Murder, Mystery and My Family
Barristers Sasha Wass and Jeremy Dein investigate whether the murder of a gentleman farmer in the late Victorian era was really carried out by a 19-year-old rabbit poacher.
Staffordshire, 1893. In farmland near the sleepy village of Norton Canes, farmer William Masfen lay in wait to confront poachers who he'd been tipped off were illegally hunting on land he had rights to.
At about 3.30am, a brutal confrontation saw him shot twice and bludgeoned. Of the three injuries, any one could have killed him. His body was discovered at 9.30am, and police followed distinctive boot marks found at the crime scene to the nearby home of 19-year-old miner and renowned local poacher John Hewitt. There police found a shotgun and Hewitt's boots, which exactly matched the distinctive print. They also found a recently killed rabbit in the pantry.
Hewitt was arrested and charged with murder. He initially denied his guilt, but 48 hours after his arrest John Hewitt made a dramatic confession to police in his cell at 3.30am. He claimed that Masfen had confronted him, tried to take the gun off him, and the gun had gone off accidentally in the struggle. However, the teenager was convicted of murder in a trial that lasted just one day. He was later hanged.
Over a century later, two of John Hewitt’s descendants, Adrian and his father Trevor, are keen to find out if John might have been innocent. A family legend passed down the generations says it was actually John Hewitt's father who fired the fatal shots.
Adrian and Trevor have called on the barristers to establish if there could be any truth to the family legend. Exploring questions around the ballistics evidence given at trial, the psychological state of a 19-year-old charged with the most serious of crimes, and a confession made at the dead of night in difficult circumstances, will Jeremy and Sasha be able to find enough new evidence to cast doubt on the safety of John Hewitt's conviction? Show less