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27 January 2020

Michelle Confait (1945 – 1972) sex worker

Confait, born in the Seychelles, but living in London, had been raised with the name Maxwell but preferred Michelle.

In the early 1970s she was working as a trans prostitute, and in 1971 was arrested for importuning and served five months in HMP Wormwood Scrubs (a men's prison) where she was protected by and provided sexual favours to Douglas Franklin.

On release she frequented the Black Bull Pub (later the Fox and Firkin) in Lewisham High Street where she met Winston Goode, an occasional transvestite. Goode had broken up with his wife although she and their children still lived in the same house in Doggett Road, Catford. Michelle became a lodger in the house at £2.50 a week.

A fire started in the early morning of 22 April 1971. Goode awoke, evacuated his wife and children and ran to Catford Bridge railway station, almost next door, to dial 999. The Fire Brigade arrived and extinguished the fire within ten minutes. They also found a body, later identified as Michelle Confait. Unusually the police surgeon did not take a rectal temperature to establish time of death as the senior policeman remarked that the body was a ‘possible homosexual’ and he did not wish to destroy any evidence of recent sexual activity. It was established that Confait had been strangled and there was no struggle.

The first suspect was Goode – for example why was he in his day clothes rather than his night clothes when he ran to ring the fire brigade? He was held at the police station all day and medically examined. He mentioned that Confait planned to move out, and admitted jealousy, but also denied that they were lovers. The Detective Chief Superintendent later commented that he was such a weak individual that he would have confessed under interrogation if guilty. A few days later Goode was admitted to Bexley Psychiatric Hospital, apparently unable to remember the previous few days.

There were a few other fires in the area in the next few days. An 18-year old with the mental age of eight, and two younger boys were arrested and interrogated without either their parents or a social worker being present. They were tried at the Old Bailey. Mr Justice Chapman described the victim as “an odd creature, and indeed it may be your view that he has been no great loss to this world”. The three boys were found guilty of manslaughter, despite having alibis for the estimated time of death, and claims of being hit by the police. Nor was it explained why they would kill Confait, and having done so, then wait several hours before setting the house on fire.

In May 1974 Goode swallowed cyanide and died – several publications had hinted that he was involved in the crimes. The next year Mrs Goode was quoted in the media that her husband had once tried to kill her, and she was certain that he had started the fire and murdered Confait.

Also in 1975 the new Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins referred the case to the Court of Appeal with the result that all three boys were found not guilty and freed. The judge particularly criticised the police for not putting more emphasis on the fact that there had been no struggle.

The house in Murder Houses of South London
In 1976 Douglas Franklin and Paul Pooley were sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, partly as a result of Franklin informing on Pooley. Pooley attempted to appeal but Franklin declined to give evidence. The two men were increasingly at odds, and other inmates said that Franklin was fearful of being incriminated for the Confait murder. Pooley was later quoted (with typical misgenderings):
“I tagged around with Doug and he took me down to Confait’s house in Catford. We both had a lot to drink by the time we got there and Doug was fooling around with Confait. Max put a record on and Doug started dancing with him. He was twisting a scarf around his neck. I Don’t know where it came from but suddenly I realised that a bit of fun was ceasing to be a joke. Max went blue in the face and fell to the ground.” 
In 1980 a high-level police report identified Franklin as the killer. It also confirmed that the time of death was 48 hours earlier than stated at trial. It had been assumed that rigor mortis started after the discovery of the fire. In fact, Confait had been dead for 48 hours and rigor was wearing off. The report concluded that had the boys not been arrested, Douglas Franklin would probably have become a suspect at an early stage of the original murder enquiry. Franklin committed suicide shortly afterwards.
27 Doggett Rd in Google St View

In the late 1970s and early 1980s there were other flagrant miscarriage of justice cases, Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Cardiff Three etc, and following a report by a former High Court Judge, the government set up the Royal Commission of Criminal Procedure which ultimately led to Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), 1984,  and the Crown Prosecution Service under the Prosecution of Offenders Act 1985 – which decides independently of the police whether a prosecution will proceed.

  • Satish Sekar. “Failure”. Fitted In: Social Justice, Legal Issues, July 2, 2014. Online.
  • Satish Sekar. “Douglas Franklin”. Fitted In: Social Justice, Legal Issues, July 1, 2014. Online.
  • Satish Sekar. “Paul Pooley”. Fitted In: Social Justice, Legal Issues, July 1, 2014. Online.
  • Jan Bondeson. Murder Houses of South London. Troubador Publishing, 2015: 171-7.
  • Kate More. “Testimonies of HIV Activism” in Kate More & Stephen Whittle (eds) . Reclaiming Genders: Transsexual Grammars at the Fin de Siecle. Routledge, 2016: 137.
  • “The Maxwell Confait Muder”. Lewisham Heritage, 25 August 2018. Online.
  • Jon Rogers. “INJUSTICE FIGHT What happened to Maxwell Confait and was his murder case ever solved?”. The Sun, 23 Oct 2019. Online.
  • Jon Robbins. “Cases that changed us : Maxwell Confait”.  Justice Gap, 21 November 2019. Online.
  • Paul Rock. The Official History of Criminal Justice in England and Wales: Volume II: Institution-Building. Routledge, 2019: 253-308, 290nn88, 94.

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