Sunday 5 February 2017

The Greenockian who prosecuted Crippen

The Greenockian's name was Richard David Muir and he commenced his cross-examination of Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen with the question -
"On the morning of February 1 you were left alone in your house with your wife?"

Dr Crippen
"Yes" replied Crippen in response.
"She was alive?"
"She was."
"Do you know of any person in the world who has seen her alive since?"

One can just imagine these intense moments as the murderer and prosecutor faced each other across the Central Criminal Court in October 1910.  It is reported that when Crippen heard that Richard Muir would be prosecuting he said, 
     "It is most unfortunate that he is against me.  I wish it had been anybody else but him.  I fear the worst."  

Crippen was accused of the murder of his wife, Cora (stage name Belle Elmore) and fled aboard SS Montrose with his mistress Ethel Le Neve dressed as a boy.  The couple were apprehended when the ship arrived in Canada and brought back to Britain.  Crippen, aged 48, was found guilty of the murder of his wife and was executed at Pentonville Prison on 23 November 1910.  Crippen's crime and the ensuing trial have gone down in history - there can't be many who do have not heard of Dr Crippen.  (You can read all the fascinating details of the case at the Old Bailey Online.) 
Perhaps not so much is known of his prosecutor, Richard Muir.

Sir Richard Muir (knighted in 1918) took part in many of the most sensational trials of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He was in great demand for his cool, methodical approach to his work.  Possessed of a good memory, he was a logical thinker and thorough in his attention to facts and details, a trait he expected in others, especially police officers working on his cases.  As this excerpt from his notes in the Crippen case shows, he set everything out in a clear precise manner.  He kept his notes on small cards and used coloured pencils for different aspects of his cases.

A lot of information about Muir's legal cases can be found in the book - Sir Richard Muir - A Memoir of a Public Prosecutor written by Sidney Theodore Felstead and edited by Lady Muir.  (London, John Lane the Bodley Head Limited, 1927).  It is a fascinating read and readily available to purchase online.

Muir was born in Greenock on 8 March 1859 to Richard Muir, a master shoemaker in the town and his wife Ann Burley (or Burleigh) who had married in Greenock in July 1839.  His father ran a successful business and by 1851 was employing sixteen men.  At that time the family lived in Kelly Street.  Richard was the third son, and eighth child - more children were to follow.  Richard Muir senior's business flourished and he began to invest in shipping.  By 1861 the family had moved to Clyde Street or Low Gourock Road (Eldon Street before the Esplanade was constructed).  By the time of the 1881 census they were living at Oakbank on Union Street.

At this time Richard Muir was working as a commission clerk locally and was active in the Greenock Royal Rifle Volunteers, but he soon decided to join his elder brother Robert Burleigh Muir (a solicitor) in London.  Through extreme hard work he qualified as a lawyer and began his apprenticeship in the chambers of Sir Forest Fulton in Fountain Court.  He also began to learn shorthand at Pitman's school in Chancery Lane.  He soon earned a reputation as a first class verbatim reporter, specialising in parliamentary speeches.  He joined the reporting staff of The Times newspaper under William Leycester (1826 - 1893).  He ably juggled the two jobs and hardly surprisingly, seems to have had few outside interests.

He began to concentrate on legal work, taking over the Fountain Court chambers and began to make a name for himself as a thorough and dependable man.  He married Mary Beatrice Leycester (photo from National Portrait Gallery) in 1889 and they had two children, a son and a daughter.  His son, Burleigh Leycester Muir, also a barrister, was a Captain in the Army Service Corps during World War I and died on 4 November 1918 of influenza.  He left a widow, Vera Brodie MacQueen whom he had married in 1915 and a young son.  Muir's daughter, Mary Leycester Muir married Lieutenant Robert William Godfrey Kiesow of the Lancashire Fusiliers.

Sir Richard Muir died in 1924 and is buried at Norwood Cemetery in London.  However his name is included on the family headstone in Greenock Cemetery along with many of the other members of this large family.

The fraudster Whitaker Wright, the murderes Ronald True and Frederick Henry Seddon, German spies, the Hatton Garden Pearl Robbery and many, many other sensational trials made up the casebook of Sir Richard Muir - a truly remarkable man … from Greenock.

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