The Carole Compton trial 1983
After six and a half hours, the jury of five men and one woman returned to deliver its verdict. Carole Compton was found guilty of two charges of arson, guilty of one reduced charge of attempted arson, and not guilty of a further charge of arson. The charge of attempted murder was found not proven. She was given a two and a half year prison sentence, but the president of the court ruled that she would receive a conditional discharge, and be set free at once, because of the amount of time she had already spent in jail.
Compton smiled and waved as three armed police officers escorted her out of a side door. She told the press: 'I’m just an ordinary girl, perhaps a bit naive, who found herself in deep trouble through no fault of her own. I have nothing against the Italian people'. The mother of Marco Vitulano (her former boyfriend) said: 'I’ve never believed Carole could commit such terrible acts, like trying to kill a defenceless child'. She added that her son was now a steward on a luxury liner. The British consul in Florence, Roger Eilbeck, said:
'Thank God it is over. I have visited her many times in prison and she always behaved with courage and dignity in very trying circumstances'.
The Scottish press regarded the trial as a parody of justice. The newspapers pointed out that the Italian system denied an accused person justice that was not only done but seen to be done. The court president virtually decided who should be called and which parts of their statements they should be questioned on; questions by Compton’s defence had to be put through him and rephrased by him if he decreed this necessary. Members of the public smoked, ground cigarette ends on the marble floor of the courtroom and sipped soft drinks during the proceedings, while jury members were spotted in restaurants in the town with no apparent effort being made to isolate them.
A well-informed regular correspondent to the letters pages of the Scottish press, Anthony J C Kerr, wrote that the Italian code was a hangover from the days of Mussolini and essentially aimed at repressing terrorism and organised crime. It was, he said, manifestly absurd that Compton should have been examined by a psychiatrist who could not speak English. In Kerr’s opinion Compton 'had to be found guilty of something' in order to avoid considerable embarrassment to the Italian state: 'The verdict must be seen in that light: it is above all a political compromise and does not carry the same stigma as a similar result would have done in a country with an honest legal system'.
Tomorrow: the aftermath of the case