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Justice For Joan

by Martin Knight

On the sweltering August bank holiday weekend of 1948, Joan Woodhouse – a demure, deeply religious librarian – left her lodgings in London to visit the family home in Barnsley, Yorkshire. She never arrived. A week later her body was discovered in the grounds of the Duke of Norfolk’s historic Arundel Castle in Sussex. Joan had been raped and strangled. Scotland Yard’s crack murder squad, led by Inspector Fred Narborough, was summoned, along with Dr Keith Simpson, the Home Office forensic pathologist, and so began a two-year saga that captivated press and public alike.

The Yard pursued a number of fruitless leads to the despair of Joan’s family, before turning their attention to the Arundel man who had discovered the body. After two investigations, and to most people’s surprise, no charges were laid. The desperate family then chose a course of action that had only been employed once before – a private prosecution for murder. More recently this rare legal device would be used in the case of Stephen Lawrence. The Woodhouses – like the Lawrences – found themselves in a David and Goliath battle against the might of the establishment.

Martin Knight has uncovered a catalogue of cover-ups, cock-ups and conspiracy theories reaching up to the highest echelons of society. The narrative is laced with twists and turns, worthy of a film noir thriller, throughout. With access to family archives, police files and by interviewing the descendants of the key players, he attempts to solve the question of whether an innocent suspect was vindicated, or a guilty man cheated the gallows.

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