Murder by the Sea: Miles Giffard

Extraordinarily, he then drove to London and took Gabriel and her mother to see the new Charlie Chaplin film, Limelight. After the movie he and Gabriel went to a couple of pubs and Miles proposed to his girlfriend.

Gabriel took the same line as his father – no marriage until he got a job. At this point he told her he had done ‘something frightful’. To which she replied, ‘What, pinched your dad’s car?’

No, he said, he had murdered his parents. Gabriel could not believe him and thought he was exaggerating.

Arrested in Chelsea

The Giffard family maid found that the parents were missing the next day. Eventually, the bodies were discovered and Miles arrested in Chelsea, having sold his mother’s jewellery for £50.

This is essentially the case as the prosecution presented it in court. The defence lawyer, however, said Giffard was mentally ill, and Miles pleaded not guilty.

The judge was fairly damning, pointing out the sale of his mother’s jewellery and asking, Is that mad or wicked?

Having read accounts of the trial, I was slightly dismayed that so much evidence of Giffard’s strange mentality were brushed aside.

What emerged in testimony was that Giffard was ‘abnormal’, according to a master at Rugby. Another teacher said he ought to be in nursery.

Giffard shut in a cupboard as a child

He was bottom of the class, chewed his bedsheets and was removed from the school after four terms.

His parents took him to a psychiatrist, who testified at the trial. This man diagnosed Giffard as being schizophrenic (a condition that can feature hallucinations, disorganised behaviour, flat emotions).

The court heard Giffard was described as one of the poorest pupils at his school, suffered from night terrors and had been traumatised after being shut in a cupboard by a nurse.

He was treated for two years and his parents were warned his condition could get worse. The psychiatrist said Giffard had never been mentally normal.

His defence counsel strongly pushed the argument that Giffard was not in his right mind, or ‘insane’ as it was put at the time. Giffard had no history of violence, he was a failure in decline who made no attempt to hide his crimes.

John Maude, QC, argued that Giffard’s trip to London and proposal to his girlfriend was irrational

Giffard was speedily condemned to death

Was Miles Giffard mentally ill?

HIs behaviour during the crime was described as ‘motoring himself to the gallows’.

The judge did not sympathise with the insanity claim. The jury took just 35 minutes to condemn Giffard to death.

My own feeling, which I discuss on Murder by the Sea, was that the mood of the time was against Giffard. His crime was shocking and would have disturbed post-war Britain, particular when two such community stalwarts as Giffard’s parents were – dad a solicitor and mum active in the local Conservative Party – could be murdered by their son.

However, I found it hard not to sense that Giffard’s mental health was certainly not normal. Who kills their parents, throws them off a cliff and then takes his girlfriend to a Charlie Chaplin film?

Interestingly, Derek Bentley, the 19 year old who was condemned to death because his under-age accomplice had killed a policeman, was hanged the month before Giffard. On that occasion, there had been large protests outside the prison decrying the injustice of it.

For Giffard there was not one protester.

Murder by the Sea, CBS Reality, Tuesdays 10pm

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