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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: November 28, 1943
Date of arrest: 1 month after
Date of birth: 1895
Victim profile: Rose Ada Robinson, 63
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Tried and found not guilty of the crime but later sold his confession to The People newspaper. Died in 1965

Mrs Rose Ada Robinson who was 63 was allegedly murdered by Harold Loughans on 28 November 1943. She was found strangled in her bedroom the next day. Loughans was tried but found not guilty of the crime but later sold his confession to the people newspaper. 


Harold Loughans

The John Barleycorn pub in Portsmouth was run by Mrs Rose Ada Robinson. She was a 63-year-old widow who had run the pub for over 40 years.

At 10.35pm on Sunday 28 November 1943 she emptied the cash registers as usual, the barman left and she locked up for the night. The next morning her body was found in her bedroom, she had been strangled.

The place had been ransacked and there was no sign of previous nights takings. At the rear of the building a window had been forced and on the ground nearby was a small black button.

A month later in Waterloo Road, London, two policemen apprehended a poorly dressed man trying to sell a new pair of shoes in a cafe. When asked the man said his name was Harold Loughans.

He confessed to several burglaries but then surprised the officers by confessing to a murder. He was taken to the police station where he made a statement admitting the murder of Mrs Robinson.

When the police looked at his coat which he said he had been wearing on the night of the murder they found all the buttons were missing. He said that he had pulled all the buttons off after finding that one was missing after the murder. Fibres found on the coat confirmed Loughans' presence at the scene of the murder.

By the time the case came to trial Loughans had changed his tune and was now claiming that he was innocent and that the police had put words into his mouth.

At his trial at Winchester in March 1944 the defence produced three witnesses that swore they had seen Loughans in London on the night of the murder. The jury failed to agree a verdict.

A fortnight later his retrial took place at the Old Bailey. Making a rare appearance for the defence was Sir Bernard Spilsbury. Loughans had a deformed right hand, with the ends of the fingers missing.

Spilsbury, who was regarded at this time by juries as a minor god, gave his opinion that Loughans could not possibly have enough power and reach in his deformed hand to strangle the woman. This was enough for the jury and he was found not guilty.

It did not keep him out of prison though. He was rearrested on a charge of attempted murder, for a different incident, and sent to prison.

In 1963 he was freed from prison and brought a libel action against The People newspaper. In 1960 it had published the memoirs of J.D. Casswell, the prosecuting counsel at his murder trials. It was virtually a replay of the two murder trials of almost twenty years before. This time the jury were not so easily convinced and found for the newspaper.

Three months later Loughans walked into the offices of The People and confessed to the killing. He knew that he could not be tried again for the crime and he had found out that he was dying of cancer. He died, aged 69, in 1965.



Guilty Innocent

Friday, Mar. 01, 1963

One night in 1943, London police on robbery detail stopped a seedy little man for routine questioning and seemed to have stumbled on the solution of a murder in Portsmouth, 65 miles away. Harold Loughan—a brash habitual criminal—volunteered the information that he had crept into the rooms above the John Barleycorn pub three weeks before and, in committing a robbery, had strangled to death the pub's owner, Rose Robinson. "It's a relief to get it off my mind," he told the police. "I didn't mean to kill the old girl, but you know what it is when a woman screams."

Confession v. Alibi. When the details of the confession checked out in Portsmouth, Loughan was charged with murder. "I felt confident that I could not lose the case even if I conducted it standing on my head," recalls Joshua David Casswell, who was the prosecutor in the court proceedings that followed. But to Casswell's chagrin, Loughan dismissed his confession as the kind of casual lie he enjoyed telling the police, claimed he spent the night of the murder sheltered from the blitz in London's Warren Street subway station—and produced five independent witnesses to prove it. "This is the most extraordinary case I've ever known," said the judge. "On the one hand a full confession, and on the other an unshakable alibi." The jury, equally puzzled, could not reach a verdict.

In a retrial, Loughan was acquitted. He was still gloating when arrested on the steps of Old Bailey for another robbery and, after his 24th conviction, sent to prison for seven years.

That might have been the last anybody heard of little Harold Loughan if The People, a sensational London Sunday newspaper, had not printed the memoirs of Prosecutor Casswell. In one installment, Casswell claimed that Harold Loughan would have been convicted if all the evidence had been heard. Loughan, now 66 and in jail as usual, sued for libel, claiming he had been called a murderer despite his official innocence.

Murder or Libel. The newspaper's lawyer argued that even if the articles did amount to calling Loughan a murderer, truth is a defense against libel, and Casswell had finally shown that Loughan had indeed murdered Rose Robinson 19 years ago. For eleven days the jury heard evidence of the old murder—with Loughan still protesting his innocence. "You are asked to try again a murder in the guise of a libel action," his lawyer complained to the jury. Last week the jury returned its verdict: The People was not guilty of libel because Loughan was guilty of the murder.

Loughan, of course, cannot be tried again for the same crime. If the jury was correct, he had cheated the gallows. But that was little comfort to Harold Loughan. After the trial he was returned to the prison hospital where, after spending 23 of his 66 years behind bars, he awaits death from inoperable cancer.



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