A fascinating panel of crime experts had two packed audiences on the edge of their seats with stories of thrilling court cases, grisly scenes and gruesome murders
Organised by pupils from the town’s three senior schools as part of the fourth annual Monmouth Literary Festival, A Mysterious Affair at Monmouth was held at The Savoy Theatre on Friday, 23 June.
BBC reporter Jeremy Cooke, crime author Matthew Hall and forensic scientists David Scaysebrook and Hannah Hardinge, shed light on the stories behind the crime scenes and answered questions from audience members.
Local writer, Matthew Hall, became a novelist following his career as a criminal lawyer.
“All of us are interested in the truth,” he said.
“I write novels and TV dramas and I do that because I’m interested in where the truth lies. I was always interested in the truth as a teenager – I helped to run a newspaper at school to get it out there. I thought that by being a lawyer I would get to the truth, but when you get into the system of criminal law you discover that it is very hard to find.
“The second I arrived in criminal law chambers at 21 years old, I saw some of the worst things human beings are capable of. It’s fascinating but you have to be prepared for it.”
Matthew became intrigued by the criminals that passed through the system.
He added: “Everyone you meet coming through the court has a very interesting life story. There were young kids, some who had criminal records about a foot long and kept coming back into custody. I remember thinking our system was not doing them much good. Characters like them made me want to write about what we could do about it.”
Year 10 from Monmouth School, Haberdashers’ Monmouth School for Girls and Monmouth Comprehensive were treated to the panel’s first talk, with members of the public enjoying it for free in the evening.
Matthew also had some advice for aspiring authors. He said: “Lots of people write books, but you must have something to write about. Don’t do it when you’re 21 or 22; go into a career, get some life experience under your belt. Get some experience of the world and then you will have something to write about – your own interpretation of the truth.”
From the tragedies of war, to the surprising outcome of OJ Simpson’s famous trial in 1995, BBC reporter Jeremy Cooke talked about the mind-blowing stories he has covered during his time as a journalist.
He also spoke of how vital it is to have empathy in his role.
“Without empathy, I have nothing,” he said. “We need more of it in the world. When I was covering the conflict between Israel and Palestine, I lived out there for four years with my young family. I can personally empathise with both sides, but they simply can’t empathise with each other, and that is a tragedy.”
Audience members jumped at the opportunity to ask the forensic scientists about the goriest scenes they had come across. They were also keen to know about the weirdest cases they’d encountered.
The Monmouth Literary Festival runs until 29 June. For more information visit habs-monmouth.org