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Sarah Dazley - Murder

Did Sarah Dazley have a fair trial?

Sarah Dazley and the development of forensic science: Task 3: Did Sarah Dazley have a fair trial

We are now going to look in more detail at how the trial was conducted and reported, with the aim of answering the following questions:

  1. How far can we trust the newspaper reports?

    The newspapers at the time gave very full accounts of inquests and murder trials but can we trust their evidence?

    • Read the extracts listed below:

      Mead had scarcely attained his 20th year, and the prisoner was under that age. They resided for nearly two years after marriage at Potton; but on Mead obtaining employment on the farm of Mr Wiggington, called 'New England Farm', near Tadlow, they went to reside at Wrestlingworth, where providence smiled upon the youthful pair and blessed them with a daughter.

      The wife's turbulent and unflinching temper was the cause of much strife, and they lived uncomfortably together. In June 1840, Mead was suddenly seized with violent sickness, and complained of the intensity of pain in his throat, and shewed similar symptoms to those of Dazley. He was attended by Mr Haynes, surgeon, of Potton, and a blister was applied to that part, and proper medicine administered, but without any beneficial tendency, and he died soon after.

      The child, when she had attained the age of 9 months, also mysteriously and suddenly died. Both father and child lay side by side in Tadlow churchyard.

      The remains of poor Mead had not been deposited in the ground more than 5 months, before his widow was united to William Dazley, junior,

      sometime last July, when the prisoner called at the house of a man named George Waldock, a labourer with Mr Henry Folbigg at Cockayne Hatley, to have some dinner, he asked he how she liked married life, when she said "Very well.; " she had got a good husband now, but she thought he would soon be in the churchyard. Waldock asked why she thought so. She said "I don't know, but I cannot help thinking so , and what’s more, " she continued, " I shall be very happy to follow him there,"

      And it is reported that the death of the second husband of the prisoner was effected to conceal the death of the first husband, of which, it is said the second had a guilty knowledge.

    • Discuss the extracts, commenting on the tone of the writing. How is Sarah portrayed? Are there any details included that may not be factual?

  2. How fair was the trial?

    A full account of the trial was recorded in the Bedfordshire Mercury and Huntingdon Express 22 July 1843, (A full copy of the text has been included that you may read but it is very long).

    • Read the summary below

      Many witnesses were called for the prosecution, building a case that showed
      • Sarah had bought arsenic on two occasions
      • She fought constantly with her husband
      • She told the man she intended to marry next that she wished her husband was dead
      • Her husband showed symptoms of arsenic poisoning
      • A pig that ate his vomit died as a result
      • Sarah was seen to give him white powder
      • William Dazley had died of arsenic poisoning.

    • Sarah’s legal representative “ addressed the Jury at great length, but called no witnesses”.

      The judge summed up the case.

      The Jury then retired, and in half an hour returned with a verdict of GUILTY.

      The newspaper reported:
      “The Learned Judge having placed the black cap on his head, proceeded to address the prisoner in a solemn depressed tone of voice, admonishing her to prepare for the presence of her creator, and alluded to the death of her child in the most feeling language; his lordship concluded with passing sentence in the usual awful manner. The prisoner exclaimed " “I AM NOT GUILTY!””

      Sarah was willing to speak then - so why was she not able to give evidence in her own defence? At that time, witnesses for the defence did not take the oath. It was assumed that they would not be telling the truth. There was no point in Sarah giving evidence.

      No-one else spoke in her defence.

    • Do you think she had a fair hearing? Record your reasons and then discuss these as a group.

  3. Was Sarah Dazley’s trial and punishment typical of 19th century murder cases?

    To understand this we need to look at other cases.

    • Search in the database for murderers throughout the period, and look at (a) verdicts and (b) sentences. Compare:
    • female murderers with males.
    • violent crimes with poisoning.
    • murders where theft was involved with those where there was no theft.
    • women who murdered infants with other murderers.

    What conclusions can you draw from this about the attitude to murder in the 19th century? Can you think of any other aspects of the records that could cast light on attitudes to killing? Work out how to search for them and draw your own conclusions.

  4. How did the treatment of those condemed to die change throughout the century?

    Sarah Dazley was the last women to hang outside Bedford Prison.

    • Use the site to see if you can find information on how the treatment of those condemed to die changed throughout the century.

  5. Does the case video give a clear and accurate picture of the events in the light of the evidence?

    • Look at the video and compare it with the evidence you have read and discussed. Now read a modern account of the crime.
    • Does the animated video give you the right impression when you compare it with the written evidence?
    • How does it compare to the modern account?

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