True crime podcasts: finding the real story in law reports

If you listen to true crime podcasts you may recently have heard Bad People (BBC Sounds) report on the story of little Helen Priestley, a child from Aberdeen who was killed in 1934 in a case famously referred to as the ‘Aberdeen Sack Murder’. The evidence from this case was analysed and presented in part by Dr Sydney Smith, Regius Professor of Forensic Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and a forefather of forensic pathology, who used bacteria from vomit and hairs found inside a sack to identify the suspect Jeannie Donald. The jury deliberated for only 18 minutes before returning a guilty verdict. This made Mrs Donald one of the first people in the world to be convicted on the basis of forensic evidence.

Digitised version of the Daily Record front page from July 1934. Headline reads 'Woman condemned to hang: Jurywomen weep at sack trial verdict'. Photographs of Helen Priestly (victim, aged 8) and Jeannie Donald (accused) feature below the headline.

Image of Daily Record newspaper dated Tuesday 24th July 1934.

Although there are some sources online to back up the podcast’s story (such as from an article on Aberdeen Live, or an entry which might be useful for background reading on Murderpedia), as a librarian with a world of Scottish legal resources at my fingertips I felt it was important to verify the reporting of the story with good academic resources. I was particularly interested in how the case was reported in Justiciary Cases, however when searching Westlaw I found that access to the archive of material online from 1934/1935 is incomplete. If I were on-campus I’d be able to visit the Law Library to find the item in print, and even though I’m working remotely I could request scans via the Scan & Deliver service, however as this is just out of interest and not for research I thought I’d persevere online. Not to be deterred, I decided to try my luck with HeinOnline as I know it provides good access to many historical resources for Scots Law.

When I clicked through to Hein’s Scottish Legal History section and searched for ‘Jeannie Donald’ in the text box the first article of commentary I found was by William Roughead Juridical Review 46 Jurid. Rev. (1934). While skimming through the case I began to wonder if there was a market for significant crime reports being read aloud as audiobooks rather than podcasts, as Roughead’s analysis of the case made for engaging reading!

MURDER has a magic of its own, its peculiar alchemy.
Touched by that crimson wand things base and
sordid, things ugly and of ill report, are transformed into
matters wondrous, weird, and tragical. Dull streets
become fraught with mystery, commonplace dwellings
assume a sinister aspect, everyone concerned, howsoever
plain and ordinary, is invested with a new value and
importance as the red light falls upon each.

Although I couldn’t locate more information from Session Cases or another legal report, the 46 pages of Roughead’s account certainly provided a great deal of detail. I also found from searching online that a PhD student in Manchester used Sydney Smith’s writing up of the case from 1940 in the Police Journal 13, no.3 (1940): 273-87 as part of his thesis, and so was able to find further analysis of the case in that way. (Please note: The Police Journal is currently outside our subscription but if relevant for research it would be possible for the library to secure access using the Interlibrary Loan service.).

If you’re struggling to find good academic resources related to a case or legislation, you may find the following resources to be helpful:

If you feel that you’re familiar with these resources but need a bit more guidance, why not book a one-to-one appointment with a law librarian. We offer bespoke 30 minute appointments to help you with your area of study; simply book the date and time that works best for you using the MyEd booking link. A week before the appointment date we will contact you to ask for information about your query or area of interest, and then we will arrange either a Teams call or a location to meet in person.

If the appointment times listed don’t suit or you have any queries you’d like email assistance with, please contact us on law.librarian@ed.ac.uk.

New Year, New UoE Library Services training sessions

A blue and golden sky with a few scattered fluffy clouds is visible, with a black city skyline at the bottom of the image. Beams of light seem to be projecting from a golden glow in the centre of the image, where the sun is just visible setting beyond the buildings.

Rays of sun through houses at sunset, Morningside, Edinburgh (@eilisgarvey via Unsplash)

Welcome back to Edinburgh! Although we don’t yet know what 2022 has in store for us, we do know that we’re keen to make sure our students are the best prepared they can be! For the Law Library team that means offering you a full range of induction and refresher sessions on how to use the library. If you’re feeling like you could do with a little update on the best ways to find resources, book on to one of our upcoming events using the links below.


Library Refresher: Wednesday 12th January, 11am to 11.50am (online)

Aimed at all undergraduate and postgraduate students, this session is a whistle-stop tour of all the things we told you at the start of the year. We’ll rattle through the resources and links relatively quickly so that we’ve lots of time to answer your questions, and if you’re feeling confident by the end of the session we’ve also got a quiz for you!

Come along if… you found researching your assignments just a little bit tricky at the end of last term, and you can’t remember where to go to find help.


PG Using the University Library – Law: Wednesday 19th January, 10am to 11am

Join us for an introduction to using library resources at the University of Edinburgh. Topics covered will include how to find and access books, journal articles and legal databases using library resources, and how to get help if the library doesn’t have what you need. The second part of this presentation will take a closer look at major legal databases including Westlaw and Lexis Library where you will learn how to find full text cases, legislation and commentary, and tips on how to use these resources efficiently and effectively.

Come along if… you’re a PG Online student starting in January 2022 at the School of Law.


Library Support for the School of Law (STAFF): Wednesday 19th January, 12noon to 12.30pm (online)

We don’t just work directly with students, we’re keen to speak to fellow staff members about how we can support their work too. We’re running a short session where we’ll present a bit and chat to anyone who works with the School of Law to make sure they know about all the ways we can help enhance their teaching or support throughout the year.

Come along if… you’re a member of staff and want to find out more about how we can help you!


PhD Sources, Materials & Bibliography: Wednesday 26th January, 11.30am to 12.30pm

(contact the Law PhD office for a link to the Collaborate room)

This session is aimed directly at PhD and PGR students, and takes the form of a one hour session featuring top tips on how to conduct complex research and construct your projects. We also look at some of the key resources you will need and signpost some bespoke materials that may be useful for students at this level.

Come along if… you’re a PhD students starting in January 2022 at the School of Law.

Finding International Legal Resources

Following on from our last post about Finding Material for your Research and Study, we’ve just recorded a new video to introduce some of the databases we subscribe to for international law. If this is an area that is relevant to your study, grab a cup of tea and spend eight and a half minutes finding out more about how library subscription services can support your work.

Screenshot of the opening slide from the 'International legal resources' video. The slide indicates the presenters are from the Library Academic Support team, displays the title of the video, and three quarters of a greyed out university crest on a white background.

Is there an area of legal research you’d like to know more about, or would like to find resources for? Email us on law.librarian@ed.ac.uk to discuss, or book a one-to-one appointment with us via the MyEd booking system; search for “Literature search clinic” and select the Law specific event, or search for “Law” and select provider group “IS Library and University Collections” to find all our Law related training.

Meet your LexisNexis Student Associate for 2021/22!

We’d like to introduce you to Noah Norbash, one of your fellow students who is a specialist in working with LexisNexis and all their resources – such as the invaluable LexisLibrary and Lexis PSL databases! We recently met with Noah to discuss what he has planned for the year, and he’s answered the following questions so you can get to know him too.

Tell us a little bit about yourself! Who are you and what do you study at Edinburgh?

Noah stands in the foreground of the picture, smiling at the camera. He has dark hair and beard, and is wearing glasses. He has a colourful tshirt on. Behind him the pillars of a building in Old College are visible. The photo is taken with the camera from a low angle so that a portion of blue sky and white clouds are also visible.

Noah outside the magnificent buildings of Old College

I’m Noah – currently a student in the Graduate LLB programme. I grew up in the United States just outside of Boston, but I have spent many a year studying and living in St Andrews, the Veneto region of Italy, London, and finally here in Edinburgh!

Why did you apply to be the student representative for LexisNexis?

I applied to be the LexisNexis Student Associate on campus to not only enhance my own understanding of legal databases, but also to convey my knowledge to my fellow students. As an added extroverted bonus, I also get to have a bit of a chat here and there with interesting people! LexisLibrary has been of extraordinary help to me in my degree programme so far, and no doubt LexisPSL will be of equal significance when I begin the diploma and a traineeship. As a simultaneous LawPALS leader and a LexisNexis Student Associate, I looked forward to giving members of the university community the tools to succeed and achieve whatever they put their minds to.

What do you think is the best feature that Lexis offers for students in the Law School?

The #1 top-notch feature that can be accessed on LexisLibrary is without a doubt the Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia – it is a resource exclusive to LexisNexis, and it contains a wealth of information on every imaginable topic in Scots law with links to any relevant case law and legislation. In a nutshell, it serves as a textbook on the entirety of the laws of Scotland, and its usefulness cannot be overstated! When it came to preparing for moots or even getting a birds-eye view of material in advance of tutorials, the Encyclopaedia can quickly steer you in the right direction for where you need to go.

If you could name one top tip that everyone should know about your platform, what would it be?

A top tip everyone should know about the platform is that you can easily narrow searches of case law to only a particular firm: this is especially useful to those seeking a traineeship to be able to discuss specifically what issues their firm of choice may be facing in today’s legal climate. There is no better way to stand out from the crowd in an interview setting – being able to express niche insider-quality knowledge about the firm that is totally available to applicants is a spectacular way to impress. By reading a firms’ submissions and the judge’s opinion on LexisLibrary, you as an applicant can see the fruits of the firm’s labour and gain a clearer understanding of what the firm seeks to achieve in the courtroom.

When students book a training session with you, what can they expect to get from the meeting?

When students book a training with me, they can expect to gain insight into how to use LexisNexis software in an approachable and friendly setting. Over the course of the year, I will be running training sessions for Foundation- and Advanced-level LexisLibrary Certifications, LexisPSL certification, and Commercial Awareness more generally. Otherwise, students can get in contact with me for any Lexis-themed questions and I will be happy to help! Although I’m not an expert on par with the full-time Lexis Customer Success Managers, I will do all I can to imbue you with the knowledge I have been given and to give you a solid base of LexisNexis database-searching skills that will prove indispensable for the legal journey of your lifetime. Don’t be a stranger!


You can find Noah in his new and fabulous Teams group: tinyurl.com/LexisCorner

Alternatively youcan reach him by email at n.norbash@sms.ed.ac.uk.

Training: Welcome to the Library!

A pair of converse trainers stand on wooden boards, in front of a door mat which says 'welcome on board'. There are silver coloured bolts on the floor next to the mat which imply that this person is standing on a dock.

Image from PXfuel, licensed for re-use

It’s almost the start of the new academic year which means it’s one of the busiest times of year for Academic Support Librarians. We offer a range of introductory training sessions for students joining the university, and we have some bespoke sessions arranged for each level of study in the School of Law.

14th September: Postgraduate (online) – Using the University Library

22nd September: Undergraduate: Using the University Library

23rd September: Postgraduate (all) – Using the University Library

29th September: PhD – Sources, Materials & Bibliographies

These training events will all be run online using the Collaborate platform, and are often very popular. To find out more and register please use the MyEd Events Booking system and enter the titles above in the search box. Alternatively watch out for direct booking links being circulated via the UG, PG or PhD offices. We will also record these sessions and upload them to our Media Hopper Channel after the event.

When the semester begins we’ll offer one-to-one appointments which you can use to get additional advice to support your studies. These are also available to book via the MyEd Events Booking system, just search for “Literature search clinic” and select the Law specific event, or search for “Law” and select provider group “IS Library and University Collections” to find all our Law related training.

If you have any questions about these or any other training you’d like, please contact us by email: law.librarian@ed.ac.uk. We look forward to welcoming you (or welcoming you back) soon!

Event: House of Commons Library and Briefing Paper Research

If you are interested in legal information and the research that goes into official publications, you may find this upcoming event hosted by the Scottish Law Librarians’ Group to be of interest.

The Scottish Law Librarians’ Group Presents, in association with the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh:

The House of Commons Library and Briefing Paper Research

Thursday 1st July 2021. 7pm-8.30pm

The SLLG Committee and Advocates’ Library are delighted to introduce the inaugural event in our new online lecture series which we hope will be of great interest to law librarians, legal professionals, law students and anyone with an interested in professional legal research.

David Torrance is an experienced researcher at the House of Commons Library and has worked on briefing papers relating to both Scottish Independence and current events in Northern Ireland.

In this talk he will introduce the work of the House of Commons Library, explaining the resources available, how research is conducted, and how briefing papers contribute to the work of the House. We will look at some of the briefing papers David has authored, specifically with reference to issues of relevance for legal professionals in Scotland such as the legality of an independence referendum. The event will also include time for questions after David’s presentation.

This is an online event which will be hosted on Zoom. A link to the event will be sent out to registered attendees two days prior to the talk. The event will be recorded and a link will be circulated to attendees along with additional resources relating to David’s work following the event.

Register on Eventbrite

Training and dissertation support

We know it’s that time of year where dissertation research is many students’ top priority so we have scheduled some events that we hope will help you prepare for the project ahead. These are all happening over the next few months and are released for booking about three weeks ahead of the event date. The first two are now live and the others will be coming onto the system over the next few weeks.

Wednesday 5th May 12.00 to 13.00– Dissertation support: Referencing for Law (bespoke for School, 50 minute session.)

This session is designed to help students learn to reference into larger research projects such as dissertations. We discuss specific referencing systems such as OSCOLA and Edinburgh Law Review, and highlight key issues which students at the School of Law will need to be familiar with. Booking open at

https://www.events.ed.ac.uk/index.cfm?event=book&scheduleID=46811 Now Live!

Wednesday 19th May 12.30 to 13.00 – Using Law Databases (Library Bitesize, 30 minute session open to all)

This session covers selecting the appropriate database for your needs, locating sources of full text information for legislation, case law and commentary and tips and tricks for how to record and revisit searches.

This session will focus on the use of Westlaw, Lexis UK and HeinOnline.

https://edin.ac/2FXpv1q Now Live!


Thursday 3rd June 09.00-09.30– How to Reference and Avoid Plagiarism (Library Bitesize, 30 minute session open to all)

This session covers the basics of referencing and why it is important, tools to help you : Cite it Right, EndNote Online

[Please note : this is a short introductory session. For detailed help on this topic, see Managing Bibliographies with EndNote, Using EndNote Online to Manage your References Sessions]

Link will be at https://edin.ac/2FXpv1q (Not yet live on events booking)

Wednesday 16th June 12.30-13.00 – Choosing a reference manager (Library Bitesize, 30 minute session open to all)

This session covers the differences between reference management products, using with MS Word and how to create references using the software.

Link will be at https://edin.ac/2FXpv1q (Not yet live on events booking)


We also continue to offer individual research support clinic appointments which are available to book via events bookings (http://edin.ac/3bvd78B). Our next available appointment is on the 20th May, and once a fortnight thereafter.

Alternatively if you have questions or would like for us to schedule an appointment for a different day, please get in touch by emailing law.librarian@ed.ac.uk.

Three new things: Dissertations

It’s around the time where many of our students will be planning and beginning the research for their dissertations. If you’re at the start of this journey and looking for a bit of help we’ve got three new things which we hope will help you on your way.

1: Llm Dissertation : How to Maximise Marks for Your Practice Focused Dissertation by Suzanne Reece.

Book cover, which features an orange background and a student sitting at a desk facing away from the viewer. Visible on the desk are a laptop and many open books, and there are number hovering around the student's head, implying they are surrounded by research data.

This book is brand new to the library and while it is focused on specifically LLM dissertations, it contains useful information about how to plan for any large research project in Law. Chapters include helping choose your topic, planning and timing, and #SurvivalTips. Reece identifies top tips and common mistakes in students’ work and suggests activities to help you explore your research thoroughly. As such it’s more of a handbook than a set of rules to follow, but we think it will help answer many of the frequently asked questions that students have early in the process.

We have this ebook on an unlimited user license, which means that there’s no waiting and no queue to take it out. Find access information via the DiscoverEd record for this item.

2: Dissertation Festival (Guide and Festival Bag)

You may have seen that Library Services ran our second Dissertation Festival for the year in March 2021. While the festival events don’t exactly line up with Law Dissertation timetable, the wonderful thing about hosting the festival online is that we can keep the resources around for you to access just when you need them most!

  • Are you looking for some inspiration for which of the library collections can help you with your research?
  • Do you need some support in constructing your search strategy, or managing your results?
  • Would you like some tips from students who’ve previously completed their dissertation work?

The Dissertation Festival subject guide has all this and much more available with the click of a button! Recordings are available for our live sessions and slides have been added.  Plus you can access my favourite part, the festival tote bag (not a real bag) via the link on the front page. We can’t furnish you with free pens and post-its for the next academic year, but we do have an image of a penguin and a bagpiper from our collection that you can use as your Zoom background…

3: A twitter thread on #EdLitSearchTips

Our Academic Support Librarian colleagues have been compiling a list of tips that will help you get started with literature searching. Although you may have used DiscoverEd or our Library Databases to find materials for your assignments before, click through to this series of tweets to get advice from information professionals whose business it is to help you find information!

A screen capture of a tweet which features a black and white image of the corner of a laptop, a mug containing many pens and other stationery, and another mug.  The text in the tweet reads "The librarians often get asked for advice on literature searching - so over the next few weeks we will be tweeting some hints and tips! So look out for our #EdLitSearchTips".

Click this image to find a list of #EdLitSearchTips

If you’re struggling to get started with your research, why not arrange a one-to-one with one of the Law Librarians to discuss your research question and which direction you’d like to go? We can help suggest resources or even just provide advice on the best way to go about searching. Look out for the next available ‘Literature search clinic’ appointment using the MyEd Booking System and find the option for ‘Law’. Further details on how to book can be found on this earlier post on our blog, or just email law.librarian@ed.ac.uk.

Lets get quizzical, quizzical!

You may remember that as part of your introduction to library services the Law Library team presented information on how to find legal resources using our databases. We’ve created a short online quiz for you to test your knowledge and identify areas you may need more practice on.

The questions have been chosen with particular reference to the material used on the Scottish Legal Studies undergraduate course, however we think it’d be a useful resource to practice your skills at all levels.

The quiz can be accessed using the link below and will be live until the 11th December.

Finding Legal Resources Quiz

Please note the quiz is not compulsory. If you have any questions or comments please let us know by emailing law.librarian@ed.ac.uk.

Meet your LexisNexis Student Associate!

We’d like to introduce you to Sam Ingleton, one of your fellow students who is a specialist in working with LexisNexis and all their resources – such as the invaluable LexisLibrary database. We asked Sam some questions and hope you’ll enjoy getting to know him just as we did!

Tell us a little bit about yourself! Who are you and what do you study at Edinburgh?

My name is Sam, and I’m taking a Graduate-Entry LLB, following a Philosophy and English Literature (MA) from the University of Edinburgh. I’ve been fortunate to receive a training contract offer from DLA Piper in Edinburgh, which starts in 2022 – a wonderful certainty in a time of global upheaval! Studying for my LLB and working for LexisNexis leaves relatively little time for extra-curricular activities, but I enjoy winemaking, writing, music production, and exploring the city with my dog in my spare hours. I’ll be living in Edinburgh for the foreseeable future, resisting the lure of London for as long as possible; this is a city with a lot to offer young professionals and students (as long as you don’t mind the short days and pervasive drizzle!).

Why did you apply to be the student associate for LexisNexis?

LexisNexis is an extremely useful platform. It has helped me in my own studies, and prepared me for a future of legal research in a professional context. I always had ambitions to teach, but I could never manage full-time academia or classroom teaching. My sister teaches primary school children – a difficult, but extremely admirable profession! Working as a LexisNexis student associate is a fantastic compromise: I find great fulfilment in the practise of academic tuition. As well as the obvious benefits which come with competence in legal research, LexisNexis gave me the opportunity to be of benefit to others, in a community that thrives on a collective, supportive, inclusive ambition.

What do you think is the best feature that LexisLibrary offers for students?

With LexisLibrary, it’s the simple, intuitive functions which bring the most value. My favourite tools are those which barely merit an explanation! The ability to ‘drill-down’ through search results, narrowing by key words, topics, and specific search strings makes finding both familiar and unknown cases incredibly straightforward. This functionality accelerates the process of constructing new legal arguments, as well as enabling those searching for case law to support a specific point in an essay or tutorial question.

If you could name one top tip that everyone should know about your platform, what would it be?

One thing I wish I had known before I began the infamously arduous application process: the ‘alerts’ function. Using this tool, I receive weekly updates on developments at my target firms, which I never would have found using Google, or combing through legal news publications. This way, as soon as cases and judgements reach the press, I can see how my firm has been involved, and read their submissions and the judge’s opinion in full. This would be a much more interesting talking point during an interview than anything I presented during my own assessment period. For aspiring solicitors, I think LexisNexis is an often-neglected opportunity to monitor your specific firms very closely. You’ll never need to have a generic ‘legal implications of the pandemic’ discussion ever again!

When students book a training session with you, what can they expect to get from the meeting?

I’m proud of my ability to move students through the certification quickly, and highlight the tools which I think will be most useful to them, selectively and efficiently. It’s no secret that law students are time-poor, and ‘talking heads’ on video conferences are a very modern nuisance. I try to keep engagement high, explanations concise, and then give the session to the attendees to complete the certification and ask questions. Ideally, the whole process is complete in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. I also like to highlight the extreme usefulness of the certification. I spoke to a partner at an international law firm, who expressed to me that the thing they wanted to see from this generation of applicants was a complete literacy in legal database use. I think this could be the key to transforming a good application into an application which secures a training contract.

Sam has provided an introductory poster in case you want to read a bit more about how he can help you with all your LexisNexis needs. You can contact him via LinkedIn, by email (sam.ingleton@googlemail.com), or you can find out more on the LexisNexis Students UK Facebook page.