Unsafe Convictions, page 23
‘In your regard for a Papist, you’re a most unusual Anglican,’ McKenna said. ‘And an even more unusual Mason, but that’s irrelevant, I imagine. Tell me, what do you know about Broadbent’s accident?’
‘That it was an accident,’ Ryman said flatly. ‘And entirely her fault. In my opinion, she was lucky the Church didn’t have her put away, instead of paying out thousands for plastic surgery.’
‘Why should the Church pay for treatment that was freely available on the NHS?’
‘They wanted her to have the best.’
‘Which would be available on the NHS,’ insisted McKenna. ‘Do you know for a fact that the church actually paid out a penny? Or was all that a smoke-screen to hide the truth? According to some sources, her injuries were the result of criminal negligence.’
‘She’s still putting that story about, is she?’ Ryman stared at him, eyes narrowed. ‘You want to be very careful with her. She’s cunning, manipulative, dishonest, and downright dangerous. And the kindest thing anyone could say is that life has brought her so much pain she wants to give others the benefits of her experience.’
‘I didn’t realise you knew her so well.’
‘You know perfectly well her delinquencies came to our attention when she was younger and, to be frank, I shudder to think what she’s up to these days. Like mother, like daughter, in my view.’
‘She’s doing an important job and trying to rebuild her life,’ McKenna said.
‘I wouldn’t even let her work in a dog’s home. Father Brett must have a hell of a lot of faith in human nature to risk giving her a job, but I expect he keeps an eye on her. He’s no fool.’
‘Mr Ryman, you are aware of the statutory responsibility for child protection that falls upon the police, aren’t you?’
‘Of course, I am!’
‘Then why did you fail Broadbent? Why didn’t you involve the social services department? Why did everyone deny the child a fighting chance?’ McKenna stared at the other man’s stony face. ‘You never even cautioned Kathy Broadbent over her activities, let alone prosecuted. In fact, you condoned her life-style, and abdicated your responsibilities not only to her child, but to the community you were paid to serve.’
‘What was I supposed to do? Prosecuting the woman would have brought shame on upstanding men, and destroyed families and marriages. And for what? D’you really think it would have made an ounce of difference?’ His face was dark with anger. ‘There’s an old saying in these parts, Superintendent. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and believe me, Julie Broadbent’s more like a sow’s backside. You can scrub off the filth, but she’ll wallow again at the first opportunity.’ He smiled then, quite savagely. ‘Has it occurred to you that she might have killed Trisha Smith? No one knows where she was that day, and she can’t prove she was in the Willows.’
‘Please answer my question about Kathy Broadbent,’ McKenna told him. ‘Did you condone her activities because some of these “upstanding men” you talk about were police officers?’
‘How dare you suggest that!’ Ryman was white with rage.
‘Or were they perhaps the town worthies who might be useful to your own advancement?’ McKenna went on. ‘There’s nothing like a small town for back-scratching, is there?’
‘Listen to me,’ Ryman snarled, ‘and listen good! We couldn’t do anything to that woman because we never caught her at it. She didn’t walk the streets, and she didn’t solicit in public. Her reputation went by word of mouth.’
‘And where did she carry out her trade? In her home, in front of her child?’
‘If she did, no one ever told us.’
‘She was a notorious prostitute,’ McKenna reminded him, ‘and her child was therefore at risk. You did nothing to protect that child, and even when she was so horribly injured, you still did nothing.’
‘I’ve already told you the Church looked after her.’ An unpleasant smile began to play about Ryman’s mouth. ‘And d’you know, none of this is any of your damned business! You’re just muck-raking about things that have nothing to do with Smith or Dugdale, and you’re overstepping the mark. Dangerously so, in fact. Maybe people should be told.’
‘Then feel free to tell them.’ McKenna rose, and picked up his briefcase. ‘But don’t forget that Trisha Smith may have died because she fell into a heap of other people’s muck.’
Thursday, 4th February
The heat from Bunty’s fire was making Jack very sleepy. Stifling another yawn, he asked: ‘Why is your son telling such exaggerated untruths about his childhood?’
‘Because he was born with lies on his tongue,’ Ida replied.
‘I suppose it puts him in a better light,’ Bunty ventured, ignoring her friend. ‘And he always had ideas above himself. He was never content with me, or what I could give him. He wanted more, and he thought he had a right to it, but heaven knows why.’
‘And what he couldn’t get honestly,’ Ida added, ‘he’d get another way.’
‘How long have you two known each other?’ asked Janet.
‘Donkey’s years!’ Ida said. ‘Since we both got jobs in one of the knife and fork factories after we left school. That was where Bunty met her husband.’
‘You were married to your son’s father?’ Ellen’s eyebrows shot up.
‘Of course she was!’ Ida snapped.
‘What happened to him?’
‘Well, he didn’t run away from the army and get his legs cut off!’ Ida barked.
‘He took to the drink,’ Bunty said.
The old women looked at each other, then shrugged.
‘Because men do,’ Bunty suggested. ‘Women do, as well, these days.’
‘Bunty threw him out. He was drinking the money she needed for rent, and baby food and suchlike.’ Ida pursed her mouth. ‘She should’ve thrown his offspring after him, and saved herself a lot of grief.’
‘He wasn’t a bad man,’ Bunty said, defending her absent spouse. ‘He was never nasty to me, and he was a good husband before the drink took him.’
‘He must’ve had bad blood,’ Ida countered, ‘and it came out in his son.’
‘Where’s your husband now?’ asked Jack.
‘I don’t know. He took to the hills thirty-three years ago, and that’s the last I saw of him.’
‘When did you last see your son?’
‘When the nasty little thug was sixteen.’ Once again, Ida responded. ‘He disappeared one day, without a word, and it was just as well, if you ask me, ’cos Bunty was near the end of her tether with his evil goings-on.’ She leaned forward, and tapped Jack’s knee. ‘You see, that’s why I never said when the coppers came asking before. Bunty’s never got on the wrong side of the law, so I reckoned it must be something to do with husband or son, and both of them’d done enough harm already.’ She shook her head angrily. ‘And now he’s saying he was put in a children’s home because Bunty was in prison, and that’s another wicked lie. She had to go into hospital.’
‘And when the police came calling,’ Bunty added, ‘it was months before then, maybe even a year.’
‘What did they want?’
‘There’d been an accident outside the old YMCA place on Division Street,’ Ida said. ‘A man got knocked down and killed by a car, and Bunty saw it all, so she had to be a witness in court.’
‘It’s not unusual for young children to confuse time, and connect unconnected events,’ Ellen offered. ‘Perhaps your son should have the benefit of the doubt over that.’
‘Benefit of the doubt nothing!’ Ida turned on her. ‘He knows damn well Bunty was in hospital, because I used to get him from the home every Wednesday evening and every Sunday afternoon, and take him to see her.’
‘What was the operation for?’ Janet asked.
Ida looked at her friend, who simply nodded. ‘She gets tired easily, and she’s not had a decent night’s sleep since that son
‘But I’ve always had a lot of trouble with my bones,’ Bunty said.
‘That’s why she never grew very big,’ Ida went on. ‘She managed all right for years, but having a baby made things go wrong, because of the weight. She struggled on for a few years, then the doctors made her go to hospital to be screwed back together again.’
Bunty levered herself from her chair, went to the sideboard, and pulled a bulging, tattered envelope from the top drawer. ‘Have a look in here,’ she said, handing the envelope to Jack. Her fingers, he thought, were like broken claws. ‘There’s old newspaper stories about the air raid,’ she added, ‘and other bits and pieces, and letters from the doctors at the hospital.’
‘It was like she started falling apart after he was born,’ Ida added, embellishing the awfulness, while Jack moved to the table, spilled out the contents of the envelope, and began to read.
Ellen frowned. ‘How d’you mean?’
‘Oh, Ida, you don’t half lay it on!’ Bunty chided. She offered Ellen a surprisingly sweet smile. ‘My pelvis got broken in the raid, and it was fastened together with screws and things. It all got pulled around when I was expecting, so it had to be repaired. That’s all there was to it.’
‘And how’s your health now?’
‘I manage,’ Bunty replied. ‘I could be worse, considering my age, and everything.’
‘Do you remember the air raid?’ Janet asked.
‘I can’t remember a thing, which I’ve always thought was a blessing. A friend of my mam’s in the next street had a photo of her, so I know what she looked like, but there’s nothing left to remind me about my dad, or the others, or my sister Betty, or little Eric. He was barely a year old.’ Again she smiled, warming Janet. ‘Sometimes, when I’m dozing by the fire, or even wandering round the shops, I’ll get little pictures flashing through my mind, right out of the blue, and I have the loveliest dreams some nights, and I know they must be about my family, because they make me feel everything will be all right.’
‘Some hopes!’ Ida commented. ‘And I don’t know what went wrong, either,’ she added, seeing the expression on Janet’s face. ‘How somebody like Bunty gave birth to him is beyond me.’ She chewed her lips thoughtfully. ‘Maybe they swapped him at the hospital.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ Bunty said. ‘I’d’ve known.’
‘You did your best for him,’ Ida insisted. ‘You worked hard, you looked after him much better than a lot of mothers, and you wouldn’t hear a word against him even after that teacher died.’
‘Maybe I didn’t love him enough,’ Bunty said. ‘Folk say you can’t do for your children what wasn’t done for you, and I can’t remember having a real mam, so perhaps I never knew how to be one.’
‘I’ve often thought,’ Jack observed, fighting to steady the car against the onslaught of the wind, ‘that we should listen to what ordinary people have to say instead of the claptrap psychologists put about, because in the end,’ he added, swerving towards the verge as the wind suddenly voided itself, ‘psychology amounts to nothing more than basic common sense. Bunty was spot on in my opinion with what she said about not knowing how to be a mother.’ As the first flakes of snow spattered the windscreen, he switched on the wipers. ‘Some experts believe Mary Bell’s early influences were really to blame for the fact that she killed two little boys when she was only eleven herself.’
‘Mary Bell’s mother was a prostitute who offered sado-masochism as part of the service,’ Ellen said. ‘And she traded from home, so Mary would have seen a lot, and heard the rest of it. She might even have been forced to play her own part. That child was the product of ordinary human nastiness in bed with grim circumstance, so the comparison doesn’t hold water.’
‘It’s the early influences that determine which aspects of a child’s personality will flourish,’ Jack insisted. ‘And which won’t. Mary Bell only learned about violence and depravity. On the other hand, from what we’ve seen of Bunty, the foster parents who reared her must have been decent people.’
‘I expect they were,’ Ellen conceded, ‘but they probably couldn’t offer the emotional warmth she’d have had with her birth family, so she couldn’t show her own child the emotional empathy any child needs to be healthy and whole. And don’t forget we’ve only heard her side of the story. It’s bound to be subjective, if not as biased in its own way as what Smith says. We should really be looking for some middle ground.’
‘Why?’ Janet asked, watching the snow spiralling, and even flying upwards, as the wind drove into it. ‘Maybe people like Smith just evolve through the genetics of evil. Even if they don’t, he’s had enough counselling to know exactly what his problems are and where they stem from, so he hasn’t a single excuse for the way he behaves.’
The moors above Haughton were dusted with white by the time they reached Church Street. Snow splattered the railings, and drifted against walls and tree trunks and gravestones. The rooks still clung to the threshing trees and, as he was locking the car, Jack saw a nest wrenched from a crook in the branches. It fell to earth with a clatter and a splintering thud, and a bevy of birds erupted about the steeple, cawing anxiously.
McKenna was in the kitchen with Rene, gossiping while she prepared their lunch. Jack poured tea for himself from the pot warming on the cooker hob, and sat down. ‘It’s snowing hard up on the moors,’ he said.
‘There’s a surprise!’ Rene smiled, reaching for a carving knife to cut the haunch of roast ham on the counter. ‘You’ll have your wings clipped if you can’t get any chains for the cars, and I hear there’s not a set to be had for miles around.’
‘Couldn’t we borrow some?’ he asked. ‘There must be spares at the police station.’
‘I thought you and them weren’t on speaking terms,’ she commented. ‘Especially after last night.’
‘Yes, but you must know someone there who doesn’t think we’re poisoning the town’s life-blood.’
Her mouth twitched. ‘I’m allowed to play now, am I?’ The carving knife was held still, its tip glinting.
‘I’ve an idea you’ve been directing the traffic from when we set foot here,’ Jack told her.
Smiling to herself, she sliced through the smoky brown flesh. ‘I expect I could find somebody to help out, as long as Mr McKenna doesn’t mind me using the telephone.’
Returning from her enforced absence to the hotel, Gaynor expected a reception frostier than the outside day, and a discreet invitation to step into the manager’s office, but she was admitted as if last night’s extraordinary events had never happened. Thinking that was probably because of the platinum sheen on her credit card, the size of her car, and the matching suite of Louis Vuitton luggage lodged in an alcove in her bedroom exactly as she had left it, she went down to lunch. Afterwards she was still hungry, for she had literally turned up her nose at the breakfast offered in the cells, so she ordered sandwiches and coffee from room service, then set about catching up on missed telephone calls and disappearing opportunities.
She called Davidson first, and he obviously expected her to be enraged by his attempted appeasement of Linda Newton.
‘I had no c
She let him finish, then calmly said: ‘It was always on the cards we’d drop ourselves in something and, from what I’ve heard since, Smith really led us up the garden path there.’
‘Oh.’ Davidson was surprised. ‘I see.’
‘And he probably did the same over his mother,’ she added, ‘so maybe you should write to her in a similar vein, but only offer five thousand. She wasn’t quite misrepresented in the same way, and we could always argue that she should have made her existence known long ago.’
‘This is getting very expensive, Gaynor, aside from your hotel bills.’
‘I’m sure the paper’s still well in profit.’ She munched a sandwich filled with a delicious concoction of meats and relishes.
‘At the moment, but that’s no guarantee it’ll last. This is a dog-eat-dog world, as you well know. By the way, your articles provoked several very venomous letters, mainly about the police. What have they done with you?’
‘Charged me with wasting their time, and bailed me.’ Fingers hovering over the plate, she selected another triangle of thin brown bread, oozing with cheeses. ‘Trust me, it won’t go any further.’
‘Trusting you is getting a bit risky.’
‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained!’ Her voice sharpened. ‘You’ve done better than you dared hope for up to now.’
‘Maybe things really have run their course,’ he suggested, harking back to yesterday’s argument.
‘They won’t do that until McKenna and his geeks sod off back to Troglodyte-land.’
‘What’s he like?’ Davidson asked.
‘He’s a copper, and all coppers are bastards.’
The hotel was two miles down a winding track off the road that trailed over the top of Dark Moor and, with snow chains in the boot, Gaynor set off towards Haughton, to visit Beryl and her husband. Before she left, she had sent one of her scouts to trawl the local estate agents, to find out who owned the house where Trisha Smith had burned to death. She was amazed that the police had never bothered, for while the information might not be of any significance, no one was in a position to judge unless it was brought to light. Mentally ticking off the many aspects of the murder investigation where it was now clear that Dugdale had been negligent, she turned on to the High Street and cruised towards the town centre traffic lights.
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