A hue and cry of “Murder!” went up when, on FEBRUARY 10th, 1942, Mrs. Jane Wilkinson was found dead from severe head injuries in a lane near her home at Ashington.

Then neighbours remembered a youth had been loitering nearby that day. They gave his description to the police, but it wasn’t until 11 months later that Thomas Appleby, then 18, was arrested on an unrelated charge. He was, the police knew, “an idle youth of vagrant habits” – and when they asked him where he was when Mrs. Wilkinson was murdered, he admitted he was in the lane.

“But someone else killed her,” he added.

At his trial at Durham, though, Appleby withdrew his statement and said the police had supplied him with information about the murder, which they then asked him to write down and sign. The jury didn’t accept that, and found him guilty with a strong recommendation to mercy on account of his youth.

Appleby was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment because at the time of the murder he was only 17.