The West Walls Murder: "horrors...perhaps unexampled in the annals of modern crime"

Clare Sandford-Couch, Helen Rutherford

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


The last public execution in Newcastle upon Tyne took place in Newcastle Gaol at 8am on Saturday 14th March 1863. George Vass had been convicted of the murder of Margaret Docherty. This paper outlines our exploration of the role played by emotions in the contemporary reporting of the judicial process in this case. It is only recently that legal scholars have shown an interest in exploring the intersections between law and emotion. Some scholarship is focused on identifying emotion in legal processes and actors. The discourse of emotions in the trial process raises questions such as: when legal systems record decisions, do they record emotions? And, what role does emotion play in the reporting of the trial? Our paper aims to contribute to this developing interdisciplinary area by exploring the presence and absence of emotions in the accounts of the Vass trial, and what part ? if any - these played in the judicial process. In particular, our paper will analyse the contemporary accounts of the case to explore what the language used reveals of the emotional responses of the dramatis personae of the judicial process and Vass himself. The legal process will be examined in its historical context and our paper seeks to explore what the language used to report the conduct of the legal professionals in the Vass case reveals about the role of emotions in the practice of law in the nineteenth century and compares the extent to which this accorded with general social and cultural attitudes to the crime as revealed in contemporary newspaper accounts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBritish Crime Historians Symposium 5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


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