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Author Topic: ... it's off to war we go - or the crash of Airspeed Courier (G-ACVE) in 1936  (Read 71 times)
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pomme homme
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« on: May 15, 2018, 21:45:50 PM »

Buying up aeroplanes, by the Spanish Republicans, became almost commonplace from 1936. Thus Carlos Krauel, an agent of the Republicans, bought Airspeed Courier G-ACVE and registered it to 'Union Founders Trust Ltd.' on 19 August 1936. And the very next day two Airspeed employees, Arthur Chapman Gargett (22) and Joseph Allen Smith, decided to effect delivery of the Republicans' newest acquisition from the aerodrome at Portsmouth! Ah, but if only they had thought to take some flying lessons before embarking on their reckless adventure! However the lure of filfthy lucre was too great. The tales they were told were that the wages of republicanism were high and so they set a trend, to be followed by others down the decades, by skyjacking the Courier. But their lack of aeronautical competence soon became apparent. No sooner did the Courier take off than it returned to ground - impacting with a rocky embankment on the northern side of Portsmouth Aerodrome, to the east of the railway line. Smith was injured but Gargett died, of injuries suffered in the crash, on 4 September 1936. Prior to Gargett's death, Smith has been convicted [of the theft of an aeroplane?] and sentenced to 4 months' imprisonment. However after Gargett's death, Smith was charged with and convicted of involuntary manslaughter and a concurrent sentence was imposed upon him. Oh, and the Courier was destroyed in the crash.
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Craggs
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« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2018, 07:11:40 AM »

Dundee Evening Telegraph - Thursday 20 August 1936

'PLANE TAKEN FROM HANGAR -  FOUND DAMAGED NEAR AERODROME

Two Occupants Removed to Hospital


Two men were found injured in a 'plane which had been removed from one of the hangars at the works of Airspeed, Ltd., Portsmouth, early to-day. The 'plane - a courier - was found damaged not far from the hangar.  Both the men were removed to hospital.  In an official statement, Airspeed, Ltd., say that neither of the men is a pilot and the act was entirely unauthorised.

The injured men are Arthur Chapman Gargett (22), of Northern Road, Copnor, suffering from fractured leg and facial abrasions, and Joseph Allan Smith (27), of Somers Road, Southsea, suffering from facial abrasions and injuries to both legs. "Gargett has been admitted to the genera! ward," it was stated, "but Smith is in the casualty department awaiting the result X-ray examination," The condition of both men is said to be " fairly good."

Statements Taken.

When the plane was found, aerodrome ambulance men went to the spot, but had difficulty in extricating Gargett, who was lying among trees and bracken. Workmen had to force their way through undergrowth, and two police officers lowered part of a broken wing of the machine. Gargett was strapped to it and hauled to the top. Police officers visited Portsmouth Hospital and took statements from the injured men.

Nearly Clear of Moat.

The accident occuried at Portsmouth City Airport, where the works of Airspeed Ltd. are situated. The machine was nearly clear of the moat on the northern outskirts when it crashed. Its two occupants were thrown out. The Airspeed Courier machine, according to Janes' " Aircraft," is a four or five passenger aeroplane.  Single-engined, the machine is a low-wing cantilever monoplane. In the enclosed cabin there is ample accommodation for a crew of two in addition to the passengers.

Eyewitness' Story.

The fore part of the machine that crashed was a twisted mass of wreckage, but the rear was scarcely damaged. A labourer working on roadway near the aerodrome told a reporter that he saw the 'plane being taxied about on the eastern boundary.  After one of the occupants had got out and turned the tail round it started a takeoff run. "When the machine left the ground," the man said, " it was going across wind. It seemed that the wind lifted the left wing. Suddenly I saw the tip of the right wing hit tree on the bank of the old ramparts, and then there was a sound like the falling of a big tree. The machine, after hitting the tree, fell into the moat. There was a good deal petrol about, but the machine did not catch fire."
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Craggs
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« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2018, 07:14:52 AM »

Portsmouth Evening News - Friday 04 September 1936

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Craggs
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« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2018, 07:19:59 AM »

 I am a bit pushed for time today so I can't type out the whole article - sorry !

Portsmouth Evening News - Thursday 15 October 1936

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« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2018, 07:22:05 AM »

Portsmouth Evening News - Thursday 20 August 1936

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« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2018, 09:11:48 AM »

Arthur Chapman Gargett
Born Jan 1914 York
Son of Dawson & Ada Jane Gargett

Believe died of Tetanus?
Buried
   St Andrew Churchyard
Great Aycliffe, Durham Unitary Authority

Probate. Of 11a Northover Rd, Coplar, Portsmouth. Admin to Dawson Gargett, railway wheelwright. Effects £159.
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pomme homme
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« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2018, 12:03:17 PM »

Is interesting to see the reference to Gargett having died of tetanus. In light of that, it would be interesting to read more about Smith's trial for and conviction of involuntary manslaughter. The reported facts that:

- ,initially, Gargett had suffered only a fractured leg and facial abrasions; and
- Gargett had been in a very serious condition, but recently had shown some improvement; and
- some sixteen days after the crash Gargett died of tetanus

suggests - albeit on the bare reported facts - that perhaps want of appropriate post-crash medical care might have been causitive of - or, at least, contributed to - his death. If so, I would have expected the argument of causation to have been introduced at Smith's second trial. Maybe someone will be able to turn up newspaper reports of that? Also I assume - from the fact that there is no mention of Gargett having been charged in connection with this theft - that Smith was the pilot when the Courier crashed, but none of the reports which I've seen make this specific assertion.
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Craggs
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« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2018, 07:36:46 AM »

PH,

I have found a lengthy newspaper report in the Hampshire Telegraph - Friday 18 December 1936 about the trial which I will transcribe today.  Another newspaper article in the Dundee Evening Telegraph - Saturday 12 December 1936 states "Both Smith and Gargett were injured.  Gargett made a partial recovery in hospital but subsequently died from tetanus on September 4"

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Craggs
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« Reply #8 on: May 17, 2018, 09:38:26 AM »

The trial..................

Hampshire Telegraph - Friday 18 December 1936

HILSEA PLANE CRASH

Assizes' Trial

MECHANICS ATTEMPTED FLIGHT TO SPAIN


The remarkable story of an alleged attempted flight from Portsmouth to Spain by a man who had never piloted a machine before, and which resulted in a crash on Hilsea Ramparts on August 20 and the death of his companion, was told before Mr. Justice Charles at the Hampshire Assizes at Winchester on Saturday.

In the dock was Joseph Alan Smith (27), described as a mechanic, and he pleaded not guilty to unlawfully killing Arthur Chapman Gargett. The prisoner was found guilty and sentenced to eight months' imprisonment in the second division, consecutive to the sentence of four months' imprisonment passed on him for the theft of the plane.

Counsel in the case were Mr. F. J. Tucker, K.C., and Mr. A. C. Burt for the prosecution; Mr. J. G. Trapnell, K.C., and Mr. J. T. Maloney (instructed by Mr. G. H. King) for the defence, and Mr. J. Scott Henderson (instructed by Mr. Eric Ward) watching on behalf of Airspeed Ltd., Portsmouth.

Mr. Tucker, opening the case for the prosecution, said that Smith was charged with the manslaughter of Gargett, the circumstances of which were somewhat unusual. It was a case of manslaughter while flying an aeroplane, and the principle was exactly the same as applied in the case of a motorcar or any other form of conveyance. Smith was employed as a mechanic by Airspeed Ltd. in August of this year, when the trouble in Spain started. On August 18 Smith, having heard some rumours about £l5O being offered for mechanics who went to Spain, told a fellow employee named Buckley that he was going to try find out if his services would be accepted. Smith later said that if he could get an aeroplane he was going to fly himself to Spain.

Very Simple!

Buckley asked him how he was going to do this—the evidence would show that Smith had never flown a plane before—and Smith said, "Oh well, these machines are simple to fly. Once you get them in the air they fly themselves."  Asked how he would get on for landing the machine when he got to Spain, Smith said he might crash but there would not be much damage as it was a wooden machine.

Counsel added that Smith inquired the way to use a compass and in the evening went with Gargett to Mr. Turner, the Airspeed Publicity Manager, and inquired if he would require two mechanics. It transpired that Smith was referring to aeroplanes which he (Smith) understood were going to be flown to Spain. Mr. Turner said that the aeroplanes were not going to Spain and advised Smith to forget all about it, saying that he could do nothing for him.

The Take-Off

The prisoner's brother drove Smith and Gargett to the neighbourhood of the aerodrome early on the day of the crash and at about 7.30 a.m. Mr. Coleman, the Airspeed test pilot was looking out of his bedroom window at the Aero Club and saw an Airspeed Courier taxiing along as if the pilot was trying to take off but was unable to do so.  The machine was gathering flying speed and swerving to the right. It made three or four attempts to get off the ground. Mr. Coleman was getting on some clothing to go and see what was happening when he heard a crash.

Witnesses would be called to prove that the aeroplane got into the air to a height of eight to twelve feet, flew vertically with its right wing pointing to the ground and crashed into some trees on the ramparts. The defendant and Gargett received injuries, Gargett dying in hospital as a result of September 4.   Evidence would show that Smith had been an apprentice in the Air Force from 1925 to 1929 but had never flown a machine. Moreover, never had he had a pilot's licence of any sort.  The questions he asked about the aeroplane before he started were sufficient to show that he knew precious little about flying an aeroplane.

"Reckless or Mad Escapade"

"Can you conceive a more reckless or mad escapade? Can you conceive that it could possibly have had any other ending?  The prosecution say that these facts indicated a criminal and reckless disregard for life, and we invite the jury to say that it is the clearest possible case of manslaughter."  He submitted that it made no possible difference whatever if Gargett took off voluntarily with Smith.

Evidence Called

Evidence for the prosecution, bearing out Counsel's statement, was given by David Patrick Buckley, an Airspeed employee of 32, Shaftesbury Road Southsea; three eye witnesses of the crash, William George Griffin, Herbert Botterell and Robert Maysey; Morris William Smith, brother of the defendant; Major Samuel John Vincent Fill, Assistant Inspector of Accidents for the Air Ministry, Mr. Cyril H. A. Coleman, Airspeed test pilot; Mr. David Mac Lean Brown, of the Aetonautical Inspection Department; Det.-Sergeant Young, and P.C. Boylan, of the Portsmouth City Police Force; Dr. Robert Gardener, of the Royal Portsmouth Hospital; and A. G. Felton and E. G. Stevens, who stated that Smith never had a pilot's licence and had never done any flying in the Air Force.

The Defence

Mr. Trapnell unsuccessfully submitted that there was no criminal negligence to go before the jury. All they knew was that there were two men who went up in an aeroplane and crashed. There was nothing to show that any wrong act was done or that any negligence caused the crash, and all the evidence was that there had been a civil trespass.

Mr. Tucker replied that there was ample evidence that the accused man was carrying out his expressed intention of flying the plane to Spain. If that were so, the very act itself was the grossest kind of negligence that could to imaginable. The negligence was going into the machine and even attempting to raise it from the ground. His Lordship ruled against Mr. Trapnell, who called no evidence but addressed the jury.

"Might Be Completely Innocent"

Mr. Trapnell told the jury they had no right to guess, and to ignore the possibility that there might be a cause which would make the defendant completely innocent. He suggested that there was no evidence at all that Smith was the man who was actually flying the machine; it might have been the other man. Nobody had given them the actual information. It was true that two days before the accident occurred, Smith had been talking about going to Spain, but both he and Gargett had shown keenness to get to Spain. "Can you satisfy yourself that the man in the dock was the one piloting the machine?" he asked. He submitted that there had been no actual evidence that the machine was airworthy after certain alterations and adjustments. The stalling and crashing of the machine might have been brought about without the negligence of the pilot.

There was no evidence that Gargett had any experience of flying, and if he might have been the pilot, Smith must be acquitted.

Judge's Summing Up.

His Lordship, summing up, said that this was an interesting case because it was an unusual one. "There is one man in the Court," he said, "who knows perfectly well whether he was piloting the aeroplane or not, and he has the right in the law of the country to come and tell you so on oath. There he has sat and he has not ventured into the witness box. He sits there and listens to his counsel's suggestions that his friend was the author of his own death, when he knows definitely one way or the other."

It was for the jury to say whether or not the prosecution had made out, without any reasonable doubt, that Smith was a mechanic and not a pilot, and that he was setting out to pilot the machine to Spain in the hope of £l5O reward.  

If they came to that conclusion it would not surprise them that the crash had come, and it was open to them to find that Gargett lost his life through Smith's criminal negligence.

After a retirement of less then ten minutes the jury found Smith guilty.

Eight Months In Second Division

Supt. J. W. Turner said that the prisoner was a married man with one child. He was still serving a sentence of four months' imprisonment passed at the Portsmouth Police Court for stealing the Airspeed Courier involved in the crash. Addressing Smith, Mr. Justice Charles said. "You have been, and I think quite rightly, found guilty. You stole an aeroplane valued at £3,400, and you took this desperate and horrible risk, resulting in this man's. I death think you received a very lenient sentence for the theft of the aeroplane. You will be kept in prison in the second division for eight months consecutive to the sentence you are now serving."
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pomme homme
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« Reply #9 on: May 17, 2018, 10:20:07 AM »

Thank you, Noel. That's fascinating - but it does no credit whatsoever to the British criminal justice system of the time! Firstly, and curiously, neither leading nor junior counsel for Smith seem to have taken - or even mentioned - the issue of causation in their client's defence (although I accept that the Hampshire Telegraph may have selectively reported the trial) and there is no reference to expert medical evidence being called for the defence concerning the proximate cause of Gargett's death. Secondly, despite Smith having exercised his right not to give evidence and, apparently, the prosecution having offered no evidence as to who was in control of the Courier when it took off and crashed (from which one must assume that the police neglected to take a witness statement from Gargett before he died), the trial judge appears obliquely to have encouraged the jury to substitute their own opinions for the absence of the necessary prosecution evidence and thus come to the very conclusion which he said they should not reach unless the prosecution had established this beyond reasonable doubt! Thirdly, despite the apparent absence of evidence of actus reus, the jury convicted Smith in ten minutes. I sincerely hope that Smith appealled! But maybe he didn't because he was sentenced only to another eight months imprisonment (which seems lenient by reference to the trial judge's remarks on sentencing), he knew who was flying the Courier and, perhaps, he felt a moral (even if there was not legal) responsibility for Gargett's death. I suspect that we will never know.
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Craggs
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« Reply #10 on: May 19, 2018, 08:04:27 AM »

Pomme Homme,

You are very welcome - and although the chances of me getting into an aeroplane again are extremely thin, I do love aircraft and aviation in general.

I've been through the newspaper archives again to try to find out (a)  where Gargett was buried, and (b) if Smith appealed.

I can't find any reference to Gargett's funeral.

I can't find any reference to Smith lodging an appeal - but I did find this newspaper article about the inquest - or lack of it - which sheds a bit more light on why he didn't give evidence at the Assizes - he had admitted to a local Police Officer at the crash site that he was the pilot ! !

Portsmouth Evening News - Wednesday 11 November 1936

PORTSMOUTH PLANE CRASH

ADJOURNED INQUEST

VICTIM’S MULTIPLE INJURIES


Mr. P. H. Childs, the Portsmouth City Coroner conducted an adjourned inquiry, which was still further adjourned, into the circumstances surrounding the death of the victim of the air crash at Hilsea Ramparts on August 20.  His name is Arthur Chapman Gargett (22), late of 11a, Northover Road, Copnor, who died at the Royal Portsmouth Hospital on September 4.

The Coroner said that as a certain man, Joseph Alan Smith, had been charged with manslaughter in connexion with the death of the deceased man, the inquiry came under Section 20 of the Coroners' Amendment Act, of 1926, and the jury would in all probability not be called upon to inquire into the case any further.  It was his duty to adjourn the case further.

Arthur James Allen, of 84, Wadham Road, North End, Secretary of the Patternmakers’ Association, gave forma! evidence of identification.

Multiple Injuries

Dr. Robert Gardiner, of the Royal Portsmouth Hospital, said that the deceased man was brought to the casualty department on August 20 shortly before 9 o’clock.  He was conscious.  He was suffering from severe shock and multiple injuries, including a compound dislocation of the right knee joint, fracture of the flbia and tibia of the left leg, extensive bruising of the left leg from knee to ankle, and an incised Wound at the back of the right heel.  There were-also multiple minor injuries to the head, face and body generally, and shock.

His shock was treated and they were able next day to deal satisfactorily with his injuries.  After that he progressed fairly favourably except a septic condition persisted in the dislocated knee joint. He developed mild pneumonia, but from this he recovered satisfactorily.  Unfortunately after this it became necessary to treat the septic knee joint which involved a stoppage of the treatment of the actual dislocation, but in every other respect the man continued to do well until September 2 when witness saw him in the evening and he compained of stiffness of the neck.

Signs of Tetanus

Witness regarded this as of the rheumatic type of condition. Next morning, however, when he saw him he was beginning to have the stiffness of the jaw and he treated him. The same evening witness thought that he was going worse and after the serum treatment witness found next day that he was definitely worse.  He was having generalized spasms which pointed to an aggravation of tetanus. He died on September 4 and on September 6 in conjunction with Dr. H. H. Fisk he made post mortem examination. The external injuries were in accordance with what he had written on an oifficial form and as already mentioned in evidence. There were no internal injuries. In his opinion death was caused through tetanus due to infected wounds with an aggravated septic absorption from such wounds.  Dr, H. H. Fisk, said that from the clinical description outlined by Dr. Gardiner and the post mortem findings he corroborated the other doctor's evidence.

The Wrecked Aeroplane

P.C. A. F. Cox, said that at 8 a.m. on August 20 he accompanied PC. Boyland to the Portsmouth Airport.  On his arrival in the north west corner of the Airport he saw the wreckage of an aeroplane on the north side of the ramparts.  Lying nearby were two men, one the deceased man and the other Joseph Alan Smith. Smith stated he piloted the plane and Gargett was the passenger. With the assistance of P.C. Boyland and the ground staff of Airspeed. Ltd., he dressed the wounds of the injured men and conveyed them to the Royal Portsmouth Hospital.

Inquiry Adjourned

The Coroner said that was as far they could go because he had received intimation from the Clerk to the Justices that the man mentioned, Joseph Alan Smith, had been brought before the Justices charged with manslaughter and by the Justices was committed for trial at the next Winchester Assizes. 

They are to be held next month and it was necessary to formally adjourn his inquiry until after the hearing of the case. He had to name a date for the adjourned hearing but the jury would probably not be called upon again. The law, however, said they must adjourn and he ordered the adjournment until December 21, by which time the Assize trial would be over.
______________________________________________________________

So Pomme Homme, it appears that your observations about Smith not appealing are correct, and I agree that he got off lightly.  The Hampshire Telegraph may have selectively reported the trial and a mention of Smith admitting to PC Cox that he was the pilot would have helped.  I'm sure PC Cox would have given evidence - I would be very surprised if he didn't.  As for Smith not giving evidence and the trial Judge's remarks - that was probably just about acceptable in 1936 and he has basically said that Smith was within his rights not to give evidence but don't give him any credit for not doing so.
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pomme homme
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« Reply #11 on: May 19, 2018, 17:16:15 PM »

These newspaper reports are very odd - and difficult to reconcile. I suspect the only real answers are likely to lie in the transcripts of the inquest and the two trials.

The Hampshire Telegraph reports that leading counsel for the defence averred that 'there was no evidence at all that Smith was the man who was actually flying the machine' and the judge's summing up suggests that no evidence had been called by the prosecution to show that Smith had been at the controls (I choose not to describe his act as flying - which generally is considered to comprise not only being in the air but also controlling the aeroplane!). No mention is made of P.C. Cox giving evidence at trial or that his evidence was that Smith admitted to him, when questioned immediately after the crash, that he had been the pilot. Even though such evidence is hearsay, which per se is inadmissible, I believe that such evidence would have been admissible as an exception to the hearsay rule because it was an admission of 'something relevant to the charge' (subject to the caveat that I do not know whether the law on this point was different in 1936). If that is the case, I can't see why the leading counsel would have bothered to run 'no evidence of who was the pilot' as part of Smith's defence. However on this issue I'll re-iterate my surprise that the police did not taken a statement from Gargett, before he died, as to who was at the controls of the aeroplane because, after Gargett's death, that statement could have been adduced in evidence because the hearsay rule would not apply in these circumstances (unless, again, the law was different in 1936).

Still the thing that vexes me most is that causation did not, apparently, form part of Smith's defence. The inquest into Gargett's death had opened before the manslaughter trial took place and so the defence would - or, at least, should - have been aware of Dr. Gardiner's evidence that: 'in his opinion death was caused through tetanus due to infected wounds with an aggravated septic absorption from such wounds'. I presume - although I have no medical expertise - that even in 1936 tetanus and sepsis were treatable if diagnosed and treated prompty. But if Dr. Gardiner was the treating physician, presumably he wouldn't admit that he failed to treat Gargett adequately and that his failure was the proximate cause of Gargett's death! Thus I would have expected that the defence would, at least, have sought expert medical evidence as to the cause of Gargett's death. Had that evidence borne out what Dr. Gardiner said in evidence at the inquest, then I would have seen merit in arguing that the chain of causation had been broken by the failure to treat Gargett adequately with the consequence that, even if it be established that Smith was at the controls of the aeroplane and that it was his recklessness alone that caused it to crash, injuring Gargett, this was not the proximate cause of his death, which was the failure adequately to treat the tetanus and sepsis.

And finally, it should not be forgotten that under English law there is a presumption of innocence and it is for the prosecution to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the accused is guilty of the crime with which he/she is charged. Thus I do not consider it reprehensible for an accused to decline to give evidence and put the prosecution to proof of its case. It would be a black day for society if that were to be changed, substituting a presumption of guilt and requiring each of us to prove that we are not guilty. A country with such a legal system could not be viewed as civilised.  

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Craggs
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« Reply #12 on: May 19, 2018, 20:01:52 PM »


And finally, it should not be forgotten that under English law there is a presumption of innocence and it is for the prosecution to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the accused is guilty of the crime with which he/she is charged. Thus I do not consider it reprehensible for an accused to decline to give evidence and put the prosecution to proof of its case. It would be a black day for society if that were to be changed, substituting a presumption of guilt and requiring each of us to prove that we are not guilty. A country with such a legal system could not be viewed as civilised.  

............. and I could not agree more - totally and absolutely. 
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