Ludo and the Power of the Book

By Richard Ingrams, Constable, £20

Between 1961 and 1986, Ludovic Kennedy wrote five books about miscarriages of justice which had an enduring impact in focusing the nation’s attention on the deficiencies of the criminal justice system. Until then, this had been virtually sacrosanct – non-lawyers, it was generally accepted, should not be encouraged to pass comment on the intricacies of criminal law.

Yet, as a result of the shafts of penetrating light shed by Kennedy, there were startling developments. Timothy Evans, who had been executed for a murder committed by John Christie, was posthumously pardoned; a Scottish man, Patrick Meehan, was pardoned and released from prison; and, in England, Michael McMahon and David Cooper, who had been wrongly convicted of the Luton post office murder, were set free by the home secretary.

As well as being a tireless campaigner, Kennedy was also a television presenter and well-known public figure with impeccable credentials (Eton and Oxford) and well-placed connections. Unfortunately, these did not extend to the United States. His book about a grievous error perpetrated in New Jersey – the wrongful execution of Richard Hauptmann for the kidnap and murder of the baby son of the aviator Charles Lindbergh – was, in terms of its impact, not successful. Nor could Kennedy achieve anything with his analysis of the Profumo affair and the wrongful conviction of Stephen Ward. The establishment pressures in Britain at that time (and, indeed, even now) would have been too great.

One key feature to emerge from all this pioneering work is that journalistic analyses of these, in legal terms, intractable cases can be far more illuminating than the blinkered ones presented in the courtroom.

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