Old Bailey trials go online for first time

LONDON Mon Apr 28, 2008 7:06pm BST

A statue representing the scales of justice is seen on the roof of the Old Bailey courts in central London, January 26, 2007. REUTERS/Toby Melville

A statue representing the scales of justice is seen on the roof of the Old Bailey courts in central London, January 26, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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LONDON (Reuters) - The transcript from Oscar Wilde's trial for gross indecency at London's Old Bailey Court went online for the first time on Monday alongside a raft of murder, robbery and abduction cases.

Up for free examination are 110,000 pages of transcripts -- including Wilde's trial and the notorious story of Dr Crippen and the murder of his wife.

Lurid tales of murder and rape, stories of pickpocketing and robbery -- every type of crime was paraded before the London court, which is topped by a statue of Justice with a sword in one hand and scales in the other.

The www.oldbaileyonline.org site was billed as the largest single source of searchable historical information about British lives that has ever been published.

The transcripts cover every one of the 210,000 trials held at the Old Bailey from 1674 to 1913, from just after The Great Fire that ravaged London to just before the outbreak of World War One. The court is still in operation.

As well as chronicling a string of sensational trials, the records also list the biographical details of about 3,000 men and women executed at the notorious Tyburn gallows in London.

"Until now, this treasure trove of social, legal and family history has only been available to a few dedicated historians who were prepared to spend months peering at microfilms," said Professor Tim Hitchcock, a co-director of the project.

The Web site is being published by the Humanities Research Institute and is a joint project by the British Universities of Sheffield and Hertfordshire along with the Open University.

"Beside the desperate drama of crimes punished, the proceedings give us a new and remarkable access to the everyday," Hitchcock said.

"History is full of information about kings and queens but there isn't much that tells us about the everyday life of ordinary people," he added.

Professor Robert Shoemaker, another co-director, said people from all over the world can visit the site for free and get a valuable insight into a whole range of crimes.

"These crimes were committed by Irish terrorists, train robbers and suffragettes as well as by ordinary people," he said.

The site could also help people to search for criminal ancestors.

Researcher Joan Brewer found her husband's great-great-grandmother, Phoebe Douglas, who was transported to Australia in 1829.

Her trial details how she and two friends distracted the owner of a London draper's shop, allowing them to steal 30 yards (metres) of printed cotton.

"What made it even sadder was that she had a child she wasn't able to bring with her to Australia," Brewer said.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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