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A sensational trial

15 September 2017

September 14th, 1917

[The trial that followed the shooting in his Paddington lodgings of the self-styled Count de Borch, Anton Baumberg, by an army officer home from the Front, had provided a distraction from the war news. Was it, some were asking, a case of a husband’s right to avenge his wife’s honour?]

THE trial of Lieutenant [Douglas] Malcolm on the charge of murder let loose a flood of talk about what is known in some other countries as the “unwritten law”. Counsel for the prosecution emphatically affirmed that no such thing is known in the English Courts. If a person’s death is compassed with intention to kill, the slayer is a murderer, and counsel for the defence abstained from resting his case on the plea of the “unwritten law”. He argued that the prisoner, when he shot Baumberg, was acting in self-defence, and the jury accepted this theory, with the result that Lieut. Malcolm was acquitted. It was certainly better so: the law was not strained. This deplorable case raises the question why such people as Baumberg are allowed to be at large. He was known to the police as an undesirable alien, preying on weak women, keeping company with spies, and supporting himself by other infamous practices. He ought long ago to have been placed out of mischief, either by deportation or by internment. His removal through death rids us only of one among many of his sort. Possibly the fact that public attention has been drawn to the existence of this type of persons in our midst may induce the authorities to deal with them effectively.


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