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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Chapter IX. — Meikle's Warning and Troup's Secret

Chapter IX.

Meikle's Warning and Troup's Secret.

Meikle's Appeal to the Police.

It may seem like gilding refined gold to carry the case any further, and yet there are two additional points, of which neither was before the jury which convicted Meikle, and both, are of such vital importance that it would be improper to omit them The first is, that a month before the police searched, and a fortnight before the date of the alleged crime, Meikle applied to the police for protection against the very trap into which he ultimately fell! The interview was thus described by Detective Ede, the leader of the search party, when under cross-examination by Meikle before the Justices in November, 1887:—

"I saw you at Invercargill on the 3rd or 4th of last month. We I had a conversation. You said you had been informed that sheep and sheepskins were to be put on your land by the Company. You told me that two men were to get £50 each, as soon as you were arrested." (C. 21.)

In the Supreme Court the evidence was ruled to be inadmissible and the questions put by Meikle's counsel to Detective Ede on the point were disallowed. Before the Commission, Detective Ede being dead, the statement was allowed to go in from the depositions; and its importance can hardly be exaggerated. In the first place, it proves that the most improbable part of the story in which all the members of the Meikle family were agreed—viz., that Lambert had talked freely of being offered for the placing of sheep and skins on Meikle's property in order 'to put him away"—was true, page 32 since it is not suggested that Meikle can have got the information which he passed on to the police from anybody Secondly, it shows that Meikle's confidence in Lambert was not so absolute as the latter represented. Thirdly, and a all, it proves that on receipt of the information Meikle acted exactly as any innocent man would have acted if warned than a plot was in preparation against him—he informed the police and asked them to protect him.

Far-fetched and Impossible.

Prima facie at any rate the action was that of an innocent man, but it is suggested by counsel for the Crown that it was really a ruse to avert suspicion. This charitable theory seems too far-fetched to deserve elaborate refutation. Where a crime would leave ineffaceable traces, there would be some point in the intending criminal announcing that somebody else was seeking to trap him. Such a device might conceivable have been employed to explain the presence of the sheep But what possible application could it have to the skins? Five minutes' work would have disposed of these most telling evidences of guilt at any time, and who but an idiot could suppose that he would be in a stronger position by carefully preserving the skins after his communication to the police than by destroying them promptly, whether he had informed the police or not ? Here again the charity of the prosecution has to impute idiocy no less than wickedness to the accused in order to put a criminal construction upon an innocent action. Meikle certainly did precisely what an innocent man would have done after receiving such communications as he himself, his wife and his sons, his servants—Harvey and Mrs. Shiels—and his nurse—Mrs. Howe—all swear to have been made by Lambert and an opposite interpretation must be rejected as untenable by anybody who is not so blinded by malice or prejudice as to seek to wrest everything to the injury of the accused.

Mr. Troup's Indiscretion.

The other new point of supreme importance was necessarily not before the jury in 1887, because it did not arise till about a year afterwards. Robert Troup was manager of Islay Station at the time of Meikle's conviction, and he figured as the most highly respectable member of the Company's team both in 1887 and on his first appearance before the mission in 1906. The following evidence as to statements made by him about the end of 1888, when he was leaving the Company's employ, was given before the Commission :—
1.Mrs. Meikle: "I told him I had heard he could take my husband out of goal, that he had letters in his possession which would clear him; and I asked him if that were so He said, 'Yes, your husband has no right to be there, and have letters in my possession.' I said, 'Why don't you turn page 33 round and clear my husband when you see my starving, children with no one to look after them.' He said, 'I would do it, but it would put others in.' I said, 'If you give me those letters I will give you £100*.'" (C. 155/470.)

John Templeton: "Do you remember meeting him [Troup], after Meikle was in gaol?"—"Yes, I met him at the Farmers' Arms Hotel." "Any one else present?"—" Mr. Mabin"

"How much of the conversation do you remember?"—"I cannot remember the words, but I can tell you the meaning of the words. It was that Troup had it in his power in some shape or form to help Meikle out of gaol. That was the inference I drew from it." (C. 78/617-8, 621-3.)

3.James Mabin: "I asked Troup to come into the hotel, and he came, and a general conversation came up. Meikle's-case came up. He said he had documents in his possession that would get Meikle out of gaol. I said he had better be careful, or he would get into the same place as Meikle." (C. 88/308.)
4.Christina Beange: "You heard him [Troup] pass a remark. What was it he said ?"—" Well, it was to the effect that hs had a bit of paper in his pocket, and he could release Meikle—that just six worjis from him would release Meikle or let Meikle out." (C. 216/125.).
5.William Beange: "What was it he [Troup] said?"—"As far as I can remember, half-a-dozen words from him would let Meikle out." (C. 218/199.)
6.John Johnston: "I heard him [Troup] remarking that he had documents, or some papers, by which he could take Mr. Meikle out of gaol if he liked." (C. 220/273.)
7.Bella Johnston: "He [Troup] said he had a little bit of paper, and he said that one word from him would take Meikle out of gaol." (C. 221/346.)
8.James Christie: "He [Troup] seemed to feel going away from the station very much, and he threw out some sort of a threat that things might be worse for me and the Company if he were not retained. And what I recall more vividly than anything else was his saying, 'A word from me would bring Meikle out.'" (C. 22¾04.)

Every single one of these statements was denied by Troup but his word obviously cannot prevail against eight dependent witnesses of unimpeachable character, of whom only three (Mrs. Meikle, Mabin, and Christie) were subject to any imputation of bias, and two (Mrs. Beange and Mrs. Johnston were conceded by Mr. Justice Edwards to be "very respectable."—(C. 270.)

page 34

What was the Secret?

It is, however, suggested that Troup spoke from pique a losing his employment with the Company, and that he must not be taken to have meant what he said. Certainly the witnesses were practically in agreement as to the disappointment and annoyance under which Troup was labouring when he spoke. But it is remarkable that of the three witnesses who were induced in cross-examination to say that they did not take him seriously, one afterwards added, "I think he pretty well meant it all the same "—(W. Beange. C. 219/258) and another that there was nothing to suggest that he did not mean what he said—(Mabin. C. 90/368). In their discussion of the point with Meikle's counsel—(C. 270-2)—the Commissioners seem to take a somewhat narrow view of the human psychology when they treat the matter as though Troup's having spoken in anger or from spite was necessary incompatible with his having spoken the truth. When a man has a secret in his keeping, spite or anger is the very thing to bring out the truth; and Troup would hardly have selected the same remote and unlikely point of attack in all different conversations if there had been nothing in it. OnMr. Christie, who succeeded Troup as manager of the station as on most of the others, the statement made at the time no deep or serious impression. At first he did not whether to take it seriously, but afterwards it set him thinking. (C. 22¾39.) "I had taken no interest in the case whatever, and did not want to take any interest in it, afterwards cropped up in my mind, 'Has there been some thing put up against this man?' "(C. 224/445.) The same uncomfortable question will force itself upon any man who considers Troup's statements in connection with the subject of Meikle's communication to Detective Ede, with the unexplained delay in putting the police in, and with the speed with which they did enter immediately after Lambert's unexplained visit to the smithy. There are, indeed, strong indicated that Lambert did not work single-handed, that Meikle was victim of an infamous conspiracy of which Troup could really have told the story. There is, at any rate, an absolute certainty that Troup is utterly discredited, thereby removing the most shining of the rotten pillars on which the Crown case has rested, and swelling the already overwhelming presumption against the soundness of the others.

* For her mistake in the name of the solicitor whom she had consulted with regard to the raising of this money the Commissioners say that "We are not able to attach much greater weight to the evidence of the claimant's wife" [i.e., than to his own]. A woman, utterly unused to business and in the deepest distress, consults several solicitors with regard to the imprisonment of her husband, and, after the lapse of seventeen or eighteen years, makes a mistake as to the name of one of them. Though the identity of this adviser was absolutely immaterial, and was not questioned in cross-examination, the Commissioners find it "very difficult to believe that her inaccuracy was due to mistake alone!". It is unfortunate that some of the judicial charity so liberally expended on Lambert was not reserved for this much-suffering woman.