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Trials and Tribulations

Ludovic Kennedy tells how an early introduction to British law set him on a path devoted to campaigning for justice.

For me there were two points of departure, the general and the specific. The general was that, while my routine studies at Eton had been quite undistinguished, I had done rather well in the voluntary extra-curricular activities on set books covering historical, literary or political affairs. One holiday task was an assessment of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow (1888) and one political one (in 1938) was to address the question Can Europe Keep the Peace?, both of which I won. The solitary task of having a single subject to study, analyse and then write about was, I see now, the forerunner of the sort of books that were to occupy so much of my time in the years ahead.
The specific point of departure concerned the law. Between the ages of fourteen to sixteen I used to spend part of the holidays with my grandparents who lived in Edinburgh. My grandfather had been Professor of Law at the University, and on the top shelf of his library stood a row of red cloth volumes entitled Notable British Trials. These included those of Mary, Queen of Scots, Dr Crippen, Oscar Wilde and Dr Buck Ruxton, the Parsee dentist hanged for chopping up his children’s nursemaid and disposing of bits of her in the Moffat gorge. Every evening I would climb up the library step-ladder and sit for hours entranced by the grisly details disclosed by witnesses or counsel.

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