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tv   The Porthole Mystery  BBC News  March 31, 2018 3:30am-4:01am BST

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this is bbc news — the headlines. the former vice—captain of the australian cricket team has apologised and said he takes full responsibility for his role in the ball—tampering scandal. david warner said he let his country down and made a bad decision in the recent test match against south africa. and he admitted he might never play for the team again. the palestinian president has blamed israel for the deaths of 16 demonstrators, after violence flared along gaza's border. mahmoud abbas called on the un to take immediate action to protect palestinians against what he called ‘escalating daily aggression‘ by israel. russia has announced that it's expelling diplomats from 23 more countries — sharply escalating a row over the poisoning of a former spy living in britain. an unofficial tally put the number of expelled diplomats at 59. now on bbc news — the porthole mystery. this is bbc home service...
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james camb, a deck steward on the liner durban castle, in other news, the shortage of water continues following the long dry spell... it was here at winchester‘s great hall in march of 1948 that one of the 20th century's most sensational murder trials took place. it had everything you would expect to find in an agatha christie novel. a dashing steward, a beautiful actress, a death on the high seas. but no body. the steward was charged with murdering the 21—year—old actress and pushing her out of the porthole. no trace of her body was ever found. and now, for the first time, we have unprecedented access to the actual case files
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for the investigation. and we can reveal evidence unheard at the trial. a trial that ended with the judge donning his black cap and passing the death sentence. james camb... the sentence of the court upon you is that you be taken from hence to a lawful prison and thence to a place of execution and that you there be hanged by the neck until you be dead. this is the story of a murder without a body. is james camb guilty or is he not guilty? we are rewriting history. i still can't make up my mind whether he did or didn't. i was in a terrible state. i said i could have saved his life. because i don't know that he did it. there must always be a question mark. when you have to rely, essentially, on circumstantial evidence. do you you find the prisoner
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at the bar, james camb, guilty or not guilty? guilty. this is the actual spot where james camb stood when he received the death sentence. he protested his innocence and ever since there has always been a debate on what really happened in cabin126. this is the actual room where a keen 21—year—old actress who dreamt of a career on stage and screen spent the last few moments of her short life. anthony brown has been studying the case for many years. he has researched every detail. it is a fascinating case. firstly, it was an alleged murder on the high seas. that's rare. secondly, there was no body. that's very unusual for a murder case. the body is normally the key bit of evidence to suggest that the victim had been unlawfully killed. when you don't have the body,
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there is a bit of debate about how did the victim died. the events began at cape town in south africa. still the home of many visiting cruise ships today. it is the city where on 10th october 1947, at duncan dock, the durban castle left for its routine voyage across the atlantic ocean to southampton. but the events that transpired on board the liner were anything but routine. what do we definitively know happened on board that ship? what can we not argue over? what are the facts? gay gibson and james camb, the steward, became friendly. on board one of the first class cabins was a young actress called gay gibson. a couple of days out, the young actress, all on her own, met up withjames camb, dashing in his steward's uniform. they had lot of intimate conversations, actually. james camb reported that gay gibson even told him that she was three months pregnant. well, james camb was 30
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years old when that fateful voyage started. at home, he had a wife and baby daughter. but that still didn't stop him from indulging in numerous affairs with lady passengers. on the middle of the voyage there was a dinner dance and james camb and gay gibson were talking. james camb goes down to her cabin. this is strictly not allowed. he's a deck steward. he has got no power to go down to her cabin. he goes down to offer her a drink from the bar. so far, there was no hint of the tragedy ahead. but in the early hours of the next morning, at two minutes to three, came the first sign that something was wrong. bells were rung from cabin 126. these bells... there is one for the steward and one for the stewardess. and they are independent? they are independent and it is most unusual when these bells get rung. what happens when these bells are rung is that the nightwatchman, his name is fred steer, he comes up from the a deck, the deck below, he goes up onto b
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deck, he walks down the port side corridor, he is looking for lights at the end of the cabin recesses. he sees one and he goes into this recess, it has four cabins at the end of it. and he sees the red and green lights are showing for cabin 126. so he goes in and knocks on the door gently. he starts to open the door and it is slammed shut in his face. does he see anything? he does. he claims he sees james camb standing in the cabin. when the durban castle arrived in england, camb was grilled at great length by the police at their southampton headquarters. he had no legal representation and still maintained his complete innocence. a detective outlines they have clear evidence that camb was seen in the room. camb changes his story and admits he was in the cabin where gay gibson died. the police formally charge him with murder. his response? i did not think it would be as serious as this. after a short conversation i got into bed with her consent.
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intimacy took place. whilst in the act of sexual intercourse, she suddenly clutched at me, foaming at the mouth. i immediately ceased the act and she was very still. i felt for her heartbeat but could not find any. i bolted the door and again tried respiration. after a few minutes, i could not find any sign of life. after a struggle with the limp body, and by the way, she was still wearing her dressing gown, i managed to lift her to the porthole and pushed her through. this is the actual statement signed by james camb on 25th october 19117. this document obviously became a key part of a very complex trial. and it's amazing that this and other vital pieces of paperwork have survived. thanks to the hampshire police
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society, the entire case file for the trial was saved from potential incineration. in fact, most of these documents haven't been seen since the legal proceedings in 19118. where did you get this from? i had a phone call from the archives of the hampshire constabulary. are you the person interested in the james camb porthole murder case? yes, iam. why? we have some papers down here you may be interested in. would you like to look at them? i said, yes, i would. i went down there within 2a hours and i was surprised by what i saw. i expected one or two pieces of paper. and to be given two large boxes of material, and when i looked at it i could clearly see they were the original papers. previously, books have been written, articles have been written, but this is the first time where all the information had been known. it was a wonderful find. after you went to the cabin, what happened next? there was a certain amount of preliminary love playing and then sexual intercourse took place. what happened in the end?
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just as intercourse would normally have come to an end. she suddenly heaved under me, as though she were gasping for breath, as though she was taking a deep breath. what happened to her body? it stiffened for a fraction of a second and then relaxed, completely limp. what did you do when her body showed the symptoms? i immediately got off the bed. she was completely relaxed, as though in a dead faint. one eye was just slightly open, her mouth was a little open, too. there was a faint line of bubbles, which i assumed to be froth, just on the edge of her lips. it was a muddy colour and appeared to be blood—flecked. what did you decide to do? i confess now, it sounds very foolish, but i hoped to give the impression that she had fallen overboard and deny all knowledge of having been to that cabin. what were you going to do then? dispose of her body by pushing it through the porthole. what did you actually do? i lifted her up and pushed her through. it was a very animated trial. overseen by justice hilbery.
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joshua casswell qc led the counsel for camb‘s defence. but by far the most flamboyant character in the great hall during the trial was geoffrey robertson qc, the leader of the counel for the prosecution. his questioning of camb was intense. would you describe yourself as a truthful man? i think so. you were the last person to see miss gibson alive? yes. you put her through the porthole at 3am on the morning of the 18th of october? yes. did you, for the next eight days, make untrue statements regarding this? idid, yes. when did you decide to alter your story? in the police headquarters. why? i realised by then that i was definitely incriminated by steer. don't you call that curious conduct for a truthful person? i should say, it was beastly conduct. you were quite satisfied that you had not been identified as the man in the cabin? yes, i thought so at the time. so what necessity was there to do
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anything but slip out of the cabin? my intention was to give the impression she had disappeared of her own accord. if she was found dead in her cabin, no one could know if anyone had been in there. enquiries might have been made and i might have been incriminated. the early part of the prosecution asked a number of times whether he had given an honest account and he had to concede that he hadn't because he had changed his story. can you imagine what it must have been like to be on trial here? the judge, sat under king arthur's round table, the jury clinging onto your every word. the very place where sir walter raleigh was told he was to be hung, drawn and quartered. now you're in the dock, fighting for your life. what we need, to get a flavour of the atmosphere at the time, is to find someone who was actually here. in 19118, peggy durante was just 18 years old.
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she was the jury's summoning officer and still clearly remembers the time james camb took to the dock. he was a very debonair little chap, he could hardly see above the dock! of course, in his uniform, he looked quite suave. however, in the great hall, things took an unexpected turn for peggie when, like gay gibson, she was pushed through the porthole. it was during the lunch hour. there was nobody in court except myself and a couple of policemen. and as i happened to be there... they said, peg, do you think that you could get through the porthole? no, i couldn't get through there. they lifted me up and i had to go very, very limp. for years, i never even thought about it. i still can't make up my mind whether he did or didn't.
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there's doubts in my mind. the story of the trial and the tragic events have been mentioned in many publications. but perhaps one of the strangest references is actually in a book about one of my comedy heroes. sid james was one of britain's much loved stars. i can remember watching carry on films on video many, many times. but one of the claims is that he had a link to gay gibson. in a biography written by author cliff goodwin, he alleges sid james had an affair with gay gibson in 19116. he also stated that after her death, sid was questioned by police upon suspicion of arranging her murder. if it wasn't so serious it would be hilarious. i mean, sid's involvement with gay gibson is complete and utter nonsense. what advice would you give to a man asked tojudge a beauty contest for the first time?
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leave your wife at home, mate! people think of sid james as the carry on actor and hancock's half hour and all that. but he was a massive star in south africa. then he came to england to make his fortune. i did a lot of research on this and the bottom line here is that gay gibson was not in south africa in 19116. there is no evidence at all! but unfortunately, because of this book and because of the internet and you can search the case and it comes up with sid james every single time, he is now associated with this case. a lot of people forget that the carry on actors, they are real people, they'rejust actors playing parts. despite the allegations published by author cliff goodwin, there's nothing mentioned in the formal police files about any investigation of sid james. in your association with miss gibson in her cabin that night, you received no injuries from her at all? to the best of my knowledge, no. you are not suggesting some of them were caused by miss gibson? some of them might have been. what i said was that i had caused the original scratches. this is what you said in your statement... i received no injury of any sort while in the company of miss gibson. do you want to alter that now?
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no. these are the actual photographs taken by the police of the scratches onjames camb‘s body. the medical aspects of the case are obviously a key part of what was supposed to help the jury decide upon the actual events of the time. what we need, though, is more clear information about gay gibson, the state of her health. remarkably, i've managed to track down someone who was with gay in 19117. just before she boarded the durban castle for that fateful voyage. her last performance in south africa was in a play called golden boy. in the cast was a young lady who would later become a familiar face on british television in the sitcom one foot in the grave. she wasn't a well girl. and this is important because it was part of what i gave to the defence when they came out to see me. i saw her faint during rehearsal.
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i knew that she went blue. i knew nothing about medicine, really. but they said, oh, this is a heart condition she's got. when she went blue, how did she go blue? round her mouth. really? yes. and what about her hands? yes, she bit her nails and her hands went sort of blueish. i don't know... i remember this. we shared a dressing room and she was very kind and warm and friendly. but this was somebody who knew about travel and knew about being with important people and so on. and she had older boyfriends. i remember her having a big argument with mike abel. and accusing him of making her pregnant. doreen originally wanted to come to england to help the defence team by giving evidence about gay's poor health. but her father talked her out of going.
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however, her colleague, mike abel, did make the journey. what was your general impression of her health? that she was ill. time and again, at my house, when i held a party for her and the cast, she went out into the garden and fainted. on another occasion she was walking across the road outside the theatre and suddenly fainted in the centre. you were there then and saw her faint? yes. did you notice anything about her face then? i noticed that in the corners of her mouth was white saliva. did you notice anything about her lips? there was a slight blueish colour. the health of gay gibson is an incredibly important part of this trial. in fact, you could argue that the verdict really depends on it. why? if gay gibson did suffer from any sort of health condition that could have led to sudden, natural death, it increases the chances of misadventure or even manslaughter. in other words, james camb could be telling the truth. you're the mother of eileen gibson?
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yes. i'm very proud to be the mother of eileen gibson. generally speaking, for the whole of her life, how was her health? excellent. she was one of the finest types of english womanhood. physically, mentally and morally. in december 1916, did you hear that she had been taken ill? never. did you know your daughter was going about with several men in johannesburg? my daughter was not going about with men. she was not interested in men. her career was her life. did you know that she was telling everybody that she was pregnant? my daughter was not pregnant. the account of gay gibson's character as described by her own mother simply doesn't fit with what other witnesses from the time have said. it does seem that most people were aware of her having some form of a problem. and there might be one way that we can definitely find out.
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within the police files saved by the hampshire police society from destruction, there is an item that actually belonged to gay. her hair brush. and on it, some very obvious strands of hair. could these hold genetic information about her health? after a lot of research, i managed to track down one of the world's leading organisations for genetic examinations. based in the united states, they are the people who could tell me what secrets the hair on the brush could be holding. what can we actually get from the hair, bearing in mind it is 70 years old? after 70 years, and particularly on hair, the dna information that you would acquire would be mitochondrial dna information. unfortunately, it would not have information, really, relating to a disease state in your victim. it is very frustrating. this actually belonged to gay gibson. it hasn't been back in the great
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hall since the events of march 19118. and it seems the technology isn't practical enough to tell us what may live within the actual strands and follicles that sit upon the brush. but maybe one day it can give us a true picture of gay gibson's health. the future could really be the key to the past. but the mystery doesn't end there. thanks to one other item belonging to gay gibson. what happened was that on the morning that gay gibson disappeared, eileen field went into the cabin and noticed her yellow dressing gown and the black pyjamas were missing. no one gave any thought to it. until the trial came here, to the great hall. because whenjames camb took to the witness box, he said that gay gibson was naked underneath the yellow dressing gown. therefore, they should be in the cabin. where are they? they're not there. they're missing. within the official police files, there is a statement from a man who walked into cheltenham police
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station a couple of months after the trial and told the officers a very interesting story. now the news headlines. john langham... he claimed he had a conversation in a pub with a guy called john langham. john langham was a well—known household name of the time. he said that langham had told him that his dentist had shown him gay's black pyjamas and told him he had slept with her on the durban castle prior to her involvement with james camb. but could this really be true? they were both dead so i couldn't confirm it. but i thought i could refute it. how could i do that? well, i would just show that there was no dentist travelling first class on gay gibson's voyage. the story is then false. so i got the list out and started to run my finger down the columns. there is no dentist here. this is false. until i got to name number 58. the second bottom on the list. dental surgeon. a dentist, there was a dentist travelling first class on gay's voyage.
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what is the chance there was a dentist on every voyage? well, what i decided to do to check that was to take a large sample of union castle liners that were travelling from cape town to southampton in 19117. i looked at a further eight. in addition to the durban castle. i looked at the first—class passengers and they totalled 900 passengers. how many of them were dentists? three. three in 900? the only dentist of the right age and single happened to be on... on that very voyage? this report could add credence to camb‘s story. he said there were no black pyjamas there. there weren't. they told southampton police about it but as far as i can tell, no more investigations were carried out. this material could have completely changed the verdict of the jury. these documented events clearly support camb‘s insistence that she was not wearing any pyjamas. it could have been enough to convince them that camb was an honest man and to believe his whole story. this evidence wasn't available
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at the time of the trial. and on march 22nd 19118, in front of a packed public gallery, james camb heard the verdict. members of the jury, are you all agreed on your verdict? yes. do you find the prisoner at the bar, james camb, guilty or not guilty? guilty. do you remember the sentencing? i remember the sentencing, yes. i don't think he showed much emotion. on the night he was sentenced to death, my brother phoned me and said the verdict has come through. i was in a terrible state.
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i said, i could have saved his life. because i don't know that he did it. to conclude, i would like to quote joshua casswell, camb‘s barrister. he said, "no one can be sure about what happened in this case, except james camb himself. " james camb, you stand convicted of murder. my lords, at the opening of this case i was asked to plead guilty or not guilty. i pleaded not guilty and i repeat that statement now. james camb, the sentence of the court upon you is that you be taken from hence to a lawful prison and thence to a place of execution and that you there be hanged by the neck until you be dead. and may the lord have mercy upon your soul. my opinion about the case
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is the prosecution had a strong case but there will always be question marks over circumstantial evidence. so what actually happened to james camb? well, just weeks after the verdict and an unsuccessful appeal, parliament discussed a no—hanging bill and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. winston churchill even felt the need to comment on camb‘s escape from the gallows. in parliament, he said: in 1959, camb was released from prison and in his only interview, continued to protest his innocence. he was later arrested again for other sexual offences.
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but the only accusation he ever faced of being violent was at the trial of 19118. the events surrounding this detailed case are still debated today. but maybe one day we will know the undisputed truth behind the porthole mystery. some of us have been seeing some fine is whether so far and will againa day fine is whether so far and will again a day ahead, but in eastern scotla nd again a day ahead, but in eastern scotland and northern wales, plenty of clout around, still a bit of sleet and snow in the higher ground as well. there will be a few breaks in the cloud here and there and parts of south—west england, western fringes of wales, north—west england and into northern ireland. really quite cold towards the coast of eastern scotland and north—east england, the north—easterly wind nowhere particularly warm. a lot of the patchy rain, sleet and snow dies away on saturday night, and there will be ‘s —— frosty night for us,
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as we start easter sunday. then it will be a dry day though some showers here and there. more heavy rain arriving to south—eastern england on sunday night, some sun around the further north you are. she did welcome to bbc news, broadcasting to viewers in north america and around the globe. my name is nkem ifejika. our top stories: more tears as australian cricket hits rock bottom. former vice—captain david warner apologises for his role in the ball—tampering scandal and admits he might never play for the team again. ta ke full take full responsibility for my part in what happened, and i am deeply sorry for the consequences of what i was involved in. 16 palestinians are reported killed and hundreds injured after israeli forces clash with protesters on the gaza border. russia expels diplomats from 23 countries — as the spy row continues to stoke east—west tensions. a bus fire brings one
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of britain's busiest airports to a standstill.
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