Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Not just a racist verdict

How the British Establishment helped a courtesan get away with murder

I remember the real-life crime specialist Edgar Lustgarten, in one of a series of great criminal cases on the Home Service (now Radio 4), describing one of the triumphs of the great advocate Edward Marshall Hall. In the face of overwhelming evidence, he secured the acquittal in 1923 of the French-born wife of a rich young Egyptian for his murder in the Savoy Hotel. I was struck by how a case playing on both sexual and racial prejudice could have succeeded even given Marshall Hall's great theatrical gifts. It seems that some journals at the time, and not just Egyptian ones, thought that there had been a miscarriage.

Now it seems that there was another factor that saved "Princess Fahmy". Because the Prince of Wales had been one of her lovers during the World War, the authorities made sure (as detailed in a Channel 4 documentary) that details of her past did not come to light. In protecting the heir to the throne, they indirectly hobbled the prosecution, who would normally have been permitted to raise the question of the defendant's character, her counsel having attacked that of the victim.

The question that intrigues me is whether Lustgarten, who moved in many interesting circles, was aware of this backstory.

[Later] I should have picked up on the fact that the documentary was yet another achievement of South West Wales' enterprising production company, Telesgop.

There is also a question raised by one of the links above: Marguerite Laurent/Meller/Fahmy apparently appeared in a few silent movies in France after her trial. However, there is no record of her on The Internet Movie Database. I presume this is not just because of an English-language bias to IMDb, but the probable loss of physical copies of the films, which would almost certainly have been on perishable nitrate stock.

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