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  • Lord Orsam

Dead Men Do Tell Tales

With his pal Tony Devereux being long since dead when he brought Jack the Ripper's diary with him down to London in April 1992, Michael Barrett might have thought that the secret of his journalistic career from the 1980s, known very well to Tony but carefully hidden by Mike from his literary agent, his co-author, his publisher and all diary researchers, would remain buried forever.

This would prove not to be the case.

During 1994, Nick Warren, editor of Ripperana, started sniffing around in Liverpool, speaking to members of Tony Devereux's family. His article, revealing what he had learnt, was published in Ripperana of July 1994. The contents are mentioned in 'Inside Story' but I had never seen the article itself.

Until now.

For I've finally tracked down a copy the July 1994 issue of Ripperana.

The article itself is quite short, at only a little over 3 pages. It starts by saying that the testimony of Tony Devereux had, until that time, 'been largely suppressed', noting that Paul Feldman had cut footage of an interview with one of Tony's daughters, Anne Steele, from his video. Ms Steele told Nick Warren that she was unaware of any fact which suggested that the diary was ever in her father's possession or why, if did have it, he should have given it to Mike Barrett rather than to close relatives.

It is the third paragraph of the story which is of real interest for our purposes. Here it is:

As can be seen, Nick Warran had managed to establish that:

'Mr. Devereux understood that Barrett was a journalist (he had certainly contributed features to magazines) and the family were subsequently surprised to find his publishers describing him as an ordinary 'Liverpool bloke', scalesman at a firm of scrap-metal merchants'.

When this was published in Ripperana in or around July 1994, it would surely have been the first time that anyone involved wth the diary had learnt that Mike was 'a journalist', although Doreen Montgomery was sent a copy of the draft on 8 May 1994 (Inside Story, p. 87) so she would have found out then, albeit that she wouldn't have been able to confirm whether it was true immediately (and Shirley Harrison didn't manage to obtain copies of a few of Mike's magazine articles until November). If anyone connected with the diary had learnt of it directly from Mike before reading Nick Warren's article we would definitely know about it today but it's very clear that Mike had successfully hidden this fact from everyone.

Mike learnt in May 1994 that Ripperana was going to publish this article and expose him. We will see his reaction in due course but first let me summarize what else can be found in the article.

Warren says he discovered that, during Scotland Yard's investigation into the diary, Anne Steele told a police detective that a copy of a book, 'Tales of Liverpool. Murder, Mayhem and Mystery' by Richard Whittington Egan, 'had been lent to her late father by Mike Barrett' and remained unreturned at the time of his death. The detective took the copy of the book away with him. This was another of Mike's secrets which was emerging from the grave.

Ms Steele also pointed out that her late father couldn't have forged the diary because, as a compositor, he knew how to spell properly whereas the diary's author was obviously 'semi-literate'.

Warren notes that while some people thought that the handwriting matched that of Tony's 'great personal friend', Gerard Kane, he had been interviewed and eliminated by the Scotland Yard enquiry.

Finally, it is commented that Mike Barrett comes over as 'unspeakably sad', a man who never intended to make substantial royalties from the diary (described by Warren as a 'project') and only ever wanted to make enough for a small greenhouse. It is noted that Paul Feldman had said that Barrett originally intended to donate the diary to a museuam.

One rather interesting revelation recorded by Nick Warren is that:

'When the story first emerged in the 'Liverpool Post' last year, veteran reporter Harold Brough told Ripperana that the owner of the diary was interested in crime and criminology'.

We don't hear much from diary defenders about Mike's supposed interest in true crime.

In the final paragraph of the article, it is said that Mike Barrett physcially resembled James Maybrick while also suffering, like Maybrick, from chronic ill heath. It is also mentioned that he lived close to Anfield Cemetary in which Maybrick was buried. The article concludes by mentioning the existence of a secret affidavit lodged with Mike's solicitor and wondering what was in it.

At no point during the article is it alleged that Mike forged the diary. While that might have been implied by the suggestion that Mike was said to be a journalist with an interest in true crime and also by the implication that he didn't obtain the diary from Tony Devereux, as he claimed, this is all balanced out by the fact that it is stated without qualification that Mike never wanted to make any money from the diary, or rather from 'this project', a term which is somewhat ambiguous.

Mike, however, was extremely agitated when he saw a draft of the article. He wrote to Warren on 13 May 1994 threatening legal action. This letter was published in Ripperana under the rather unfortunate and someone ironic heading of 'BARRATRY' as below:

What you have written is defamatory. It is now 17 minuts (sic) past 7 Friday morning. A 9 o'clock I will be seeing my Q.C. in order to take action against you. Carry on which is ridiculous accusations and we are all going to end up on court, which is no fault of my own. I have a Q.C. who has been with me from the beginning. P.S. Sorry that you should feel so strongly about this. It dose (sic) not happen to be my fault. Look forward to hearing from you. And I particularly look forward to seeing you in court.


Mike doesn't identify in his letter what part of the article he found defamatory and, assuming that the draft sent to him was materially the same as the final version, it's hard to see what part of it could have been, although perhaps Mike believed that the suggestion by Anne Steele that her father wouldn't have given the diary to Mike, as he had claimed, was libellous. Whatever he thought was defamatory, Mike was obviously upset and agitated by Warren's proposed article, whose publication he wanted to block.

It's probably worth mentioning at this point that, in response to the claim by Eddie Lyons that Mike threatened to sue him after he (Eddie) told Paul Feldman that he was prepared to say that he found the diary in Battlecrease, the Chief Diary Defender always seems to insinuate that, because Mike threatened Eddie with solicitors, he was trying to suppress the truth. Well, if that's the case, what truth was Mike attempting to suppress by threatening Nick Warren with legal action?

It's certainly fair to ask the question as to whether the thing that agitated Mike so much from reading the draft was Nick's discovery that he had been, or rather was, 'a journalist' who had contributed features to magazines. Just imagine what must have been going through Mike's mind on the basis that he had kept this totally hidden from Doreen Montgomery, Shirley Harrison and others. The truth was finally about to be exposed. Indeed, it may well be that Doreen Montgomery, who had seen a draft of the article, was already asking him in May why Tony Devereux had believed him to be a journalist. How could he possibly talk his way out of this?

One can't help but speculate that it was the knowledge that he was about to be exposed, or even that he already had been exposed, and the pressure he felt under as a result, which caused Mike to crack and to confess in June 1994 that he had forged the diary.

Certainly no one has been able to put forward a better motive, or even an alternative one. Without wishing to repeat everything I said in 'Mike's Motive', nothing else is known to have happened in the period immediately prior to, or during, June 1994 which could have triggered Mike into making such a confession. His relations at this time with Anne apppear to have been good. On the very same day Mike was writing his letter to Nick Warren, Anne was writing to him to suggest they meet up in a park and go for lunch. In any case, Mike didn't mention Anne in his June 1994 confession.

There is also no obvious reason for Mike to have had any hostility towards Robert Smith or Paul Feldman at this point in time strong enough to have made him falsely confess to forging the diary.

What we appear to have in Nick Warren's article is Tony Devereux speaking from beyond the grave, exposing Mike Barrett's major secret. A reminder:

Mr. Devereux understood that Barrett was a journalist (he had certainly contributed features to magazines) ....

This was one dead man who did tell a tale.


30 November 2023

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