Yvvette Edwards visits the Old Bailey

06 April 2016

By Pan Macmillan

'I found the people who attended almost as interesting as the trials themselves.' 

Yvvette Edwards tells us about the trips she made to the The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, better known as the Old Bailey, to sit in on murder trials as part of the research for her gripping new novel The Mother and the people she met there. 

I visited the Old Bailey as part of my research for The Mother, sitting in on a number of murder trials. The public galleries are open to all, no need to book in advance, simply turn up early, queue, and you’re in.  I found the people who attended almost as interesting as the trials themselves.  The galleries are small spaces crammed with a few rows of seats and with even low profile trials, are generally full.  At the risk of sounding like a voyeur, the writer in me found it fascinating working out who the people around me were.

The front row is generally reserved for the families of both the victim and the defendant. I couldn’t resist attempting to work out which side the occupiers of the front row were on, a task more difficult than it might seem at first, as whichever side they were on, they were concentrating hard on the evidence, sitting forwards, straining to hear every word, assessing its individual weight and impact on the outcome.

There were people taking notes in other rows - reporters? law students? - individuals who seemed excited to be attending, and others who looked slightly sheepish, as though their attendance was reluctant but obligatory.  I met a man whose hobby is attending trials.  He was semi-retired, had no legal background.  He was very sociable, chatting to everyone, volunteering information during the breaks with the authority of a bonafida court official employed to give advice to public gallery visitors, on processes and clarification of legal issues. 

But the duo who captured my imagination, were an elderly couple, well-heeled and dressed in smart and expensive tweeds. They looked like gentry attending the theatre. The trial I spotted them at, they sat in on every day, were always punctual, remaining till the close of play. I wondered whether they were former barristers themselves, or judges even, whether attending trials was their nostalgic daily dose of some kind of legislative Sudoku. 

It may or may not have been. I never spoke to them or confirmed things either way. But I could easily understand why anyone might turn up to the Old Bailey simply out of interest. Unlike the theatre, all the ‘performances’ are stellar. It provides the most authentic Whodunit experience, against a backdrop seeped in history and tradition. And where frequently, theatre tickets are prohibitively expensive, attending and watching cases at the Old Bailey is completely free. 

The Mother by Yvvette Edwards
Marcia Williams thought she knew her son. She thought he was safe. She was wrong.
Marcia is heading to the Old Bailey. She's going there to do something no mother should ever have to do: to attend the trial of the boy accused of her son's murder. 

She's not meant to be that woman; Ryan, her son, wasn't that kind of boy. But Tyson Manley is that kind of a boy and, as his trial unfolds, it becomes clear that it's his girlfriend Sweetie who has the answers Marcia so badly needs and who can - perhaps - offer Marcia some kind of hope for the future. But Sweetie is as scared of Tyson as Ryan should have been and, as Marcia's learned the hard way, nothing's certain. 

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The Mother