Friday, July 29, 2022

How an 18th-century chimney sweep's boy helped Coleen Rooney win the Wagatha Christie case

I suspect it was that too-conveniently lost mobile phone that did for Rebekah Vardy.

As the Guardian report says:

The judge was highly critical of the loss of key communications in the case. She said it was not believable that Watt accidentally dropped her mobile phone in the North Sea shortly after a legal request was made to search its WhatsApp messages.

But then:

There was widespread mockery in court of the loss of potentially crucial evidence by Vardy and those around her. Rooney’s lawyers invoked a legal precedent from 1722 to argue that, in the absence of evidence, the judge should assume the worst.

And if you follow the link to find the 1722 precedent, you arrive at this:

Owing to the absence of direct evidence, Rooney’s legal defence has relied on a 300-year-old court ruling, Armory v Delamirie, involving a young chimney sweep who found a piece of jewellery while cleaning a fireplace. When the sweep had it valued, a jeweller surreptitiously removed the gems, leaving behind a number of empty sockets.

The 1722 legal ruling set a precedent that if the court can tell that evidence is missing, then the assumption should be that what is missing is of the highest possible value that would fit. 

This, I believe, is one of those cases, like the one with the snail and the bottle of ginger beer, that all law students learn.

It's real importance lies not in the assumption about the missing stones, but in the assumption that the finder of property has a legal claim over it until a better one comes along. So the sweep's boy Armory may have been an unlikely owner of jewellery, but he had a better claim to it than the jeweller (in fact it was his apprentice) who filched the precious stones.

Much is known about "Delamirie", who was in reality Paul de Lamerie, who has been described as "the greatest silversmith working in England in the 18th century".

But what of the boy Armory?

A website maintained by Professor Eben Moglen of  Columbia University quotes the legal historian A.W. Brian Simpson:

I’ve tried to find out more information about [Armory v. Delamirie], but so far I’ve got nowhere. I’m still trying. But the trouble is that if the people in the case are poor, they tend to leave no trace in historical records. 
So if you do a case involving fairly wealthy people, you often find information. It’s easier to find information in the nineteenth century, because there are extensive newspaper reports. They often give very detailed accounts of litigation, so you get a lot of information from them, but the further back you go, the more difficult it gets. . . 
It’s such a strange case. I mean, here’s this chimney sweep boy, they were the lowest of the low, somehow suing – who paid for his lawyer? He’s suing the most distinguished silversmith of the early eighteenth century. The defendant’s work now sells for a million dollars an item. And yet we don’t know anything about how the case happened . . . 
I’ve [tried to get information on the case] intermittently for years, but I haven’t gotten anywhere. History is sometimes just hopeless. Sometimes you just have to give up.

But whoever Amoey was and however old he was, Coleen Rooney owes him her deep thanks.

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