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The Seddon Trial

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In 1911, Frederick and Margaret Seddon were tried for the murder of Miss Eliza Barrow, their wealthy lodger. Miss Barrow’s death was originally certified as being due to natural causes. No suspicion was aroused until relatives enquired about her property and the money she was known to have had in her possession. Seddon explained that she had parted with her property to him for an annuity, and that he had found a sum of only 100 pounds in her possession. Two months later Miss Barrow’s body was exhumed, and it was found that arsenic was present in the remains.

What would be the greatest trial in London since Dr. Crippen stood in the same dock ensued. It went on for ten days at the Old Bailey. The defense–led by formidable Sir Edward Marshall-Hall–claimed arsenic comes from her medicine, while Seddon maintained that Ms Barrow might have drunk water from the dishes of flypaper placed in her room to keep away flies.

The jury convicted Seddon and acquitted his wife, although the evidence against him pressed just as heavily upon her. It was one of the few cases where one of the defendants was acquitted while the other was convicted on the same evidence. The deciding factor was the arrogant behavior of Frederick Seddon displayed in the court. A member of the Masons, Seddon appealed to Justice Bucknill who was a Grand Master Mason. Bucknill, moved to tears, said that the Masons will not tolerate murder, and to try to make his peace with God.

One of the consequences of the case was a law banning photography in the courtroom. During the trial, several photographs were taken of Mr. Seddon and his wife. One in particular, showing Mr. Justice Bucknill, with black cap on and his chaplain at his side, condemning the prisoner, was printed on the cover of the Daily Mirror on March 15th, 1912. The sensation caused by it led to questions in the House of Commons and a promise by the Home Secretary to change the law.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 28, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Posted in Society

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3 Responses

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  1. These photos look fascinating, but are too small for me to see the details. Any chance you can link to larger versions?

    Thanks for listening — love your blog!

    Dave Messina

    January 30, 2010 at 10:14 am

  2. When I retired, I chose a lump-sum from my company’s pension plan and rolled the money into an IRA instead of taking an annuity. I did this because it’s my understanding that if my wife and I were to die after receiving just a couple of months of annuity payments, none of the annuity’s value would be passed on to our children or other heirs.

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    October 2, 2011 at 8:45 pm

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