Today in London’s shameful history: ‘Go Down, You murderer, Go Down’. Tim Evans hangs, 1950

The case of Timothy Evans was the first major post-war miscarriage of justice to capture public attention. Of low intelligence, Evans was damned by his own, false “confession” that he had murdered his wife and daughter. The trial and – rightful – conviction of John Christie for one of these murders three years later, did not, however, bring about a pardon for Evans. It was to be many years before the judiciary and the government were to finally allow the late Timothy Evans a pardon.

Evans, 25, a Welsh van driver with an IQ of 70, was executed in 1950 for strangling his wife Beryl and his 14-month-old daughter, Geraldine, the previous year.
The bodies of the mother and child were found buried in a washroom at their flat in Notting Hill, west London, shortly after Beryl had told friends that she wanted to undergo an illegal abortion.
Three years after Mr Evans was hanged, John Christie, a neighbour in the house at 10 Rillington Place, confessed to strangling eight female victims – including Beryl and her baby daughter. He too was executed.

Evans was born in Merthyr Tydfil in 1924. It was not an easy childhood; shortly before Timothy was born his father ran off and left the family to cope by themselves. His mother remarried in 1929 and the family soon consisted of Timothy, his elder sister Eileen and a younger half sister called Maureen.
The young boy was slow in nearly all his developmental milestones and, as the victim of a tubercular sore on his right foot – something that never totally healed – he was often away from school for long periods. As a consequence, when he left school Timothy Evans was virtually illiterate and could barely read and write his own name.
The family moved to London and Evans began work as a painter and decorator for a while. He tried moving back to Merthyr Tydfil in 1937, working in the coal mines around the town, but found the job too difficult because of his foot.

By 1946 he was again living in London, in the Notting Hill area, and on 20 September 1947 he married Beryl Thorley. Within months she was pregnant, and Geraldine Evans was born on 10 October 1948.
Soon after their marriage the young couple moved into a top floor flat at 10 Rillington Place, close to Ladbroke Grove. Living in the ground floor flat of the house were John Christie and his wife Ethel.
The relationship between Timothy and Beryl was not easy: angry quarrels and occasional physical violence were part of their life together. When, late in 1949, Beryl announced that she was pregnant again, their financial situation was so fraught that an abortion – illegal in those days – was considered the only option.
On 30 November Evans turned up at Merthyr Tydfil police station, stating that his wife had died after he had given her some mixture to abort the baby. He had disposed of the body, he claimed, in a drain outside the house.

No body was ever found and Timothy Evans changed his story. John Christie, he said, had agreed to perform the abortion and Beryl had died during the procedure. The Evanses’ daughter Geraldine had been given to someone to look after but Christie, Evans claimed, would not let him see her.
A police search of 10 Rillington Place found Beryl’s body wrapped in a cloth in the wash house at the back, and alongside her was the body of Geraldine. Both had been strangled.

Clearly under stress, Timothy Evans was asked if he had killed his wife and child. He replied “Yes”. It was later revealed that much of his confession was actually dictated to Evans by police investigators, who bullied him till he confessed, and there was an almost total lack of forensic evidence. Builders who said there were no bodies when they worked in the room where the bodies were found were prevented from giving evidence.
The trial – according to the legal procedure of the day, for the murder of Geraldine, not his wife – began on 11 January, with Timothy Evans now claiming that Christie had committed the murders. Christie gave evidence against Evans. The trial lasted three days and the jury took only 40 minutes to return a guilty verdict. Evans was hanged in Pentomnville Prison, on 9 March 1950.

Three years later police uncovered a number of bodies at 10 Rillington Place, all of them women and all the victims of John Christie. At least six of the bodies were hidden under floorboards and in the wash house – Christie even used the thigh bone of one woman to prop up his garden fence. And yet the police, in their searches three years earlier, had totally missed this vital piece of evidence, just as they had missed the bodies lying almost casually around the house. It was evidence that might have saved Timothy Evans.
The motive behind the killings was certainly sexually driven, with Christie abusing the bodies after death. He admitted to the crimes and was hanged on 15 July 1953.

Amazingly, in the wake of Christie’s conviction, an inquiry into what was termed a “possible miscarriage of justice” upheld the guilt of Timothy Evans. Intense debate and a long-standing campaign by Evans’ sister – not to mention a hugely powerful exposé by journalist and writer Ludovic Kennedy – forced another inquiry in 1965.
The findings this time were clear that Evans had not killed his daughter – the death of Beryl remained a mystery and, since by now both Evans and Christie had already gone to the gallows, it was impossible to come to a firm conclusion.

As a result of the second inquiry Timothy Evans was given a royal pardon in October 1966. His conviction and execution were tragic, a man of limited intelligence being brow beaten into a series of confessions that could, ultimately, lead only to the death cell.

In January 2003, the Home Office awarded Timothy Evans’s half-sister, Mary Westlake, and his sister, Eileen Ashby, ex gratia payments as compensation for the miscarriage of justice in Evans’s trial. The independent assessor for the Home Office, Lord Brennan QC, accepted that “the conviction and execution of Timothy Evans for the murder of his child was wrongful and a miscarriage of justice” and that “there is no evidence to implicate Timothy Evans in the murder of his wife. She was most probably murdered by Christie.” Lord Brennan believed that the Brabin Report’s conclusion that Evans probably murdered his wife should be rejected given Christie’s confessions and conviction.

On 16 November 2004, Westlake began an appeal in the High Court to overturn a decision by the Criminal Cases Review Commission not to refer Evans’s case to the Court of Appeal to have his conviction formally quashed. She argued that Evans’s pardon had not formally expunged his conviction of murdering his daughter, and although the Brabin report had concluded that Evans probably did not kill his daughter, it had not declared him innocent. The report also contained the “devastating” conclusion that Evans had probably killed his wife.
The request to refer the case was dismissed on 19 November 2004, with the judges saying that the cost and resources of quashing the conviction could not be justified, although they did accept that Evans did not murder either his wife or his child.

This case is dealt with at length in “Timothy Evans” by Bob Woffinden in his 1987 book Miscarriages of Justice. A PDF of this can be found here

***********************************************************************************************************************

Ewan MacColl wrote a song about the case:
The Ballad of Tim Evans

Tim Evans was a prisoner,
Fast in his prison cell
And those who read about his crimes,
They damned his soul to hell,
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

For the murder of his own dear wife
And the killing of his own child
The jury found him guilty
And the hangin’ judge, he smiled.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

Tim Evans pleaded innocent
And he swore by Him on high,
That he never killed his own dear wife
Nor caused his child to die.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

The governor came in one day
And the chaplain by his side,
Said, “Your appeal has been turned down,
Prepare yourself to die.”   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

They moved him out of C-block
To his final flowery dell,
And day and night two screws were there
And they never left his cell.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

Sometimes they played draughts with him
And solo and pontoon,
To stop him brooding on the rope
That was to be his doom.    
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

They brought his grub in on a tray,
There was eggs and meat and ham,
And all the snout that he could smoke
Was there at his command.    
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

Tim Evans walked in the prison yard
And the screws, they walked behind;
And he saw the sky above the wall
But he knew no peace of mind.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

They came for him at eight o’clock
And the chaplain read a prayer
And then they marched him to that place
Where the hangman did prepare.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

The rope was fixed around his neck
And a washer behind his ear.
The prison bell was tolling
But Tim Evans did not hear.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

A thousand lags were cursing
And a-banging on the doors;
But Evans couldn’t hear them,
He was deaf for ever more.    
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

They sent Tim Evans to the drop
For a crime he did not do.
It was Christy was the murderer
And the judge and jury too.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderers,
go down.”

 

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

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