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In the late spring of 1860, a trial took place in the Central Criminal Court in London that was described by The Times newspaper as ‘…by common consent one of the most extraordinary that had ever been seen’.
The defendant, a female child of twelve, was charged with wilful and corrupt perjury against a Church of England clergyman. The clergyman had brought the case against her from his prison cell in Newgate, where he had been serving a term of four years’ hard labour. Henry John Hatch, late chaplain of Wandsworth Prison, had been convicted in the previous December of indecent assault against Mary Eugenia Plummer.
Henry was found guilty of a similar offence against her seven year old sister Stephana Augusta Plummer. The prosecution case rested entirely on the verbal evidence of the two girls, partially corroborated by their mother. Even though there were several witnesses in court capable of refuting at least some of these charges, none were called, and the law as it stood forbade the defendant or his wife to give evidence.
The defence case relied on character witnesses only. Henry John Hatch was found guilty. In the absence of a Court of Criminal Appeal, his only option for release was to gain a Royal Pardon. This, the Home Secretary decided, would only be granted following a successful action for perjury against his principal accuser.