The Carole Compton trial 1983
Scottish nanny Carole Compton, who had been held in custody for 14 months, appeared in an Italian court on a charge of attempting to murder a three-year-old girl, Agnese Cecchini, and five counts of arson. Compton was known in Italy as 'La Strega' (the witch) because of her alleged pyrotechnic power to start fires sub-consciously.
The prosecution alleged that Compton, who had never been in trouble before and was known as a caring person, started a fire in the holiday house of the Cecchini family on Elba. Her motive in doing so, they claimed, was to force the family to return to Rome so that she could be reunited with her Italian fiance, who was doing his national service. (They had first met when Compton was staying with her grandmother in Ayr and her boyfriend, Marco Vitulano, was a waiter at Turnberry Hotel. He dumped Compton after her arrest and had not been in touch with her since.)
Compton stood accused of causing a fire in the bed of the child’s grandfather the day after she arrived on the island and of setting fire to a mattress in the child’s cot while Agnese was asleep elsewhere. Three other charges related to earlier incidents when she was a nanny to the Ricci family in Rome.
For her trial in Livorno, Compton was brought from prison by armed soldiers and held behind bars in a locked cage of the courtroom. Her lawyer, Sergio Minervini, pleaded with the president of the court to release her from the cage on the grounds that she was neither dangerous nor likely to escape. The judge consented and a chair was placed for her in the well of the court near her legal advisers.
Witnesses testified how objects moved mysteriously in a room where Compton had been working. On one occasion, a statue had fallen over without explanation and a plate had fallen from a cupboard shelf. The court also heard of an electric meter which allegedly spun round, a boiler which burbled, and a picture of the Madonna which fell off a wall, all in the presence of Compton. No-one had touched them.
A senior fire officer told the court about the unusual circumstances of one of the fires: 'Normally flames start at the bottom and work upwards, but in this case the flames travelled downwards. It was very strange'. An expert on fires, Professor Vitolo Nicolo of Pisa University, said: 'In all my 45 years’ experience of this kind of investigation, I have never seen fires like these. They were created by an intense source of heat, but not by a naked flame'. He too said that the flames travelled down rather than up.
The trial continues tomorrow