The legal process, at least in English law, is a quite inadequate instrument for arriving at the truth about a crime. This is not necessarily an adverse comment. There is justification for requiring that if the state accuses a citizen of a crime it must prove it in an adversarial process to the full satisfaction of at least ten jurors. And this is why criminal trials are not designed to arrive at anything so baffling or protean as the truth: their sole purpose, it has been said, is to answer the question 'Howzat?' Paul Foot's question, who killed Carl Bridgewater? was not the question before the jury which in 1979 at Stafford convicted three men and a boy of shooting in cold blood a 13-year-old lad who had evidently stumbled on a burglary at Yew Tree Farm in Staffordshire in the course of his newspaper round. The question for them was simply whether the evidence before them satisfied them that the four men in the dock were guilty of the killing. Put like that, the distinction appears to be without a difference, and so it is in a great many cases. Foot's energetic, passionate and meticulous inquiry into the Bridgewater murder, however, has once again exposed the cleft which can occur between the two. He has not been able definitely to answer his own question: but he has been able to show beyond a peradventure that if a jury had known what is now known about the case, it would not have inculpated the three men serving life sentences and the fourth who has died in gaol.
LRB 9 October 1986 | PDF Download