Secret Inquiry. Sir A. Conan Doyle and the Oscar Slater Case
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Sir A. Conan Doyle and the Oscar Slater Case.
Grave dissatisfaction is growing in the public mind at the privacy of the inquiry now being held by Mr. J. G. Millar, K.C., Sheriff of Lanarkshire, at the instance of the Secretary for Scotland, into the case of Oar Slater, who early in the year 1909 was condemned to death on a charge of murdering Miss Marion Gilchrist, a well-to-do old lady of Glasgow. The sentence was afterwards commuted to one of penal servitude for life; and Slater is still in gaol. Yesterday was occupied in going over evidence already heard.
The public mind was never satisfied that Slater was the murderer. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published a pamphlet, advancing considered reasons to show that the sentence was wrong; that in all probability Slater was not guilty of the crime; and that the evidence against him, when carefully examined, was insufficient to justify a reasonable presumption of guilt.
It is argued that an inquiry as to the methods of the Glasgow police in that particular case is involved if the truth is to be ascertained. Those familiar with the matter allege that Sheriff Millar has ruled this out as an irrelevant part of the inquiry. The mere rumour that this is so (no documentary evidence is available, for the inquiry, is being held behind closed doors) has caused anxiety.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who maintains a lively and anxious interest in the case, says: "Our whole point is that from the very beginning the police were wrong, and that in spite of everything they have stuck to their first view.
"We shall never arrive at lustiest if an inquiry into police methods is ruled out. Our point is that the police secured the conviction of Slater by suppressing and modifying evidence. The police are as much on trial as Slater. If the methods of the police are not to be investigated the inquiry is futile.
SIR ARTHUR'S FEARS.
"I am convinced that the Secretary fog Scotland, a man of high character, is acting with the cause of justice at heart. But when it comes to a question of a local sheriff holding an inquiry into a case which touches the whole conduct of the local police we are evidently on very delicate ground. If the inquiry was under the direct control of either the Lord Advocate or of the Secretary for Scotland ire should have no fears at all. Our present fears are net so much that the sheriff would give a decision contrary to the evidence — he has every reputation of being a high-minded man — but that he may limit the inquiry to such an extent that much of the vital evidence will be ruled out of the case altogether.
"If the Sheriff were to say that he would not go into any matters which impugned the action of the police, than the inquiry would be most unsatisfactory and could not possibly be accepted as final."
"Have you any reason to think that such limitations have been imposed?"
"The reports from Glasgow are somewhat disturbing. They assert that there have been limitations in that direction and that witnesses who traversed the actions of the police have been treated as hostile witnesses. I can only trust that such rumours will prove to be misunderstandings or exaggerations. It is a pity, I think, that the presiding officer is not a complete stranger to the district. Where the actions of the local fiscal or of the police are under discussion it is a pity to have a judge who must be placed in a very difficult position with regard to them."
QUESTION OF DISCIPLINE.
"Could you give an illustration of objectionable procedure?"
"Well. supposing any police witnesses should disagree with the official point of view, it would be right that such men should be encouraged to speak out and assured of protection. If they were treated as if it were a breech of discipline upon their part to speak fearlessly where their superiors were concerned that would be very objectionable."
"You speak about not accepting the decision as final. What more could be done?"
"Well, the depositions of all these new witnesses are on record. Mr. Cook and those who are watching the case in Glasgow could publish their sworn affidavits and then leave the public to declare how far they have undermined a case which was pretty top-heavy to start with. But, personally, I have every hope that justice will be done and that we shall get to the end of this wretched business, which has, at least, the merit that it will surely bring about the establishment of a Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland."
"Could you indicate what direction is taken by the new evidence ?"
"It seems to me to controvert almost every point of the original prosecution. Some of it touches matter too delicate for reference. On one point it must be admitted to be conclusive, and that is that the so-called 'flight' of Slater which figured so largely in the prosecution had never any basis in fact. It is clear that only two tickets were taken from Glasgow to Liverpool on the Christmas night, and that only two tickets were given up at Liverpool next morning, when Slater and the woman got off the train and went under his own name to an hotel. The whole idea of London tickets and covering his tracks is proved to be an absolute myth."
There is, we understand, an intention that the private inquiry now proceeding is of a preliminary nature only, and that if a prima facie case is found a public inquiry will follow.