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The Monson case (murder)

Monson began working as a gentleman's tutor for the Hambrough family in 1891. In 1893 he took the lease on the Ardlamont estate in Argyll for the shooting season. On 10 August he took Windsor Dudley Cecil Hambrough, his 20-year-old pupil, for a day's hunting in an area of woodland. A third man joined them, Edward Scott, a friend of Monson who had arrived at the estate a few days earlier. Estate workers heard a shot, then saw Monson and Scott running to Ardlamont House carrying the guns. They were cleaning the weapons when the estate butler asked what had become of Mr Hambrough. Monson replied that he had shot himself in the head by accident while climbing a fence.

When the incident was reported, a member of the Inveraray procurator fiscal's office was sent to the estate. He returned, saying it had been a tragic accident. However, two weeks later, Monson appeared at the fiscal's office to report that Hambrough had taken out two life insurance policies worth £20,000 only six days before he died, and that they were made out in the name of Monson’s wife. After thorough searches of the estate and interviews with staff, Monson was charged with murder. Scott, now on the run, was named as his accomplice.

Among the witnesses for the prosecution was Joseph Bell, the Edinburgh surgeon and forensic detective, who was the inspiration for the character of Sherlock Holmes. He told the jury that, in his opinion, Monson had murdered Cecil Hambrough, and you can read pdfhis testimony in the trial here.853.47 KB However, sufficient doubt had been sowed in the minds of the jury by Monson's advocate John Comrie Thomson, pdfwhose closing speech you can read here.5.73 MB Monson was set free with the verdict of "not proven."

The murder gave rise to two high-profile court cases: the murder trial in Edinburgh (described above), and a defamation trial in London (Monson v Tussauds Ltd) the following year. After recieving the Scottish verdict of "not proven" in his High Court of Justiciary trial for the murder of Cecil Hambrough, in 1894 he sued Madame Tussauds for libel  after they erected a waxwork of Monson at the entrance to its Chamber of Horrors, bearing a gun.  Monson was awarded one farthing (the lowest possible amount at the time) in damages. The case established the principle of "libel by innuendo" in English law, and Monson v Tussauds Ltd has been used to draw up defamation laws in many countries since. The case established the principle that to prove libel publication must be in a permanent form, but it need not be words.

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