It’s 9 January 1813 and the most important day of your career. Your client is on trial and, if found guilty, he will hang.
John Hirst stands accused of being part of an armed mob which attacked Rawfolds Mill, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where he worked as a handloom weaver. The Court hears evidence from mill-owner, William Cartwright, that, since the introduction of automated weaving machinery, his mill had been the target of protests and sabotage by a group calling themselves ‘Luddites’ . The Luddites claimed that technology was making them redundant. Hirst, says Cartwright, had been seen distributing Luddite pamphlets amongst his co-workers.
Fearing an attack on the mill, Cartwright took to spending the nights there with a group of armed guards. Shortly after midnight on 11 April 1812, he was woken by the barking of his guard dog and, moments later, heard windows being smashed. The defenders rushed to meet the Luddites, shots rang out in the night and a terrible gunfight ensued. Twenty minutes later, the attackers had been repelled but two men had been mortally wounded. Cartwright alleges that he saw your client in the melée after a mask fell from his face. Cartwright produces the mask in evidence.
Your cross-examination of Cartwright goes well. He concedes that it was pitch dark, the attackers wore masks and the situation was fraught and chaotic. You then call Mrs Hirst to give evidence. She testifies that her husband was at home with her all night and could not have taken part in the attack on the mill. She is nervous but credible and stands up well to cross-examination.
Finally, it is the turn of your client. He denies involvement in the attack and repeats the alibi given to him by his wife. It is a strong start to his evidence but, as you feared, Mr Hirst cannot resist railing against the perceived threat to his livelihood posed by automation. You can do nothing but will him in silence to restrict himself to his alibi. His fate hangs in the balance again.
At the end of evidence and argument, Judge Le Blanc gives directions to the jury, who retire to consider their verdict.
You feel sick as you wait. Mrs Hirst sobs quietly; your client stares impassively ahead.
It is dark outside by the time you are called back in to hear the verdict. One by one, the foreman of the jury pronounces guilty verdicts for each of the first five defendants.
“In the case of Mr John Hirst, how do you find?”
You collapse with relief. Mr and Mrs Hirst embrace.
It was the biggest test of your career and you have passed with flying colours.