The Victorian newspapers were sometimes very quick off the mark to name suspects in murder cases, often on very spurious grounds.
Often, those suspects could do little but try and live with the sudden notoriety that the press intrusion into their lives had foisted upon them.
But, every so often, a suspect would decide to fight back and would sue the offending newspaper.
On Thursday, 11th February, 1897, Miss Elizabeth Camp had ben murdered on a train as she travelled to Waterloo Station. You can read a full account of Miss Camp’s murder in this article.
WILLIAM BROWNE NAMED AS A SUSPECT
The People proceeded to claim in an article that the motive had been one of jealousy on the part of her former lover, William Browne, and, although not actually naming him in the article, gave enough information for him to be identified by those who knew him as the perpetrator of the crime.
Browne decided to take the newspaper to court, and The Portsmouth Evening News reported on what happened next in its edition of Saturday, 4th December 1897:-
THE MURDER OF MISS CAMP – ACTION FOR LIBEL
In the Queen’s Bench Division, yesterday, Mr. Justice Darling and a Common Jury began the case of Browne v. Madge and another.
The plaintiff, who is 27 years of age, sued in respect of an alleged libel which appeared in one of the Sunday editions of the People of February 14th last, in connection with the murder of Miss Camp on the South-Western Railway.
A FORMER LOVER
An article appeared in the People suggesting that the murderer was a former lover of Miss Camp, who had taken revenge in consequence of the young woman’s approaching marriage. This, it was contended, expressly applied to the plaintiff, who had been employed as a barman a public-house in Walworth.
ENGAGED FROM MORNING TO NIGHT
The plaintiff, on the day of the murder, was engaged from early morning to night at the public-house, and consequently, it was impossible for him to be the man.
On learning, however, that he had fallen under the suspicion of the police, he gave himself up, but was discharged.
The defendant had apologised, and had offered to settle the matter.
The case was adjourned.
THE MURDER OF MISS CAMP A FORMER LOVER’S LIBEL ACTION
The Carlisle Journal reported on the final day of the hearing in its edition of Tuesday, 7th December 1897
“The hearing of the case Browne V. Madge and another was resumed on Saturday in the Queen’s Bench Division, before Mr. Justice Darling and a common jury.
The action was one for libel brought by William Browne, licensed victualler, against the proprietor of the People, who, it was alleged, published a libellous article on Sunday, the 14th February, in connection with the murder of Miss Camp on the 11th February, on the South-Western Railway.
THE MOTIVE WAS JEALOUSY
It was suggested that the crime was the outcome of jealousy on the part of a former lover, and the plaintiff asserted that that allegation applied to him.
Mr. Wild, who appeared for the plaintiff, had concluded his opening statement when the Court adjourned on Friday night, and the plaintiff was now put into the witness box.
THE ENGAGEMENT BROKEN OFF
Examined by Mr. Wild, he stated that in 1896 be was engaged as a barman at Walworth.
He was engaged to Miss Camp, but the engagement was mutually broken off in 1896.
HE MOVED ON
Witness went to the Portman Arms, in Edgeware Road, and had been there about nine months when the murder of Miss Camp happened.
The Sunday before the murder he was at the Prince Alfred, where he had previously been engaged as barman.
On the day of the murder he commenced work at five a.m., and, with the exception of his meal hours, he was at work until 10.30 at night.
FIRST KNOWLEDGE OF SUSPICION
Witness first heard of the suspicion he had fallen under through a cabman. who took in a copy of an evening paper and showed it to him, in which his name was mentioned in connection with the murder.
On the advice of his employer, the witness went to the police.
He was detained until Sunday morning, and was then dismissed.
UNABLE TO FIND EMPLOYMENT
It was whilst returning that morning to the Portman Arms that he was shown the article in the People.
Witness had ceased to be a barman at the Portman Arms, and had since been unable to find other employment.
Cross-examined by Mr. Houghton, the witness said that it was through the paragraph that appeared in the People that he left the Portman Arms, and it had also been the means of preventing him from obtaining other employment.
TWO PAPERS HAD SETTLED
Articles referring to himself as a suspect had appeared in two other papers.
He issued writs against them, and one paid him £100 and the other £75 to settle the matter. Both those papers also inserted apologies.
The People wrote him a letter, but the witness did not consider that a sufficient apology.
They also inserted an apology in the paper but it was only three or four lines.
HE WAS TEASED BY CUSTOMERS
After leaving the Portman Arms he obtained another situation, but only stopped a week.
Witness denied that he left because he had a dispute with his employer, but said that he could not endure the gibes of the customers, who used to come in and say, “Hallo, Browne, they have not hanged you yet, then?”
Witness also denied that he had said to Mr. Hawkins that he expected to get at least £3,000 out of the affair, and he was not aware that his solicitors had never demanded anything but money; he thought they had also demanded apologies.
NOBODY WOULD EMPLOY HIM
Re-examined by Mr. Wild, the witness said that he had applied for several situations, but be had been told in each case that they did not care to take anybody connected with a murder.
In one instance, a landlady, who was a widow, had told the witness that she would not think of employing him because he frightened her.
In conclusion, the witness said that the notoriety that he had gained through the suspicion that had been cast upon him had caused him considerable mental anguish.
Witness said that he had been jeered at by all the roughs of Walworth, who used to be in the habit of saying. “Come and have a look at the murderer.”
NO TRACE OF MALICE
Mr. Houghton addressed the jury for the defence and submitted that there was no trace of malice in what had been published by his clients. It was merely inadvertence.
If there had been a tittle of evidence to show that either Mr. Madge or Sir George Armstrong had anything to do with the case, or that the article had been published to gratify any private malice, he would most decidedly have put them in the box.
The jury found a verdict for the plaintiff and awarded damages of £500.”