is called for; an enquiry there must be. It is high time that this futile attempt to ignore the plain will of the people came to an ehd." "Dagohet" (Mr. G. R-. Simsj of thft Referee) says:-— "The demand for investigation into the Adolf Beck scandal has been greatly intensified by a long and remarkable letter by Sir Forrest Fulton, the Common Serjeant, who tried Mr. Beck at the Old Bailey in 1896, aiid who has prosecuted John Smith in 1877. Sir. Forrest Fulton throws all responsibility on the Treasury. ... Sir Forrest Fulton states that in shutting out the defence of Mr. Beck, which was that the frauds were the acts of John Smith, who had been previously convicted bf an exactly similar series, , and thab Adolf Beck c uld not be Jdhn Smith, as Adolf Beck was in Peru at the time the first series were committed, 'he, Sir Forrest Fulton, acted as any other Judge would have done, and 'follow ed the ordinary and well-established practice.' Let ns look at the circumstances in which this 'ordinary and wellestablished practice' was followed. The prosecution at the Police Court attempted to prove by their witnesses that Adolf Beck, arrested in 1895, was the exconvict John Smith, who had been sentenced in 1877. All the depositions of the Police Court were before the Common Serjeant, Sir Forrest Fulton, wlio tried the case at the Old Bailey. Yet at the trial the' prosecution entirely abandoned the idea of John Smith, "and the issue of Adolf Beck being John Smith was withdrawn from the jury. BUt immediately the trial was over Adolf Beck was taken away and labelled with the conviction of John Smith of 1877. The prosecution made Mr. Beck John Smith when it suited their purpose for him td be John Smith j they took the John Smith label from Mi\ Beck when his alibi would have upset their case; and the authorities put the John Smith label on Mr. Beck again directly- it had him safe and snug in a convict prison. 1 ' A REPLY TO SIR FORREST FULTON. "Is it unfair," asks Dagonet, "to argue from this that the John Smith theory of the Police Court was shut out at the trial by the prosecution for the purpose Of obtaining a doftviction> and that the conviction havihg been by this means obtained, Adolf Beck was after the trial relabelled John Smilh? Sir Forrest Fulton says that at the trial tif Adolf Beck tlie usual course of procedure was /followed. We have seen how disastrous the 'usual' course was ih this case, It sent At inndcent man to seven yemcß' penal servitude. The Common Serjeants ruling in this matter is nowj I am sure, deeply' regretted by him. He says as much in his concluding paragraphs of sympathy with Mr. Beck. But one of the most interesting points of the case, and one which he tides not touch, is that he himself, acting as counsel foi 1 the Treasury, prosecuted Jdhn Smith in '1877. ' He had, therefore, had through his hands and had presented to the jilry all the documents in that case. He has heard every word of the story of the 'Lord Willoughby' of 1877, he had had in his hands every document connected with the case, and had presented those documents as part of his Case to the jury. He had in 1877 studied the story in its every aspect, its every detail, before presenting his case, that bf the prosecution, to the jury. It is therefore the more remarkable that he should now Contend, as he does in The Times, that it is quite usual for criminals to imitate each other in their processes and methods) seeing that in this instance the evidence of 1896 was a phonographic repetition of the evidence bf 1877, with all the items and documents the same as the items tind documents of 1877." "The theofy of Sir Forrest Fulton as set forth in The Times (continues "Da>gonet") is — the John Smith theory being entirely abandoned — that Adolf Beck, a Norwegian, who had been in Peru in 1877 when the Smith crimes were committed, and Who had remained in Peru unttll 1894, CoUld have returned to England and So studied the case of a man convicted in 1877 that in the year 1894 (seventeen years afterwards) he was capable of not only mutating Smith's handwriting, Smith's processes, and Smith's methods, but of writing out lists of dresses to be obtained of the Smith tradespeople) and of playing the John Smith 'confidence trick with such absoJute accuracy of detail that during the Police Court nroceedinss there was not,
tie slightest doubt in the minds of any one engaged in the prosecution thai «n order to secure a conviction Adolf Beck must be connected^with John Smith. It was stated in many newspapers published before the trial that the police were confident they conld prove that Adolf Beck was John Smith. The prosecution at the Police Court even produced flic p&licfe officer who arrested John Smith in 187? to swear thatt' Adolf Beck was John Smith. They also produced Mr. Gurrin, the expert in handwriting at the Police Court to prove that all the handwriting of 1896 was that of 1877. Yet at the trial the evidence that Adolf Beck could not be the John Smith whom the police and the expert and the prosecution had previously declared must be the author of the ■ 1877 frauds, was ruled out. Mr. Beck had prepared his defence to meet this charge. The prosecution knew that his defence was a perfect alibi on the John Smith issue. And at the trial at the Old 'Bailey that defence was ruled out, and declared to be irrelevant to the issue. And now Sir Forrest Fulton says in The Times that this is the 'usual' course of criminal procedure. The public will, I think, on this admission come to the conclusion that the course of criminal procedure is honeycombed with perils to honest men, and stands in immediate need of reffeh. . . I cannot allow a day to pals Without protesting against the insinuation that at the time Mr. Beck is alleged to have been swindling women out of trumpery articles of jewellery he was a needy man-, 'glad to borrow five shillihgs.' It is absolutely untrue. Mr. Lseck hid m, that period thousands of pounds' worth of property and a large amount of capital — some of it borrowed— locked up in it." SEARCHING INVESTIGATION DEMANDED. The letter of Sir Forrest Fulton has stimulated the intense ihterest felt in the subject throughout the country. Most of the leading journals* not only in London, but in the provinces, as well as abroad, make strong reference to the,, matter. The letter of the Recorder has' accentuated the general deinahd for an immediate and searching investigation into the case. "It is much to be regretted," says the Law Journal, "that Sir Forrest Fulton should have allowed himself to be drawn into the controversy cieated by the Beck case. He might at least have waited until the Home Office decided whether the public demand for an enquiry should be granted. TWe are circumstances connected with the two convictions of Mr. Beck which call imperatively for searching enquiry. Rightly or wrongly, public confidence ih the-ad-ministration of the .criminal law has been seriously afiected by the Beck case, and only art investigation by an independent committee is likely to restore it." * ' The Daily Chronicle regrets 1 the appearance of Sir Forrest Fulton's letter, and asks : x "Why did he not retain his defence for the regular public enquiry which the Government must be compelled to institute?" The Daily News, in discussing the Recorder's letter, refers to his "very submissive attitude" towards the Treasury, and asks : "How came the Treasury so to arrange the lindictment against Beck as to avoid raising the ohe point on which hrs whole defence turned? tn the answer to that question every citizen who loves his l freedom is intiipately conderned." The Birmingham. Daily Post refers to the "storm of popular indignation," and &ays: "It is only natural that the public mind should be deeply stirred by the revelation of so grievous a judicial scandal." The current number of Truth deals with Sir Forrest Fulton's "Apologia." "The necessity for a thorough investigation is not diminished ih the leafct degree," says the writer* "by the letter of the Recorder of Londbn in the Tunes on Monday. ... So far the Home Secretary has not taken any step toward the holding of an investigation. He is, however, making a grievous mistake if he imagines that the case will be allowed to drop without one." Every paper according to its fashion proclaims the same reiterated demand for justice, coupled at the present moment with no haltipg expressions of dissatisfaction at what we are entitled to call the firfct statement of official explanation of the affair which hds caused so much misery to an innocent man. And above all there remains wholly unexplained the gravely sinister fact that although, directly Mr. Beck entered prison the authorities had the most absolute physical proof th«t My. Seek was not, and could not possibly be, the convict Smith, as wliom he had beßh Convicted, anfl although they even agfced on this knowledge to tho extent of altering the prison designatibn of Mr. Beck, thus admitting that he was riot the man in whose name he had been convicted, they yet allowed him to languish for more than five years in prison .Did they communicate to the Home Office their knowledge? If SO) there lies the crime. If hot, itheh those prison authorities ought to face a severe reckoning. As yet> however, the Government maintains strict silence, and so the question arises more and more loudly flay by day : Who is being shielded?
THE GREAT JUDICIAL SCANDAL ADOLF BECK'S MARTYRDOM., Evening Post, Volume LXVIII, Issue 91, 14 October 1904
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