Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial – Day Two.

The highlight of the second day of the Stopes v Sutherland libel trial was the appearance of Dr. Marie Stopes in the witness box. Her testimony lasted for over three hours, during which she revealed the wider racial (eugenic) and social program behind her clinic.

Stopes’ testimony damaged her case. When questioning his client, Mr Patrick Hastings K.C. hinted she should confine herself to short answers, likely knowing that the more she said, the more opportunities she would present to barristers for the other side.

Stopes ignored his advice and gave long answers. When Hastings asked her about her work, she replied:

“The object of the Society [for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress] is, if possible, to counteract the steady evil which has been growing for a good many years of the reduction in the birth rate just on the part of the thrifty, wise, well-contented, and the generally sound members of our community, and the reckless breeding from the C3 end, and the semi-feebleminded, the careless, who are proportionately increasing in our community because of the slowing of the birth rate at the other end of the social scale. Statistics show that every year the birth rate from the worst end of our community is increasing in proportion to the birth rate at the better end, and it was in order to try to right that grave social danger that I embarked upon this work.”

“Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it” by Mark H. Sutherland in conjunction with Neil Sutherland, page 107.

This answer put Stopes at odds with the kindly charitable woman trying to help her poorer sisters portrayed in Hastings’ opening speech. It revealed that her work was of public significance, so that it was not unreasonable for someone to criticise it.

In the cross examination, the defence built upon this admission to reveal the agenda behind Stopes’ “monstrous campaign.” Stopes came under pressure when Mr Ernst Charles K.C. asked her about the Gold Spring. He read a passage from Wise Parenthood to the Court:

“The advantage of this method [i.e. the Gold Spring] is that all consideration of the subject may be completed once and for all, and the spring should stay in place for years. No further anxiety or trouble on the part of the woman is required, but a visit twice a year to a nurse or a doctor, to have the spring cleaned or examined. It is therefore the one and only method (apart from actual sterilisation) which is applicable and of real help to the lowest and most negligent strata of society. It is, therefore, a method of the greatest possible racial and social value if its use proves to be satisfactory. If not, such cases should be sterilised.”

“Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it” by Mark H. Sutherland in conjunction with Neil Sutherland, page 114.

Not only were these admissions unhelpful to Stopes’ case, but they were completely avoidable. Firstly, she did not have to testify in the trial. Secondly, the burden of proof was on the defence. In other words, it was Sutherland’s job to prove that his words were true, not for Stopes to prove that they weren’t.

Other witnesses to appear today were Nurse Maud Hebbes (who worked at the Mothers’ Clinic at 61 Marlborough Road) and Sir William Arbuthnot Lane (vice-president of the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress).

Overnight, barristers for each side may have prepared for “ambush” witnesses the following day. The plaintiff’s team may have prepared for the testimony of Beatrice Parkinson, a lady who had allegedly visited the Mothers’ Clinic. The defence may have prepared for the Lord Dawson, a well-respected physician who was regarded as the head of the medical profession.

What the members of the jury made of all of this is not recorded.

For the full account of the trial click here.

One comment on “Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial – Day Two.

  1. Pingback: Centenary of the Stopes v Sutherland libel trial - Halliday Sutherland

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Centenary of the Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial

21 February 2023
The big day is here.
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