|CLASSIC DIVE BOOKS
Mystery and crime at sea and underwater.
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PORTHOLE MURDER CASE
Hodder and Stoughton, London; 1991.
Hardcover, dustjacket, 258 pages, biography.
From the fly: On a September night in 1947 the body of Gay Gibson was thrown out of her cabin on the Durban Castle sailing from Africa to England, and the stage was set for a steamy trial. A deck steward, James Camb, was charged with her murder, but when he appeared in the dock in the Great Hall in Winchester, he pleaded not guilty, claiming that the young actress had died 'naturally' during sexual intercourse. The judge and jury, and public opinion, which followed the 'Porthole Murder'with a consuming interest, thought otherwise. Winston Churchill fumed over the case in the House of Commons. But to this day lawyers and doctors have their doubts. In the absence of a body, the testimony of the medical profession became crucial in determining the manner of Gay Gibson's death. The pathologists disagreed over whether she had died from strangulation or from heart failure during love-making. The strangling argument was put with devastating effect by one of the foremost criminal prosecutors of the day, 'Khaki' Roberts, KC. Twoyears before, he had been in the British legal team at the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal. Now he treated Camb rather like a Nazi war criminal. With the fate of their clients in their hands, criminal lawyers were larger than life figures. The popular press reported the proceedings in detail. The joust between'Khakl'Roberts and Camb's lawyer, Joshua Casswell, KC, was one of the memorable moments in postwar murder trials. The judge, Sir Malcolm Hilbery, humourless, Victorian, unstreetwise, seemed unable to appreciate that a woman travelling first class might willingly entertain a handsome steward in her cabin late at night. Attempts to introduce 'tell-tale' evidence of Gay's private and sexual life were stifled. Through repeated interruptions of defence witnesses and a strong summing-up, Camb's conviction for murder was assured. Camb escaped the gallows by the fortunate coincidence of a House of Commons vote suspending the death penalty. Otherwise public opinion would have demanded his execution. But now, after years of research, Denis Herbstein, lawyer, journalist, one-time merchant seaman, has unearthed new material on the case, including vital evidence that was not offered to the jury. Several trial witnesses, old but not in their dotage, have come to light, including the defence pathologist, Dr. Frederick Hocking. Others who knew Gay Gibson or James Camb have filled out the lives of the two leading characters. It places a very different complexion on the official version. Camb's behaviour that night off the coast of West Africa was callous in the extreme. But was he a murderer? If he were tried in a British court today the chances are his story would receive a better hearing.[ps]
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