In the aftermath of the Second World War it was not unusual for the bodies of unwanted babies to be found in the River Thames. It was a sad sign of the times, and there was little hope of identifying the little victims. But there was an exception.
A tape inscribed “Baby Clegg” was found on the wrist of a 10-day-old girl discovered washed up on the shore of the Thames at Greenwich on November 6th, 1945. The tape indicated that the child had been born in a hospital and an autopsy established that she was alive when she was thrown in the water.
There were no marks of violence on the body, and the police thought that perhaps the mother had tossed the child into the river while suffering from post-natal depression. If this were so, she probably needed medical treatment. But who was she? To find out, the police checked London’s infirmaries and learned that “Baby Clegg” had been born at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.
A name and address were obtained, and detectives went to the Brixton, London, home of Arthur Clegg, a tall, fair-haired 42-year-old electrician and his family. He told them that his 20-year-old unmarried daughter Joan had complained of abdominal pains for which she said she was having treatment. He suspected she was pregnant, and when he asked her if this were the case she had confirmed it.
They agreed not to tell her mother because of her poor state of health, and Clegg said that after the birth he saw Joan in hospital and told her he would try to have the baby adopted. He then went on to make a long statement in which he gave a detailed and partly verifiable account of his efforts to arrange the child’s adoption. He had been to the National Children’s Adoption Association, where he said that by chance he met on the stairs a Mrs. Clark who was on her way to make inquiries at the association. She expressed interest in adopting Joan’s baby, and arranged to phone him at a call-box.
He also had discussions with a woman almoner at the hospital who had friends who wished to adopt a baby. The interest of the almoner’s friends’ came to nothing, so he said he collected the child from the hospital and took it to a meeting-place arranged with Mrs. Clark. She agreed to take the baby and asked him to drive her to the Napier Arms in Woodford, where a friend of hers would meet her with a car and take her on to her home in Essex with the baby.
He did this on OCTOBER 31st, he told the detectives. “She said she would write to me and let me know whether or not she would keep the child. 1 have not seen or heard from her since and 1 do not know where she lives.” His story was confirmed in part by his wife, who told a reporter
“1 never knew my eldest daughter was going to have a baby. The first 1 heard of it was when the police came. Then my husband told me everything.”
The woman almoner at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital confirmed Clegg’s story of her involvement in his attempts to have his daughter’s child adopted, and his visit to the adoption association was verified. But the investigators were dissatisfied with his account and he was arrested.
Detectives took him to Woodford, where every woman named Mrs. Clark and living within a six-mile radius of the Napier Arms was interviewed to see if Clegg could identify the person to whom he claimed he had given the baby. Sixty-three people were seen, and none of them was the woman whose description he had given the police. But she might have given him a false name for reasons known only to herself.
He was charged with the baby’s murder, and at his committal hearing his daughter Joan said she knew very little about her child’s father. “1 only know his name is Bob,” she testified, adding that she had seen him only once or twice.
The case acquired a new twist when Bernard Gordon, on remand at Brixton Prison, told the court that his fellow-prisoner Clegg had confided that he was the baby’s father. This was angrily denied by Clegg when he appeared at the Old Bailey and Gordon repeated his story.
Pleading not guilty, Clegg also complained that the police search for Mrs. Clark had occupied only two half-days. Summing-up, the judge pointed out that nobody had seen Clegg throw the baby into the Thames, and the evidence against him was purely circumstantial. But it was enough for the jury. They convicted Arthur Clegg, and he was sentenced to death.
After his appeal was dismissed it became known that Bernard Gordon had told a fellow-prisoner that he had given false evidence in the hope that his own anticipated sentence would be shortened. Despite this development the Home Secretary decided against a reprieve, and Arthur Clegg was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on March 19th, 1946.
Would the jury have found him guilty without Bernard Gordon’s perjured evidence? Only one thing is for sure. Had DNA tests been available, the question of whether Clegg was the child’s father would have been answered beyond doubt.