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Summary

Court Number One of the Old Bailey is the most famous court room in the world and the venue of some of the most sensational human dramas ever to be played out in a criminal trial.  

The principal criminal court of England, historically reserved for the more serious and high-profile trials, Court Number One opened its doors in 1907 after the building of the 'new' Old Bailey. In the decades that followed it witnessed the trials of the most famous and infamous defendants of the 20th century. It was here that the likes of Madame Fahmy, Lord Haw Haw, John Christie, Ruth Ellis, George Blake (and his unlikely jailbreakers, Michael Randle and Pat Pottle), Jeremy Thorpe and Ian Huntley were defined in history, alongside a wide assortment of other traitors, lovers, politicians, psychopaths, spies, con men and - of course - the innocent.   

Not only notorious for its murder trials, Court Number One recorded the changing face of modern British society, bearing witness to alternate attitudes to homosexuality, the death penalty, freedom of expression, insanity and the psychology of violence. Telling the stories of 12 of the most scandalous and celebrated cases across a radically shifting century, this audiobook traces the evolving attitudes of Britain, the decline of a society built on deference and discretion, the tensions brought by a more permissive society and the rise of trial by mass media.  

From the Sunday Times best-selling author of Jeremy Hutchinson's Case Histories, Court Number One is a mesmerising window onto the thrills, fears and foibles of the modern age. 

©2019 Thomas Grant (P)2019 Hodder & Stoughton Limited

What listeners say about Court Number One

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Engrossing collection of trials

A well-chosen selection of trials from different eras, so well-described I felt the proceedings were happening as I listened. Some trials are recent and more familiar but no less gripping as the details unfold. By choosing trials from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries changes in social attitudes are clearly demonstrated and, in some instances, made me cringe at the obnoxious racist and sexist comments.
The narrator is excellent and, unlike some reviewers, I thought his voice suited the material.

5 people found this helpful

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Important and Engrossing

I thoroughly enjoyed Thomas Grant's previous book (The Case Histories of Jeremy Hutchinson) but this is even better. While COURT NUMBER ONE details all the gruesome forensic evidence a true crime reader might crave, it also lives up to its title in providing a compelling account of how the conduct of trials at the Old Bailey has helped "define modern Britain". Grant clearly holds the British legal system in high regard, but this does not blind him to the hypocrisy, incompetence and sheer eccentricity of many of its practitioners. He skewers judicial pomposity and class/racial prejudice throughout the book, bursting the balloon of inflated reputations (not least Edward Marshall-Hall and George Carman), while acknowledging the fine art of advocacy and the tremendous strain under which legal teams operate. There is a parade of villains here (from John Reginald Christie to Ian Huntley), whose pathological motivations are probed with insight and commendable restraint, but the lasting impression is of the victims of injustice (Ruth Ellis, Edith Thompson, Timothy Evans) and the stories that led them to the gallows. The absurd nature of certain cases is wittily exposed, but tellingly Grant never loses sight of the human suffering involved in a criminal trial, exemplified in his sensitive examination of Norman Scott's treatment at the hands of Jeremy Thorpe and his 'Establishment' friends.

I was initially dubious of what I took to be Jonathan Keeble's rather self-consciously world-weary narration, but grew to appreciate his wry, unsensational approach and was ultimately moved by the understated yet heart-felt compassion he revealed in Grant's lucid prose. Overall this is an important, engrossing work - as addictive as any Netflix cold case documentary.

9 people found this helpful

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Gripping and Excellent Narration - Loved It!

This is a selection of trials from the No.1 Court. At times it is a difficult listen as the author explores the interrelationships between societal expectations, the role of the advocate and the judicial process as revealed by an examination of some of the trials at The Old Bailey. It is an eye-opener for anyone interested in the concept of the 'search for truth' within the judicial process. Some trials are very disturbing as the procedure and the adversarial nature of the courtroom seem to obsure rather than illuminate the proceedings ( the account of the trial of Timothy Evans is almost too painful to listen to). This book is not a cosy romp through sensational trials whilst waving the banner 'UK Courts are best' but it is a fascinating exploration as to how a jury may be influenced by societal norms and a skillful barrister. The narration fits the text perfectly. - spell binding!

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Absolutely fantastic

An enthralling story from start to finish. Recommend this to all, you will enjoy throughout.

1 person found this helpful

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Gripping

Enjoyed everything about this book from the compelling and diverse stories to the reflections on social norms and the law, to the common themes and stark differences over time, to the excellent narration. Learned a lot but never felt lectured. Human, painful and Moving and also wryly funny as appropriate. Fantastic.

1 person found this helpful

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Superb eulogy to the criminal trial

If all this book did was to present a modern and learned account of some of the most notable trials of the 20th century it would be worth a listen.

However it goes well beyond that. It puts into words why accounts of trials resonate with the public and why they matter to history. Anyone who has ever enjoyed trial reporting will find that Mr Grant articulates precisely why they have done so.

The accounts of the trials themselves are fair, witty and detailed with a slightly archaic tone that recalls previous works in the genre. My only very minor complaint is that one or two of the trials (most notably the Jeremy Thorpe trial) are perhaps a bit too well known for anything unexpected to emerge.

I found the narrator perfectly competent and suitable for the book. He clearly doesn't have a huge range of voices but nothing jarred or got in the way which is the most one can expect.

I can't wait for whatever Mr Grant writes next.

3 people found this helpful

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Insightful

This book was excellently narrated throughout.

The material was both interesting and insightful.

Highly recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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I was bored

There were some interesting parts, but overall I found this too detail heavy. The scene-setting before each case was rather long, and it was difficult to know how much of this was relevant to the ensuing chapter, so I felt I really had to listen. Then there were so many people and their back-stories that it just didn’t hold my attention and my mind kept wandering off. Perhaps it would have worked better as a physical book, rather than an audiobook.
The final chapter was very moving though.

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Amazing listen

Very entertaining book 5 stars all a round. The trials at the beginning of the 1900s are unbelievable and very entertaining

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An inadvertent homage to the destruction of English justice

This is a brilliantly written - perfect grammar - and brilliantly read book. But, having been enthralled to start with, I gave up when I got to the end of the Randall and Pottle case. R and P were acquitted, in a ludicrous trial, of springing the Russian spy George Blake from prison even though they admitted the offence. Blake is reckoned to have betrayed 45 MI6/Western agents to the Russians - imagine their fate.

The author fairly describes the R and P trial, including its farcical elements, but rejoices in the verdict when a jury, aided and abetted by the court, ignored the law and pronounced the not guilty verdict (as is a jury’s right).

What the book reveals to me is that English justice, over time, has become a private fiefdom for its practitioners borne of the privilege being able to live in their imaginations, a privilege denied to ordinary people who have to live in the real world.

At the same time, the book exposes the unreformed inefficiencies and huge expense of English justice. Not for nothing do lawyers only become judges or politicians - they’re not fit for anything else. Clever - brilliant indeed - but self serving, capriciously grasping fees, but functionally useless outside their private world.

How many wounds does a lawyer bind, how many mouths does a lawyer feed?