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Murder, Mystery and My Family

Series 5


Duration: 44 minutes

First broadcast: on BBC One LondonLatest broadcast: on BBC Two Wales HD

Available for 5 months

Leading criminal barristers Jeremy Dein QC and Sasha Wass QC investigate a complex case from Victorian Manchester. Following the shooting of a policeman during an attempt to rescue prominent political prisoners, five men stood trial and three were hanged, including 19-year-old William Philip Allen.

Manchester, 1867. A police van transporting two notorious political prisoners was travelling through the city. The prisoners were the leaders of the Fenian Brotherhood, a movement dedicated to ending British rule in Ireland, by often violent means including armed revolution. Guarding them inside the van was Police Sergeant Charles Brett.

Suddenly the vehicle came under violent armed ambush by a large group of men who made a desperate bid to free its occupants. In the fracas, a shot was fired, hitting Sergeant Brett, who died a few hours later. He was the first City of Manchester policeman to be killed in the line of duty.

Amidst the outrage, police rounded up dozens of Irish immigrants in the city, amongst them 19-year-old carpenter William Philip Allen, who was alleged to have fired the fatal shot. Five men stood trial, and witnesses disagreed whether the shot was fired through the van’s lock (suggesting an accident) or through a ventilation grill (suggesting it was deliberate). But many people identified Allen as the gunman, and despite protesting his innocence, William Allen was found guilty of the sergeant’s murder. On 23 November 1867, Allen and two of his co-accused - Michael Larkin and Michael O’Brien - were publicly hanged. The three men became known as the Manchester Martyrs.

Now, over a century and a half later, William Allen’s third great-niece Joanne is looking into his case and has enlisted the barristers to re-examine the safety of his conviction. Sasha and Jeremy speak to a psychologist to assess the identification evidence in the case and question whether, given the turbulent political backdrop and the outrage over a policeman being killed, it would have been possible for Allen and his co-defendants to receive a fair trial. Will Sasha and Jeremy be able to convince Judge Radford that William Allen’s conviction was unsafe? Show less


Sasha Wass
Jeremy Dein
James Pearson
Clare Wales
Series Producer:
James Pearson
Executive Producer:
Mike Benson
Executive Producer:
Simon Cooper
Production Manager:
Johanna Scammell
Production Department:
Michael Klokkos
Production Company:
Chalkboard TV

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