Unsafe convictions, p.20

Unsafe Convictions, page 20

 

Unsafe Convictions
 



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  ‘He asked you to hand it to the officer in charge of Trisha Smith’s murder investigation,’ Ellen said. ‘You had to know.’

  ‘I beg your pardon?’ Fauvel stared at her.

  ‘Father Barclay told us,’ she added. ‘We have his statement.’

  ‘I’m very sorry, my dear, but he did not.’ Fauvel shook his head, then smiled. ‘But I’m not accusing him of dishonesty. He’s been so very ill he can’t possibly be expected to remember. He no doubt believes that’s what he wrote, but I assure you, he did not.’

  ‘Why did, you give it to Dugdale?’ asked McKenna.

  ‘He happened to be there, that’s all, and he introduced himself,’ Fauvel replied. ‘I knew him slightly, in any case, as I know several of the town’s more senior police officers. My work brings me into contact with them quite frequently.’

  ‘But why didn’t you pursue the matter?’ McKenna persisted. ‘Surely, you expected him to come back to you?’

  ‘Why should I, when the letter was from Father Barclay?’

  ‘Weren’t you even curious?’

  ‘No, Superintendent, I was not.’ He sighed rather ostentatiously. ‘And that, I must confess, was my mistake. I could have saved Piers, and Beryl, so much grief. But then, it’s usually the sins of omission which do most harm.’

  Angered by the priest’s righteousness, McKenna said: ‘I suggest that remorse would be more appropriate where Trisha Smith is concerned. She came to you for help, but you sent her back to the hell of her marriage, and to her death.’

  ‘It was a hell for both of them,’ Fauvel insisted. ‘Her misery was no greater than his. And perhaps she was one of those women who unwittingly bring about their own destruction. Who can know?’ Then, sighing once again, he added: ‘You speak as if you believe Piers is guilty of her murder. Forgive my bluntness, but would you sacrifice the truth simply to exonerate a fellow officer? Are you being misled by delusions about the integrity of your particular institution? A year in Rome disabused me of such notions, and a lifetime of watching the antics of others has served only to prove that where man walks, corruption is his shadow. I know little of Inspector Dugdale, but he, like every solicitor, judge and law officer in the country, will be part of one of the many magic circles of influence and Masonic fellowships which connect and overlap.’

  ‘Do you have actual knowledge of police corruption?’ McKenna demanded.

  ‘Of course not! I was simply broaching the possibilities.’

  ‘I’m quite aware of those possibilities,’ McKenna told him. ‘And I strongly suggest you keep such thoughts to yourself, because airing them in public could lead me to think you’re trying to subvert my investigation. Now,’ he added, ‘I understand you sit on the management committee of the Willows. Were you involved in Julie Broadbent’s appointment?’

  ‘Julie Broadbent?’ A tic snagged the corner of Fauvel’s mouth. ‘Yes, I believe so.’

  ‘Was the committee aware of her teenage delinquencies?’

  Fauvel nodded stiffly.

  ‘But those weren’t considered a bar to her employment with very vulnerable people?’ McKenna persisted.

  ‘There were special circumstances.’ Tossing the butt of his cigarette into the fire, the priest fumbled in the pack, and extracted another. ‘But I fail to see her relevance to your investigation. Sergeant Lewis is another matter, of course. She’s very relevant.’

  ‘We have reason to be interested in Broadbent,’ McKenna said. ‘Were you in the parish when she was injured at school?’

  ‘I was indeed.’ Fauvel shook his head sadly. ‘That was a terrible business. The nuns were distraught.’

  ‘The nuns were distraught?’ McKenna was astounded. ‘And what about the child?’

  ‘I was speaking relatively!’ The priest flushed. ‘Of course, the child was in a dreadful state.’

  ‘Whose fault was it?’ asked McKenna.

  ‘Fault? It was an accident.’

  ‘All incidents have antecedents, Father Fauvel,’ Janet said quietly. ‘Accidents are no exception. Who investigated the matter?’

  ‘Apart from being unwarranted, an investigation would not have benefited the child. She was larking around in the kitchens, despite the nuns and the cook having told her several times to go away. She was very disobedient, and an investigation would no doubt have led the church to deny liability. As it was, we took it upon ourselves to make sure she had the best medical treatment, and intensive counselling. The fact that she failed to appreciate the first, or respond to the second, is, I’m sorry to say, only typical.’

  ‘Surely the National Health Service paid for her treatment?’ Janet suggested.

  ‘Not all of it,’ Fauvel said, clearly irritated by her persistence.

  ‘Was the social services department involved? Serious child protection issues are their responsibility.’

  ‘It wasn’t such an issue,’ Fauvel snapped. ‘The child’s background was well known to us, and the reason why we forgave much for which other children would be held to account. She was disobedient by nature, and dishonest. For a long time she blamed the nuns for what was clearly a prank gone wrong, but I think it was that which led us to the conclusion that she was, poor child, quite disturbed.’

  ‘And more sinned against than sinning?’ McKenna suggested.

  ‘Indeed.’

  ‘And was residual guilt the reason you let loose on the mentally handicapped a woman who is, as you say, naturally disobedient, dishonest, and disturbed?’

  ‘I was referring to the child!’

  ‘When did she undergo her metamorphosis?’

  ‘Superintendent, I find your attitude bordering on the offensive.’

  ‘Then I apologise,’ McKenna said. ‘None the less, my question requires an answer.’

  Collecting himself, the priest forced a smile, attempting to disarm. ‘You know, as well as I, the charity of our church. To an extent, the woman has redeemed the child, by acknowledging the error of her ways. She conducts her life with probity, and is, I’m told, able to offer an important service to those even less fortunate.’ Once again gathering up the straying crucifix, he added: ‘In the end, she chose not to follow her mother’s example. Miss Broadbent Senior rejected our spiritual comfort because she found our strictures too demanding. She took the easy path, which, some would say, led her to damnation. The poor woman chose to depart this world without Viaticum.’

  ‘Wendy Lewis’s mother must have gone the same way.’

  ‘Ah, yes.’ Fauvel nodded. ‘But I was, of course, able to redeem her soul. None the less, Wendy’s conscience remains deeply troubled. I trust, Superintendent, that you won’t overlook the effect Mrs Lewis’s tragically sudden death had on her daughter.’

  ‘She said it didn’t affect her work,’ Ellen offered.

  The priest pursed his lips. ‘Wendy is very proud, and rightly so, of her professional diligence, but she would need a heart of stone not to be affected. But her diligence isn’t in doubt, is it? And her conscience is not only troubled by her being unable to attend her mother’s dying moments. She fears that Inspector Dugdale deliberately suppressed Father Barclay’s letter, and her divided loyalties are tearing her apart.’

  ‘When did she tell you that?’ asked McKenna.

  ‘Oh, right at the outset of this sorry business, Superintendent. When the documents for the appeal hearing came to light.’

  ‘We were led to believe her change of heart occurred much later.’

  ‘Were you?’ Fauvel smiled, as if to imply he trod much firmer ground. ‘Does it matter when? People are often not rational at the best of times, and it could be unfair to apply your own frames of reference to someone under the dreadful pressure Wendy has experienced.’ He paused, gazing speculatively at his visitors. ‘Little things like that — wrong impressions, unintentional errors — have a capacity to mislead out of all proportion. And I fear you were misled over Father Barclay’s letter. I handed it to Inspector Dugdale because he was there, and for
no other reason.’

  Chapter Nine

  Too tired to continue standing merely out of politeness, Jack took one of the chairs in the hospital waiting room and let Frances Pawsley, her eyes red from weeping, stride from the door to the window and back again, her leather brogues squeaking with each step.

  ‘Why can’t I see her?’ she demanded. ‘Surely, this changes everything?’

  ‘Sergeant Lewis’s retreat into hysteria changes nothing,’ he countered. ‘In fact, I’d say it’s all the more reason for you not to see her.’

  ‘But we’re so close!’ Tears coursed unchecked down her cheeks. ‘She depends on me. She really does.’

  ‘In my opinion, she uses you, and she’s not above trying to get her own way by coercion. Why did she put herself in hospital, if not to twist everyone’s arms?’

  ‘You don’t understand her!’

  ‘Oh, I understand her only too well, Miss Pawsley.’

  ‘Have you spoken to her?’ She stopped in her tracks, looming over him, her own distress weeping from every pore.

  ‘I have.’ Jack nodded. ‘And I can assure you, she’s not in any physical danger, because she knew that at worst, the tablets she swallowed would just make her very sick.’

  ‘I blame myself!’ Frances kneaded her hands until the knuckles gleamed white. ‘She rang I don’t know how many times, but I wouldn’t take her calls. Then she left this awful message while I was in court.’

  ‘What message?’

  ‘It doesn’t matter.’

  ‘It matters very much. Who took the message? What did she say?’

  ‘One of the secretaries spoke to her. Wendy said if I wouldn’t speak to her, I’d be responsible for whatever happened.’

  ‘That’s sheer emotional blackmail, and the kind of drivel Smith’s been feeding that bloody reporter.’

  ‘It’s just her way. I’m the only one she can turn to, you see.’

  As Jack looked up into her miserable, downcast face, any pity he had earlier felt for Wendy Lewis evaporated in the heat of his anger. ‘Who can you turn to?’

  ‘Eh?’

  ‘Who’s there when you need someone? Or are you content to let the Wendys of this world bleed you dry, because it makes you feel wanted?’

  Chapter Ten

  ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with everybody tonight,’ Julie’s colleague said, completing the shift hand-over. ‘You could cut the atmosphere with a knife.’

  ‘It’s probably the weather,’ Julie replied, closing the log book. ‘High winds always upset them.’

  ‘The wind’s dropped.’

  ‘There’s snow on the way.’

  ‘Maybe they’re worried about you,’ the other woman suggested. ‘They saw the police here earlier, and asked Bennett.’

  ‘What did he say?’

  ‘Just that they had to talk to you about the fire.’

  ‘No wonder they’re fretting!’

  ‘He couldn’t say much else, could he? They’re hardly likely to understand about Smith being let out of gaol, and all the rest of it.’

  ‘Then he shouldn’t have said anything!’

  ‘That would’ve been even worse.’ Hands deep in her overall pockets, she looked down at Julie. ‘What did they want, anyway?’

  ‘What d’you think?’ Julie asked, her whole manner dismissive.

  From the office window, she watched her colleague drive away, knowing the air between them would be fraught with chills for the next few days. Overhead, and interspersed with the creak of footsteps, the noise of gunfire and squealing tyres came faintly from the first-floor quarters where the staff on sleeping-in duty were watching television before going to bed. For several minutes Julie stared down the empty driveway, lost in thought, while her mind’s eye roamed again the awful environs of that blazing house.

  Chapter Eleven

  Haughton police were clearly angered when McKenna insisted that Gaynor Holbrook was arrested and detained for concealing the whereabouts of Bunty Smith. Sheffield police, however, were more than willing to co-operate with his request for Bunty to be guarded overnight.

  It was almost midnight when Ryman telephoned. McKenna, dozing in the chair, was galvanised to wakefulness.

  ‘I realise it’s late,’ Ryman said, ‘but things need to be sorted out.’

  ‘What’s the problem?’ McKenna lit a cigarette.

  ‘Where would you like me to start?’ Ryman’s voice was vinegary. ‘Firstly, why weren’t we told about Sergeant Lewis’s suicide attempt? Secondly, why haven’t we been advised about the problems over solicitor representation? Thirdly, how d’you think my officers feel to be ordered by your Inspector Tuttle to mount guard on Sergeant Lewis? And fourthly, although I very much doubt lastly, what am I supposed to do with this reporter? Her editor is threatening us with an action for false arrest.’

  ‘I intended to come to see you in the morning,’ McKenna said. ‘To discuss these and other issues.’

  ‘They can’t wait until morning. You had no right to force the Haughton officers to keep one of their colleagues under virtual arrest.’

  ‘Sergeant Lewis is not under anything of the sort,’ McKenna replied, trying to keep the irritation from his voice. ‘Inspector Tuttle was simply making sure the media can’t get to her. One of the many reporters currently swarming around town saw her being taken into hospital, and very kindly rang here for a comment.’

  ‘That doesn’t explain why she’s not being allowed to see anyone else. Inspector Tuttle sent her solicitor away, even though he knew Sergeant Lewis was desperate to see her.’

  ‘I’ll discuss this with you tomorrow.’

  ‘What about this Holbrook woman? We hauled her in on Monday for a ticking off, so why has she been arrested now?’

  ‘For concealing the whereabouts of a witness,’ said McKenna.

  ‘If you know she’s done that,’ Ryman countered, ‘you must know where the witness is, so why couldn’t you deal with her tomorrow? The hotel where she’s staying doesn’t take kindly to police raids in the middle of the night, and I don’t like my officers being used inappropriately.’

  ‘You’re exaggerating somewhat, I think.’

  ‘You could have waited.’

  ‘These decisions are mine, Superintendent,’ McKenna pointed out. ‘You’re under no obligation even to comment on what I do.’

  ‘In other words, mind my own bloody business!’

  *

  Jack was rapt in slumber when McKenna quietly left the house to drive very slowly and very carefully into town, the ice on the road so thick it crunched under his wheels.

  Haughton’s main police station, purpose built at the turn of the century in a squat, neo-Norman style, was half-way up a steep side street near the town centre. The barred, opaque glass windows of the original cell block just peeked above ground level, their few dim lights casting geometrically divided shadows on the asphalt yard. When he identified himself at the desk, the hostility became almost palpable.

  ‘It’s a bit late to be interviewing a prisoner, isn’t it, sir? She’s not committed a murder, as far as we know.’ The duty sergeant stared challengingly. ‘And I can’t spare an officer for the interview. We’re short-handed.’

  ‘I’m quite capable of dealing with her myself.’

  ‘The duty solicitor’s not available, either. I know, because I already tried to get in touch for somebody else.’

  ‘Ms Holbrook may not require representation.’

  ‘I can’t allow regulations to be bent, sir. We’d be the one to suffer the come-backs.’

  ‘Superintendent Ryman telephoned from headquarters,’ McKenna said. ‘He’s under pressure from Ms Holbrook’s editor, who’s talking of an action for false arrest.’

  The other man whitened. ‘We only obeyed your orders, sir.’

  ‘Precisely. I’m not obliged to explain myself to you, and I don’t expect obstruction.’

  *

  Some time in the recent past, the police station i
nterior had received a major face-lift. The interview room where McKenna sat facing Gaynor Holbrook was painted a soothing pale green, carpeted in a darker green, and decently furnished.

  ‘Arresting me like this is a bit over the top, isn’t it?’ she asked. ‘People at the hotel must think I’m an Irish terrorist from the way the plods came bursting in. I half expected to find a noose around my neck.’

  ‘You have only yourself to blame,’ McKenna commented.

  ‘Bunty Smith is hardly a key witness.’

  ‘You’re not in a position to assess her worth.’

  ‘She’s not worth anything to me.’ Gaynor smiled rather spitefully. ‘And she won’t be worth much to you if you don’t collar her soon. She looks like she could drop dead any minute. She’s probably got cancer.’ As he stared at her, her eyes narrowed. ‘And yes, Superintendent McKenna, I’m as hard-faced as you think I am, if not more so. That’s how I get people to open up to me. You’d be surprised what I know. And by the way, Smith is desperate to talk to you. He can’t begin to understand why you haven’t battered down the barricades Beryl put up.’

  ‘I’m here only as a courtesy to the local police. There’s no need for your editor to harass Superintendent Ryman. You are not a victim of false arrest, and will be charged appropriately in the morning.’

  ‘Superintendent Ryman, eh?’ Her eyes glinted. ‘He’s quite a mystery, isn’t he?’

  ‘Is he?’

  ‘I would think so. Wouldn’t you?’

  ‘I hope you’re wise enough to refrain from further concealment, or from making misleading allegations.’

  ‘Ryman should figure in your investigation. He knew all the relevant people. Even Smith, probably.’ She toyed with a glass of water, and he tried to decide whether she were only toying with him. There was real intelligence in her eyes, and in the clearly drawn features, which would have been attractive but for their knowingness. Despite the late hour and her precipitate removal from the hotel, her whole aspect was one of neatness and minimal inefficiency, her white-blonde hair hugging her well-shaped head like a helmet, her clothes tailored and pressed, and elegant. ‘I sat through every minute of the trial,’ she added. ‘It was riveting stuff.’

 
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