Garrow’s Law - Spitalfields Riots 1765 – 1769

Anyone watching Garrow’s Law (Sunday 20th November 2011) could be forgiven for making a connection between the events of the Spitalfields Riots circa 1769, and the events of what have now become known as the August Riots of 2011.

Anyone watching this week's episode of Garrow's Law, (Sunday 20th November 2011) could be forgiven for making a connection between the events of the Spitalfields Riots circa: 1769 as portrayed in the episode, and the events of what have now become known as the August Riots of 2011.

During Garrow's passionate and driven cross examination of a master weaver giving evidence for the crown, we were treated to an inspired plea to the jury. Garrow carried on, ignoring Judge Buller's protests and threats to hold him in contempt of court - music to the ears of any aspiring counsel!  They don't teach you that during vocational training.

We also learnt about paid informants when Garrow reminded one witness of the consequences of his earlier performance as a witness in sending two men to the gallows.  Apparently on 6th December 1769, the two men involved in that trial were hanged in Bethnal Green, in front of the Salmon and Ball, a public house which still exists today.

Somehow, in true Garrow style, a written note was produced, purporting to be the last words spoken by one of the condemned men, John Doyle.  Garrow, with expert timing and panache, read out the recorded words that John Doyle allegedly spoke to the crowd as he stood on the hangman's scaffold with the rope around his neck:

" I John Doyle do hereby declare, as my last dying words in the presence of my Almighty God, that I am as innocent of the fact I am now to die for as the child unborn. Let my blood lie to that wicked man who has purchased it with gold, and them notorious wretches who swore it falsely away."

In the episode this week, two male defendants were in dock charged with rioting and damaging looms and cutting silk. Riots were common place at the time as impoverished weavers fought against the effects of cheaper imports from France and Ireland driving down prices and denying them of their livelihoods. There was no question about considering what was to be done with them - they were to be hung if convicted.

Dramatically one defendant turned King's evidence against the other and gave evidence for the Crown. Just to add another twist to the trial the defendants were brothers in law and long time friends, and the one remaining defendant, condemned by the other, was married to his friend's sister and would be hung if found guilty by the jury.

In a fit of brilliance and either self-confidence or foolhardiness, Garrow embarked upon a last ditch, do or die attempt to sway the jury by pulling at their heart strings to persuade them to return a 'perverse' verdict (yes it is surprising what we can learn from dramatisations), by finding the defendant not guilty against all the evidence. It worked, and the foreman of the jury, despite what some might have seen as an attempt by Judge Buller to bully the jury by allowing them hardly any time to deliberate and by saying there was nothing to consider - meaning that the defendant was guilty, uttered the words 'not guilty'.

However, was the defendant 'guilty' all along? Garrow had acted true to his profession and to his abilities but had he unwittingly got 'carried away'? We shall never know. Perhaps even more confusing is the fact that Garrow was born 13 April 1760, joined Lincoln's Inn in November 1778, and was called to the Bar on 27 November 1783 some years after the Spitalfields Riots!




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