BOOK REVIEW: Justice for Joan, Martin Knight

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Although a book about a murder in Sussex, Justice For Joan: The Arundel Murder, is a true crime examination that has some oddly strong links to West Norfolk.

For a start the famed Scotland yard detective at first charged with solving the murder of 27-year-old London librarian Joan Woodhouse in the grounds of the Duke of Norfolk’s historic Arundel Castle on a sweltering August Bank Holiday weekend in 1948 in was Fred Narborough, who came from Magdalen.

And after the police had failed to achieve a conviction of the chief suspect, the man hired by Joan’s family to get to the truth, private detective Thomas Jacks, came from the Burnhams, the son of a Sandringham gamekeeper, who later lived at Houghton.

The case was certainly to haunt Narborough. His memoirs speak of his pain of his failure to bring in the man he was sure was guilty. And that man was the person who claimed to have discovered the semi-naked and violated body in a copse, local labourer Thomas Stillwell.

The family back in Yorishire were so sure that he did it that they brought a private prosecution against him, the only one for murder in the whole of the 20th centure and the last one before the one brought against Stephen Lawrence’s killers.

That was effectively dished by the amazing behaviour of the Crown in seeing the case was dismissed. It really does have the feeling less of a whodunnit as a “why were they protected?” story. And the book ends with an intriguing theory about the role the Duke of Norfolk may have played in that.

The author has previously written sports memoirs, including Scoring At Half-time, with George Best, and a somewhat tabloid style occasionally grates with a propensity for cliche, but this is a fascinating examination of tale of injustice and police incompetence.

Justice For Joan is published by London Books and costs £11.95