It's a strange thing when, in the course of a murder trial at the Old Bailey, a cracked plastic bath is carried into the courtroom, and a second strange thing when no one at the time thinks to ask why on earth it was needed there. The bath had been unplumbed from a house in Cambridgeshire, driven to London and, like a fair few of the arrested before it, been roughed up when in police custody, bearing two cracks once it was on display in the courtroom where before it had only one. This extraordinary act of household removal formed part of the proceedings in the trial of Ian Huntley, the man who is accused of the murder of two small girls in Soham, whose deaths, as we now know by his own peculiar account, took place in his bathroom. Since one of the girls is held to have drowned in the bath, the prosecution saw fit to have this detachable part of the crime scene brought into court, to authenticate a pathologist's testimony, even though there was nothing remotely unorthodox about Huntley's bath that might have demanded its exhibition before a jury deemed otherwise incapable of imagining what it could be like. Reading of this elaborate forensic breakthrough, the mind went back - as how could it not? - to the case of George Joseph Smith, a triple murderer of ninety years ago, all three of whose women victims were drowned in the bath but in three widely dispersed bathrooms, so that if they had been given in evidence in the 'brides in the bath' case of legend, the tubs would have needed to be brought from, respectively, Herne Bay, Blackpool and Highgate. Presumably, once its presence is no longer required at the Old Bailey, the Soham bath, rather than being reunited with its water supply, will go off to become landfill, unless, that is, Madame Tussaud's put in a decent offer for it - a waxworks, not a court of law is where it certainly belongs.
LRB 18 December 2003 | PDF Download