Author’s reflection’s on grisly past

Author John Eddleston
Author John Eddleston

A Billinge true crime writer is preparing to lift the lid on historic scandals of British justice for his latest series of books.

John Eddleston, who was brought worked for several years in St Helens town centre, but now lives in Sussex, has penned 23 works covering grisly subjects including murders and the use of the death penalty since becoming an author in 1997.

For his latest series of books John, who lived in Worsley Mesnes and Goose Green before moving south in 1995, is looking into a series of crimes for which the wrong person was almost certainly found guilty and put to death.

The first book in the new series looks at a train murder from 1910 in Newcastle and readers are sure to be gripped as not only does John seek to exonerate the man held up as responsible, John Alexander Dickman, but names who he believes to be the real killer.

John, 63, said: “The new series will examine individual cases. One is done and I’ve got the next four ready to research.

“They’re all called ‘The murder of...’ and then the person’s name. In effect the state murdered them because I believe they were innocent.

“In the Newcastle case I’m in touch with one of Dickman’s descendants, one of his great-great grandchildren. She likes the conclusion I have come to and I have actually named the killer too.

“She’s trying to re-open the case, but some relatives aren’t too keen because of the publicity it will bring. If they want to they will have to approach the Home Office.

“I’m also writing about an Oxford crime, a Staffordshire one and also the very first execution carried out in London. All these people were almost certainly innocent.”

John’s new book tells the story of Dickman, a professional gambler who was hanged for the murder of wages clerk John Nisbet whose body was found in a railway carriage outside Newcastle.

John started working in the true crime field by writing a book called Murderous Sussex and produced six titles in his first year of being an author. His prolific output now includes accounts of the crime history of Derbyshire and Birmingham, an encyclopaedia of British executions and a book on Jack the Ripper which took 12 years of on-off work to research.

His interest in true crime has even taken him to the TV studio, appearing on a programme by well-known presenter and journalist Fred Dinenage about James Hanratty, one of the last people in the UK to be put to death for murder.

He says it is the reality of true crime which makes the area so fascinating to work in rather than crime fiction and says his research has also uncovered some rather uncomfortable facts about the history of Britain’s justice system.

He said: “Crime novels and TV series are always read or watched by big audiences and crime itself fascinates, but to me true crime is of interest because all these so-called stories really happened.

“The victims really died adn the people thought responsible really faced the dock and the judges. Although I read a lot of crime fiction I think it’s definitely more interesting to look at real crimes, people and events.

“I’ve done research on 865 different executions and I reckon more than 100 of them were innocent people put to death. That’s about one in eight.

“I do a lot of lecturing on cruise ships and a lot of people come up to me afterwards and say they were previously in favour of hanging but after listening to me talk about my research they’re not so sure.

“I’m not going to tell anybody they are wrong, all I want to do is make people think, because I reckon if there was a referendum capital punishment would be brought back.”

Before becoming an author John worked for the Midland Bank in branches including Skelmersdale and St Helens and also spent time as a salesman.

He then did a degree as a mature student and taught maths and history, taking up a post in Sussex at a boys’ school near Arundel.

He now works full time writing, researching and doing public speaking about true crime, assisted by his wife Yvonne, 64.

He said: “We go to the Public Record Office and the National Archives and we will split the cases between us. You pick out the files you want, sometimes it’s a few pages and sometimes it’s several boxes.

“You read the documents and the statements, see the crime scene photos, read about the events leading up to a crime, look at the inquest proceeedings and come to your own conclusions.

“I always start from scratch, even with a famous case I never presume the person is automatically guilty.”

John Eddleston’s latest book, The Murder of John Alexander Dickman, is out now.