So, after considerable anticipation (well, in truth, only about 10 hours as I was told, at the last minute, of the return/revamp of the fabulous 1970s/1980s classic Granada TV show which led me into law in the first place – yes I know I mention it quite a lot) I devoured the new, 2017, glossy-ish, Judge Rinder introduced- version of Crown Court and here’s what I thought of it.
Well, the first case was an interesting one; James Byron accused of murdering his estranged wife by poisoning her with arsenic over a period of months, in order to inherit the former marital home.
There was little hard evidence against him, although he did accept he had bought a variety of poisons to treat pests; it was accepted they had found the dreaded ‘death watch beetle’ during extensive restoration at the property. Mrs Byron had also, shortly before her death, told doctors she feared she had been poisoned, having received an unexpected hamper of gifts from an anonymous admirer, containing wine and vitamin pills, some weeks before. These pills were contaminated, it seems, but did not cause her death. Her father was in no doubt who was to blame, criticising James for buying lavish gifts for his new woman and destroying his daughter, not even allowing the family to see her in the hospital.
The defence made a good stab at portraying Mrs Byron as suffering from depression stemming from an incestuous relationship with her alcoholic brother, to whom she had also lent £86,000 (!), but apparently exacerbated by her husband leaving her for another woman. They hinted at suicide, but this was not supported by her friends or GP. James, himself, testified that she was vulnerable and said this was why he repeatedly returned to the marital home after their separation. “I loved her,” he said, “but I couldn’t live with her.”
In an interesting twist, the defence also found a friendly, rather eccentric, expert on insects who claimed a woman (who might have been Mrs Byron) had called him the previous summer to ask for advice on how to get rid of death watch beetle; he had provided her with his old-fashioned recipe, which included arsenic and had kept a note of the call(?) His recipe was found scribbled on a piece of paper at the Byrons’ marital home.
But James Byron had laughed and joked by his dying wife’s bedside and had enjoyed dinner parties in the marital home with his new partner after his wife’s death, even taking her into the marital bed; hardly actions of a grieving husband.
So, was it enjoyable? Yes, overall it was. And the characters and story were engaging. But I couldn’t help wondering whether the time spent in revealing flashbacks of what actually happened might have been better spent in the court room, exhibiting some of the ferocious, clinical cross-examination of witnesses we were frequently treated to in the original version. Or the ‘thrust and parry’ of prosecution and defence counsel on some thorny point, or the wisdom of one or other of the crusty (but clearly ‘on-the ball’) judges.
The jury’s verdict: guilty of murder. My verdict: not bad, eager for more.