British Executions

John Alexander Dickman

Age: 45

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 9 Aug 1910

Crime Location: On a train between Newcastle and Alnmouth

Execution Place: Newcastle

Method: hanging

Executioner: John Ellis


John Alexander Dickman was convicted of the murder of John Innes Nisbet 44 and sentenced to death.

He shot him on a train between Newcastle and Alnmouth on 18 March 1910.

John Dickman had been a secretary to a colliery company but had latterly been making a precarious living as a betting man and a commission agent.

John Nisbet was a pay clerk to a colliery company and on alternate Fridays he would cash a large cheque at Newcastle and take the cash to the colliery at Widdrington, the third station beyond Morpeth.

On the morning of 18 March 1910 John Nisbet cashed a cheque for £370-9-6 and took his ticket for the 10.27am train. He was later found at Alnmouth, the terminus of the train journey, tucked away under a seat with five bullet wounds in his head.

When John Dickman was questioned he admitted that he took his ticket for Stannington, the station before Morpeth, immediately after John Nisbet and that he had said good morning to him. However, he said that he never saw him again and the police report stated that the whole case turned on whether or not John Dickman had in fact travelled in the same carriage as John Nisbet.

A man had seen them walking together towards platform 5 for the 10.27am train and said that he had known John Nisbet to speak to for 5 or 6 years and John Dickman by sight for 8 or 9 years.

John Dickman was also seen by another man that had known him for 20 years. The man said that while he was standing outside his compartment, the furthest back in the third coach from the engine, of the 10.27am train, he had seen John Dickman and a companion pass up the platform and stop outside a compartment in the first coach. It was noted that John Nisbet had been shot in the third or end compartment of that coach. The man had said that John Dickman and his companion had passed him about 18 feet from him and said that they appeared to have been talking.

They were also seen by two other colliery cashiers who were on similar errands to John Nisbet. They had been sitting in their places in the second compartment of the first coach. One of the cashiers said that he had looked out of the window and seen John Nisbet who he had known for 4 or 5 years by sight as the Widdrington cashier and a companion come along the platform and get into the third compartment of the first coach, ie the one just behind the one that he was in.

However, John Dickman denied that he had travelled in the first coach and said that he had travelled in the last coach at the rear of the train and that he had been alone, with no companion.

The police report stated that the evidence of the person that had seen John Dickman, who he knew, and a companion go to the first coach and that of the other cashier that swore that he saw John Nisbet and a companion get into the first coach was conclusive evidence that John Dickman and John Nisbet had been together and had got into the third compartment of the first coach together. It also went on to state that the matter was clinched by John Dickman's denial that he had travelled in that coach at all. It was also noted that the cashiers so-called identification of John Dickman as the man that he had seen coming with John Nisbet up the platform could therefore be entirely disregarded without materially weakening the case against John Dickman, which was the view taken by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

It was also heard that John Nisbet's wife had spoken to John Nisbet from the platform and had seen a man in the carriage with him, but that although she had known John Dickman for some years, she had not recognised him. She said that there had been a shadow from the bridge on the face of the man that she saw in the carriage and that he had had his collar up. However, it later transpired that at the magistrates she had fainted when she had seen John Dickman which she accounted for by the fact that when she saw him she at that moment recognised him as the man she had seen in the carriage. It was also heard that the judges there had said that they were satisfied that her identification was trustworthy.

It was then heard that the two other cashiers got off of the train at Stannington, the station before Morpeth, and that they both saw John Nisbet alive and well and said that he had nodded to them. One of the cashiers had said that he had noted that John Nisbet had been with another man who he later said was like John Dickman but he later failed to pick John Dickman out at the police station despite what was described as improper suggestions that had been made.

John Dickman had said that he had got off the train at Morpeth, overshooting his Stannington stop, owing, he had said, to him having been engrossed by his paper.

Before the train had left Morpeth, a platelayer had casually looked into the third compartment of the first coach but said that he saw no one in there.

It was not until the train reached its terminus at Alnmouth, when John Nisbet's body was found tucked away under the seat.

When John Nisbet was found, he had five bullet wounds in his head, one under the left eye and passing behind his nose which would have stunned him, a second behind his left ear which had penetrated his brain which would have caused instantaneous death and three others which were described as superficial and having caused no serious injury. The two bullets that had caused the serious wounds were found to be leaden .320 bullets whilst the others were found to have been nickel coated .250 bullets. It was stated that the inference was that two weapons had been used and it was suggested that John Dickman had used two guns on purpose to mystify. However, it was also suggested that the smaller nickel bullets might have been fired from the same gun having been wrapped in paper but the police report doubted that, suggesting instead that a .250 automatic pistol had been used but that owing to the powder having perished or some other reason, it had proved ineffective. It was noted that John Dickman had bought a .250 automatic pistol in 1907.

When John Dickman was questioned he said that he had got out at Morpeth and had then determined to walk back to the Dovecot Colliery where he was going to see a person. However, that person said that he had made no appointment with John Dickman and that he had been in Newcastle that day. It was noted that the distance to the Dovecot mine was 3 3/8 miles and that he would then have had to have walked another 1 1/2 miles to Stannington for his return journey. It was also noted that the 10.27am train from Newcastle had reached Morpeth at 11.12am and that John Dickman could otherwise have crossed the line and got the 11.24am train back to Stannington.

When John Dickman had got off the train at Morpeth, he had paid the excess fair of 2 1/2d. The clerk that served him said that he had been wearing a loose coat under which he could have concealed a cash bag. He said that he then set out on his way to Dovecot but said that after some distance he was taken ill with piles and gave up on his visit to Dovecot and returned to Morpeth but was too late to catch the 1.12pm fast train to Newcastle. He had said that the had gone back to Morpeth because he would get refreshments there but did not say that he purchased any. It was noted that although he had said that he was in a very distressed condition, he had not sat down at the station and rested, but had instead gone some little distance into the town and returned in time for the 1.40pm train to Newcastle.

When John Dickman was arrested on 21 March 1910 he had 17 sovereigns on him of which the police said that he could give no satisfactory account.

Also, at his house the police found:

  1. A pair of suede gloves with a small blood stain on the left thumb.
  2. Trouser with blood stain inside left pocket. The doctor that examined them said that he could not say that the stains were of mammalian blood, but did say that they had been made recently, within a fortnight. Further, it was noted that John Dickman had said that he had not worn the gloves for three months.
  3. Pawn tickets, pass books etc. showing that John Dickman was in great straits for money. The police report stated that John Dickman's explanation was that he had borrowed £20 from a money lender and continued to pay 5/- a week for six months up to the day before the murder merely as an experiment was absurd and discredited his other statements regarding his finances.
  4. A life preserver, but no pistols.

The bag that John Nisbet had been carrying the money in when he was murdered was later found at the bottom of Isabella shaft on 9 June 1910. It was found slit open and had most of the copper money still in it or beside it but that all the gold and silver was missing.

It was noted that the police had searched several pit shafts that they had identified as being known to John Dickman whilst he was in that trade but had not search the Isabella shaft and that they had not known until the man that found the bag, and who told them that he had previously discussed the shaft with John Dickman some years earlier concerning water troubles in it, that John Dickman had any way of knowing about it. It was also heard that when the Isabella shaft was searched, many of the coins that had fallen from the bag were covered by 15 inches of Segger clay which, it was said, had fallen in down the shaft over the three months that the bag was in the shaft as a result of temperature changes. It was heard that they had had to remove 1/2 ton of clay to get all the coins which were found by screening it.

John Dickman was found guilty of murder without any recommendation to mercy. He appealed but his appeal failed.

The Home Office files contain a 200 page confession which was received in 1925 stating that John Dickman was wrongfully convicted and that the writer, who was dying, was the true perpetrator. It further stated that it was thought to have been written by a man that had been acting as an official shorthand writer at the trial who after the case was disposed to have collected copies of his memos and letters from which, which along with newspaper clippings, he had based his extended confession. It was also stated that it was thought that he had been driven by a belief that John Dickman had been innocent and a range of other convictions such as the believe that men were being hanged on circumstantial evidence and had a strong antipathy to the local police. It was also said that the confession had been written to cast doubt of the verdict of murder and sentence of death. The same confession was sent to the Truth publication which published a complete summary of it in their 2 September 1925 edition including fragments of the writers handwriting.

see National Archives - HO 144/4202

see Illustrated Police News - Saturday 26 March 1910

see Illustrated Police News - Saturday 16 July 1910