One-time suffragette and anti-war supporter Alice Wheeldon is widely held to have been wrongly convicted.
03 October 2022
A century-old police ledger featuring a mugshot of a one-time suffragette and anti-war campaigner convicted on the evidence of a British spy of conspiring to kill the prime minister is going under the hammer.
Alice Wheeldon, a women’s rights campaigner who opposed the First World War, is shown gazing from the pages of the 500-page book, alongside black and white photographs of others convicted of a host of offences between 1890-1920.
Mrs Wheeldon, of Derby, was convicted of plotting to kill David Lloyd George in 1917, during the war, and was jailed for 10 years, as the ledger records.
Having been found guilty at the Old Bailey, the record showed she was discharged from HMP Aylesbury just months later – at the end of 1917 – on the request of Lloyd George himself.
The spell in prison had taken its toll on her health, with a later note recorded under her mugshot in the ledger in bold red ink: “Died 21.2.19”.
She had been convicted in March 1917 alongside her daughter Winnie, a school teacher, and son-in-law Alfred Mason, a chemist, who are also recorded in the ledger.
Having been a key supporter of the suffragette movement, Mrs Wheeldon was also a well-known pacifist and was opposed to wartime conscription, sending young men to the trenches.
She took in a man claiming to be a conscientious objector, going by the name Alex Gordon, who was in fact a British spy, and whose evidence about the supposed murder plot was presented in court – without cross-examination – during Mrs Wheeldon’s trial.
Despite the convictions, the use of Gordon saw the government questioned about its methods in using an agent provocateur.
Just weeks after the trial, the intelligence department to which Gordon belonged was shut down, while the agent was sent abroad.
After a recent campaign for justice by Mrs Wheeldon’s relatives, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) said although the bid to re-examine the case had merit, the case was too old to justify the expense.
However, in its decision, the CCRC said: “The submissions identified in the application may raise a real possibility that these convictions would be overturned.”
The ledger was saved from a skip by a then serving officer during a clear-out at an old station in St Mary’s Gate, Derby, more than 40 years ago, and is now being put up for auction by his son.
The 53-year-old engineer, from Staffordshire, whose father has since died, said: “In Derby, Alice Wheeldon is now viewed as a hero for her anti-war and suffragette stance and wrongful conviction.
“She’s been honoured with a blue plaque and a star in the city’s walk of fame.
“After decades in a cupboard, I’ve decided it’s time someone else had the opportunity to research this important historical record.
“As well as the Wheeldon family, there are nearly 500 other people with a story to tell.”
Jim Spencer, of Hansons Auctioneers, said: “Alice Wheeldon is a famous name, and it’s quite surreal to see the original ‘mugshots’ of her and her family members.
“For me, this makes the book of serious importance.
“I’m grateful the vendor’s father rescued this valuable primary resource for historians.”
Mr Spencer added that images and details recorded for more than 500 other criminals within the ledger were an insight into society at the time.
“The overwhelming feeling for me is quite tragic, with petty thefts being committed by desperate people living in poverty,” he said.
“I just get a sense of some very difficult lives in this book.”
The ledger is going under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers’ library auction on October 19, with an estimate of between £2,000-£3,000.