Category Archives: crime

Tracing your Legal Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Stephen Wade

Reviewing this book posed one small problem: I don’t actually HAVE a legal ancestor (although there are possibly one or two illegal ancestors, but thats another story). I’ve done a little research and study into criminal history (check out the Old Bailey online for some good old crime reading), but this book looks very much at the other side of the coin – the judiciary and legal system.

The British legal system is horribly complicated and confusing – Quarter Sessions, Assizes, Magistrates, County Court, High Court to name but a few. There are lawyers, barristers, judges, recorders, registrars, clerks and coroners to name but a few more. Its hard enough to understand for those of us who have studied it for a while, so for the family history enthusiast finding that they have a lawyer in the family, it must be terrifying to know where to start. This book gives a good starting point.

I would go further however, and suggests that this is actually probably quite useful to read if you find that you have a criminal ancestor, as it gives a great description of the legal system. Therefore, you will be able to gain a much better understanding of the system that you ancestor will have gone through, and the people who would have defenced, prosectuted and sentenced them.

Never the less, this is a very useful book indeed. I must confess, it doesn’t sound like the most rivetting read, and its probably not something you would pick up purely for fun. But if you find thats one of your ancestors was a lawyer or judge or such like, this would be an ideal guide. As usual with the ‘Tracing your… Ancestors’ series there are plenty of useful resources listed, and – particularly useful in this case – a sizeable glossary of tecnical legal terms.

Its on my bookshelf just in case!

Tracing your Legal Ancestors is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Book of the Week, crime, Family History, social history

The student protest: a historical perspective

I’ve found it quite amusing watching and reading some of the historyonics regarding Wednesdays student protests in London. Witness the howls in the blue-rinse broadsheets, and one newspaper even launching a name-and-shame the students campaign.¬†At the risk of marking myself out as Brother Daly, or Red Jim, these are my thoughts.

Lets get this in perspective. Out of 50,000 students, about a hundred kicked off. And even then, I doubt many of them were actually students, more like rent-a-mob. Look at the film of the incident at Tory Party HQ – more photographers than protesters and police put together. Funny that, isn’t it? An angry mob always makes for good pictures and definitely sells papers.

A few windows got kicked in, the reception got trashed. We’re talking tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage – nothing to somebody like Lord Ashcroft. The damage being wreaked to this country – higher education, education in general, the nhs, the armed forces, welfare – goes way way beyond any sum of money. We’re talking about society, and peoples lives here. The problem is, the Tory party love to claim the moral high ground when it comes to angry mobs of erks rampaging. But if they weren’t hell-bent on wrecking British society from every direction, there would be nothing to protest about in the first place.

The problem is, nowadays protest-inspired damage is pretty alien to us. Yet hundreds of years ago – particularly in class-fraught periods such as the Nineteenth Centuryworking class people would routinely protest if they felt wronged. In the early Nineteenth Century the Luddites protested against the introduction of machinery by smashing it up. By and large, protests were against the wage labour system, and the class control system in particular. Property has always been one of the most visible symbols of class – think in terms of the haves and the have nots – so damaging property has always been a primal way of normal people making their feelings obvious.

Its funny also how the establishment is more concerned about damage to property than to people. This is almost a medieval, victorian attitude – one peasant can murder another peasant and nobody cares, but if a peasant steals a loaf of bread from a rich persons kitchen, then there’s hell to pay. So as well as working class people feeling a need to protest by damaging the property of the middle and upper classes, those classes in turn are ultra-sensitive about their class-symbolism being challenged. The fear of ‘the mob’ after the French revolution was electrifying.

So essentially, what we have seen this week is a return to early Nineteenth Century society – an embattled working class, and a middle class attempting to exert its control. Its all very well complaining about people protesting and getting angry, but think about WHY they are protesting, and WHY they are angry. If you try and shaft people, limit their options in life, restrict their social mobility and condemm them to a life of debt, you shouldn’t be surprised if they’re not too happy about it.

Forget taking us back to the 1980′s, this Government is taking us back to the 1800′s. ‘Tory scum’ is an ancient cry in British class struggle; right back to the Duke of Wellington and the Corn Laws. And as much as I admire the Iron Duke as the greatest British field commander in history, do we really want to go back to that archaic age?

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Auschwitz sign found

The ‘Arbeit macht frei’ sign stolen from Auschwitz last week has been found, reports BBC news. 5 men, in their 20′s and 30′s, have been detailed in northern Poland. The metal sign from the main gate had been cut into three pieces.

Andrzej Rokita, the local police chief in Krakow – where the men were being questioned – said the theft had been financially motivated, and it remained unclear whether it was carried out to order.

“From the information we have, none of the five belong to a neo-Nazi group nor hold such ideas.”

Pawel Sawicki, a spokesman for Auschwitz museum, said the recovery of the sign was an “enormous relief”.

“We are extremely grateful to the police who have done fantastic work. This symbol, probably one of the most important of the past century, can be put back in its place.”

Investigators said at least two people would have been needed to steal the 40kg (90lb) sign.

It beats me how they ever expected to be able to sell the sign, whether it was stolen to order or not. It is so recognisable, and with heightened security around Polish borders it would have been no mean feat to smuggle it out.

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Auschwitz sign stolen

The infamous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign that overlooks Auschwitz concentration camp has been stolen.

The haunting landmark, which translates to ‘work sets you free’, was stolen overnight from the camp in southern Poland. Whether it was taken for scrap, or as a collectors item, is unclear. It has been replaced by a replica.

What is also unclear is how they managed to get away with it. The gate is off the main road, through a car park and down a drive. To get up to it, take it down and get away without being noticed suggests that security was pretty lax to say the least.

Mind you, whoever has it might have trouble if they try and sell it for scrap or as an antique, it is just a bit recognisable. Hppefully it will turn up sometime soon.

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Filed under crime, News, World War One

Urinating student avoids jail

Phil Laing, the student who urinated on Sheffield’s war memorial, avoided a jail sentence in court today. The Sheffield Hallam University student, who had been drinking heavily, had been warned he faced jail. He was told to complete 250 hours’ community service when he appeared at the city’s magistrates’ court.

District Judge Anthony Browne said “I have never seen anyone more contrite for what has happened nor one who regrets more the hurt and distress he has caused. You have understandably had the wrath and indignation of the public heaped upon you and your family”.

The sports technology student said he had no recollection of the events of the night until he was contacted by the university press office and shown the photograph which later appeared on the newspaper’s website.

The judge said: “No-one forced you to take all this drink, or forced it down you, or persuaded you to commit a criminal offence. You did that all by yourself and you must take responsibility. But all this is set against a backdrop, as your solicitor has said, of a culture of drinking far too much. In my view something does need to be done to change this culture. What you have done has outraged and offended many and has saddened most.”

Tim Hughes, defending, told the court of his client’s utter remorse. The court heard Laing had no recollection of the night’s events “Philip Laing has paid an extremely high price for one evening of complete and utter foolishness.” He said Laing had no idea where he was when he was urinating. “He could have been standing in the middle of Hillsborough football ground, frankly.” Mr Hughes said Laing had never been in trouble with the police and that prison would “utterly destroy what could otherwise be a good, hard-working, tax-paying life.” He added: “In terms of remorse – absolutely, it’s from every pore.”

A spokesman for Sheffield Hallam University said: “The university has already initiated disciplinary proceedings against this student. Now that the judicial process has been completed we will arrange a disciplinary hearing to decide appropriate sanctions.”

Now, I dont know what planet the judge lives on – answer that and you could probably find the meaning of life – but if thats contrition and remorse, then the Dictionary definition of both of those emotions needs to be changed to ‘a temporary state of mind, designed to dig ones self out of a hole for ones one sake’. It looks like the Defence team did a very good job. I would be very interested to know what exactly his community service will be doing, but whatever it is he got off pretty lightly.

To say that jailing him would ruin his future is slightly ridiculous. What future a sports science student has is open to debate anyway. Also, I personally disagree that because he didnt know what he was doing, then it is not so bad. If you let yourself get into that state, then you deserve to suffer the consequences as much as if you were stone cold sober. If you cant handle your drink, dont go out playing the big hard man.

But the judge is right to condemn companies that promote drinking to excess. This is just one case, there must be thousands of incidents that take place caused by cheep alcohol and kids who cant handle their drink. Laws need to be put in place that punish companies that ply students with cheap drink and then wash their hands of the consequences.

But what saddens me even more is that to a lot of young people, behaving like Phil Laing seems to be cool.

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Updated: Sapper Ernest Bailey

Reading about people from your home city who died in the second world war can be quite a sobering experience. But what about someone who came from your very own neighbourhood, at a time when it consisted of a few streets and pig farms? And who, sadly, died in the most tragic circumstances.

By 1942, using heavy water obtained from Norway, the German atomic weapons programme had come close to developing a nuclear reactor. This, obviously, was not something that the Allies could allow to happen, and British forces devised a plan to cut off the supply of heavy water from Norway, and so bring the Nazi atom bomb programme to a halt. Bombing raids were not possible due to the difficulty of locating the plant, and the level of accuracy required.

The heavy water was obtained from the Norsk hydro chemical plant, near the village of Vermork. 2 Airspeed Horsa gliders, carrying 34 British Airborne Engineers, would land near the plant, destroy it, and make their way on foot to neutral Sweden. It was to be the first use of Gliders in action by British forces.

On 19 November 1942 the Gliders took off from northern Scotland. The Operation was doomed from the start. The first Glider crash landed. Of the seventeen men onboard, eight were killed, four were injured and five were unhurt. The second Glider also crashed, with seven men being killed on impact. Although brave Norwegians managed to shelter some of the wounded, they were eventually rounded up. The four injured surviviors from the first glider were poisoned by a German doctor, and the rest shot along with the survivors from the second glider.

These killings were in accordance with Hitlers Commando order, which ordered that all Commando troops were to be killed immediately on capture, as enemy spies. Several German personnel implicated in the killings were tried and executed after the war.

Among these brave but tragic events, was a Paulsgrove man. Sapper Ernest William Bailey, 31, of Paulsgrove, was a member of 9 Airborne Field Company, Royal Engineers. He is buried in Stavanger Cemetery in Norway. I am not sure exactly how he died – his date of death is given as 19th November, so it seems that he probably died in one of the crashed gliders. However there are quite a few files at the National Archives from the post-war investigation of war crimes, so hopefully there will be something at Kew that will tell the story of Sapper Bailey.

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I have manaed to find the following fascinating information from Stephen Stratford’s website on British Military Law. Stephen has pieced together what happened to the men of Operation Freshman from official documents at the National Archives. There is also some information on ParaData regarding operation Freshman.

Sapper Bailey was in the second Glider (Horsa HS114), which was being towed by a Halifax Bomber W7801 B for Baker. The glider crashed approximately 2.5 kilometres North East of Lensmanngard. Both glider pilots were killed in the crash, along with one of the passengers. The remaining soldiers, including Sapper Bailey, were captured and shot near Egersund on the same day.

After the war Stabsarzt Werner Fritz Seeling, Hauptscarfueher Erich Hoffman and Unterscharfuehrer Fritz Feuerlein were tried for war crimes by a British Military Court. Their specific crime was the murder of the poinsoned prisoners, who were also found to have been strangled. All three were found guilty. Seeling was executed by Firing Squad, Hoffman was hanged. Feuerlein was handed over to the Russians to answer charges regarding atrocities against Russian Prisoners of War. His fate is unknown.

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Filed under crime, Local History, portsmouth heroes, Remembrance, World War Two

people who urinate on war memorials…

No doubt by now you have all read or heard of the antics of Phil Laing, a 19-year-old Student who was photographed urinating on poppy wreathes laid on a war memorial in Sheffield.

The most important thing to remember, first and foremost, is that he does NOT represent his generation. Some of them, yes. A tiny minority. But not all. Plenty of people his age are serving in the forces, fighting overseas, raising money for charity, working as nurses, all manner of positive and good things. But as usual this lowlife gets the oxygen of publicity and lets everyone else down.

A serious example needs to be made of him, otherwise the message goes out that its OK to do this kind of thing. Maybe if people know they will suffer serious consequences, then they will think twice before behaving like this. A token fine or a slap on the wrist is not enough. I know the authorities wont make him scrub the memorial with a toothbrush, sadly.

But there are deeper problems here. How is it OK for an apparrently well adjusted young man who went to a ‘good’ school to do such a thing? How is it that a supposedly poor student can go out and get so rat arsed? How can it be right for companies to be allowed to organise events that cause such things? And how come his friends can even bear to defend him? Is this what public schools call ‘horseplay’, or ‘tomfoolery’? Its almost more disgusting that there are people out there who think it is funny.

I can’t help but think that if he was from a council estate, they would throw the book at him, no questions asked. But his parents will probably get him good lawyers, and talk about what a nice lad he is, and how it was just a silly mistake and how sorry he is. But, surely, if you do something that you know is wrong, then you pay the consequences. Sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind.

But if he is sorry, it will probably be for himself. He’s sorry that he might get kicked out of Uni, and it might affect his career. Is he sorry about the offence he has caused, or the people he has disgraced? I doubt it, because that takes decency and respect, things that I very much doubt Phil Laing possesses.

I’ll be following his court case closely.

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Breaking the Law…

Hoodies in different clothing?

Hoodies in different clothing?

According to the popular media, until recently everyone in society was perfectly well behaved. But all of a sudden, every young person in the country has turned into a criminal, society is rotting and its the end of life as we know it.

You could be forgiven for thinking that if you only read the Sun, and especially if you’ve got no idea what happened in the past. Crime is not a modern thing. Anti-social behaviour is not a modern thing. It just looks slightly different dressed in modern clothes. I’ve studied crime at University and it is a fascinating subject. The bad things people do to each other can be a real eye-opener, its one of those subjects that lets you peer into peoples souls.

All through time, every generation has looked on the one following it, and thought ‘shit, the youth of today, we’re in trouble’. The generation before them thought the same about them. In Roman times one famous philosopher, whose name escapes me, wrote about his fears that young Romans were spending too much time having fun and drinking wine, and that it would cause the collapse of the Roman Empire. Thousands of years later, we don’t remember the Romans for being drunken yobs, rather as philosophers, epic warriors, architects and engineers.

There are plenty of records out there that show crime is by no means a modern phenomenon. The Old Bailey’s proceedings from 1674-1913 are avilable to search online, and fascinating reading they make. In 1675 we read that “J. D. a little boy about 14 years of age, for murthering a Citizen and Silkman in Milk-street , which he confessed: Young in years but old in wickedness: yet had he been older he could not have been more sensible of his fact, nor more apprehensive”. Despite weeping uncontrollably in the dock, the 14 year old was put to death. This is just one case among thousands.

We see the same in Portsmouth too. Some years ago the records of the Seventeenth Century Portsmouth Quarter Sessions were catalogued in a fascinating volume, which is full of cases of people abusing the Mayor, using illegal scales, fornication, and popery. What is striking, both in the Old Bailey and in Portsmouth, is that crime against propery is seen as just as serious, and often more serious, than violent crime against a person. Why? Well, property of the main things that demonstrates a persons class. For one person to steal something from someone else, it must be a challenge against the class system. On the other hand, who is to worry if one poor person kills another? In any case, life was more expendable back in time than it is to us now. And during the second world war the Government hushed up reports of looting in bombed out areas. The stereotypical view of blitzed brits singing ‘roll out the barrell’ airbrush out any mention of looting or panic.

But back to the theme of young people. Read Charles Dickens, and the characters jump right out of the pages. Dickens books arent just stories, but commentaries on the world he lived in. In Oliver Twist in particular, we see that youth crime is not a new thing at all. It just wears different clothes depending on the place in time. You could almost teleport the Artful Dodger into 2009, and you could imagine him hotwiring a moped. People have always been worried about crime, and young people. Geoffrey Pearson, in his pivotal book ‘Hooligan: a history of respectable fears’, argues most convincingly that moral panics say more about the respectable classes and their insecurities than they do about young people.

So, are chavs and hoodies a new thing? Of course not. The clothes are different, but the people wearing them and the people fearing them are strikingly similar. In the 1950′s people thought that Elivs and his gyratory danding would lead to moral collapse, and then in the 60′s we had the Beatles. But time and time again, generations prove that actually, they’re not so bad. It isnt just young people who perpetrate crime, just as crime is not a modern thing.

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