William Morris. Commonweal 1887

Is Lipski’s Confession Genuine?

Source: “Is Lipski’s Confession Genuine?” Commonweal, Vol 3, No. 85, 27 August 1887, p. 276;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

So Lipski has confessed and all is right, ‘he has been brought to a frame of mind that has enabled him to make the reparation’, says the Daily News. Bourgeois justice and the Home Secretary are triumphantly vindicated. Thus, doubtless, thought the ‘respectable’ world on Monday morning.

There is nothing to be surprised at in Lipski’s confession. Indeed, it was just what was to be expected; those who have never believed in his guilt have no need to do so now, the evidence is entirely against such an hypothesis; but that under the circumstances the world should be given to understand that he has confessed, and ‘admitted the justice of his sentence’, was absolutely essential to the stability of the government, of the system of capital punishment, and to the credit of our judicial machinery generally. What goes on within the walls of a prison is known only to those in the swim of the bureaucratic trade, and we do not pretend to decide dogmatically with respect to the origin of the document. We need only call the reader’s attention to the fact that the bureaucrat is by the necessities of his profession a liar, skilful or unskilful; the value of official disclaimers is proverbial.

Who knows what kind of cajolery or even threats might not have been employed, since the occasion was so urgent and so much was at stake?

In connection with this it is well to remember the witches who were burnt in the seventeenth century almost always confessed their guilt, and ‘admitted the justice of their sentence’ — or were said to have done so. It must not be forgotten, moreover, that Lipski, who came Russian Poland remembering that in his own country a confession of guilt is necessary before a condemned criminal can be executed, and that there torture is admitted on occasion to extract such a confession, might have a confused idea that the same thing might happen here, and seeing his case was hopeless and that he had to die, submitted to what he might think was a general formula for the sake of dying without unnecessary worry.

Anyhow the document bears upon it the stamp of ungenuineness. Lipski says that he had not begun to search for money before Miriam awoke and alarmed him. Does it seem likely that a man not being a maniac would murder a woman for fear of discovery, simply because she had found him in her room, and before he had committed any crime?

He says the aquafortis he swallowed had no effect on him. Is this probable?

He didn’t know how his arms were abraded, and did not feel it at the time. Is this probable if the statement next above is true?

These objections lie on the surface of the confession, but no doubt other discrepancies will occur to other searchers into the document. Under any circumstances the main point to be remembered is that the evidence on the trial was insufficient for a jury to convict upon if undirected by the judge, and bearing in mind the maxim so often put forward by those who boast of the immaculate nature of English law, that a doubt should be interpreted in favour of the accused.