The Criminal Cases Review Commission and the case of Dr Crippen

Could anyone possibly have imagined that one day even the case of Dr Hawley Crippen would be the subject of an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission? How far back should we go in the search for the truth?

The application made earlier this year by American James Patrick Crippen, now 73, and a second cousin three times removed from the infamous Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen is interesting for a number of reasons.  It serves as a dramatic reminder of the potential of new DNA evidence. At the same time, and perhaps not for the first time,it also raises the question of whether there are any limits imposed on how far we can go back in our quest for justice.

Dr Hawley Crippen, was executed in London in 1910 for murdering his wife, Cora. Dr Crippen hid his wife's remains under a cellar, and then tried to escape to Canada on the SS Montrose with his lover Ethel Le Neve, who was disguised as a boy.

James Patrick Crippen made the appeal after scientists from Michigan State University claimed to have obtained DNA evidence in 2007.

It is claimed that the scientists had tracked down three of Mrs Crippen's grandnieces and compared their DNA with samples from the body which had been kept on a microscope slide since the Old Bailey trial.

This new evidence has enabled the distant relative to argue that the remains found at Crippen's home were not those of his wife, casting serious doubt over his ancestor's conviction.

James Crippen has been fighting for years not just for an appeal, which would reopen the case, but also for a royal pardon as well as the release of Dr Crippen's remains.  At present Dr Crippen's remains are buried in the grounds of Pentonville Prison, London.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) have refused to send the case back to the Court of Appeal.  The basis of their decision being that the applicant was not a "properly interested person".  It seems as though, in cases where the person whose conviction is to be appealed against is dead, the application must be made by someone "approved" by the Court of Appeal.

A CCRC spokesman has been reported as saying that that person should be the widow or widower, "personal representative", or a relative who has a "substantial financial or other interest" in the appeal, adding "Without an individual who has a real possibility of being approved by the Court of Appeal, there could be no court hearing and so no purpose would be served by the commission carrying out a review of the case."

It is not enough to argue that the person may have been innocent. It also seems as though respect for the family name and reputation may not be enough unless of course the CCRC are prepared to give a wide definition of what is meant by 'or other interest'.

Finally, returning to the manner in which Dr Crippen was arrested.  He was identified by the Captain of the SS Montrose, the first ship to carry Marconi's new telegram system and Crippen became notorious as the first criminal in history to be arrested using such new communication equipment. The use of the telegram enabled a British police Inspector to take a faster ship and arrest Dr Crippen on his arrival in Canada.  Crippen was then brought back to Britain to stand trial at the Old Bailey.





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