IT was the most damning confession in English casebook history - "Killed a young girl. It was fine and hot."

The extraordinarily dismissive statement surrounding the horrific killing of Fanny Adams was the sole entry in the diary of solicitor's clerk Frederick Baker for Saturday, August 24, 1867.

And those few words effectively put his head into the noose at what transpired to be Britain's last public execution.

Baying mob It was on Christmas Eve, 1867, in front of a baying crowd of 5,000, mostly women and children, that Baker, who suffered from a rare mental disorder, was hanged above the main gate at Winchester Jail.

Few people today probably are aware of the background of the phrase Sweet Fanny Adams' but her gruesome killing made sensational headlines throughout the land.

Little if anything disturbed the tranquillity of the village of Alton and none of the inhabitants could recall a local murder in their time.

So, without a moment's worry, Fanny's mother, Harriet, allowed the eight-year-old to set off from their home in Tan House Lane with her younger sister, Lizzie, and friend Millie Warner.

It was shortly after 1pm when Baker, impeccably dressed in a black frock coat, a tall black hat, a light waistcoat and trousers, approached them.

Baker, of sallow complexion and looking younger than his 29 years, induced Fanny with a half pence to accompany him up The Hollow, an old road or bridle way, which led to Shalden by the side of a hop garden. Bribing the other girls to play elsewhere, Baker took the reluctant Fanny away.

It was not until after 5pm that Fanny was noticed to be missing. Together with Minnie, Mrs Adams encountered Baker on his way back to the village.

"What have you done with Fanny?" the fraught Mrs Adams demanded.

"Nothing," he replied.

"You gave Minnie three halfpence to leave you with Fanny," she retorted.

"No I did not," he protested. "I gave her three halfpence to buy sweets, which I often do to children."

Mrs Adams threatened to call the police, to which Baker replied: "You may do as you like" - and with that walked on.

Fanny was still missing at 7pm and a search party formed. Entering the hop-garden, they were confronted with a sickening scene. Inside the gate lay a pool of blood and under a hedge, they found Fanny's head lying on two hop poles. The remainder of her dismembered body was found strewn around the field.

Two friends told her father who instantly returned to Tan House Lane, seized a shotgun and rushed to the hop garden to blast Baker, but the latter was elsewhere. Adams was disarmed and the friends remained with him, until Baker had been arrested.

Though he pleaded his innocence, tell tale spots of blood were clearly visible on both his wristbands and trousers. Such was the outcry that the local superintendent had to slip Baker out of the back door of his office to avoid the large crowd that had assembled in the street.

Asked after his arrest, Baker significantly replied: "No, I shall be soon up there," looking upwards in an incoherent manner.

Following his committal for trial, Baker was strangely held at the police station for a week, before being transferred to Winchester by cab as a huge crowd gathered outside the train station.

Realising that they had been outwitted, they chased after the cab, which they pelted with stones.

Such was the furore surrounding the hearing that the cramped and hopelessly inadequate facilities of the main court had to be hastily rearranged - with some reporters allotted to the dock where they sat alongside the accused!

The representative of the Hampshire Independent covered the historic hearing from the witness box.

The prosecution closed its case on the second day and the defence rested its case on Baker's mental condition, that he suffered from an uncontrollable impulse, a hereditary family trait. In a two-hour speech his lawyer detailed the illness which afflicted his father, a Guildford tailor, which had caused him on one occasion to try and kill his son and daughter with a poker.

His cousin was insane, having twice been detained at Bedlam, and his sister had died from a brain fever. Baker himself had tried to commit suicide by drowning after a doomed love affair. Former police sergeant John Davis described Baker's unpredictable moods as he accompanied him on his beat.

Following his inevitable conviction and sentence of death, Baker wrote out a confession, detailing how the girl's crying had angered him. In a bid to escape, Fanny had her head hanging over her right shoulder, and he stabbed her in the throat. Then "without consideration why', he decapitated her.

On the eve of his execution, Baker wrote a farewell letter to a friend.

"It is with a trembling hand and a heart overcharged with grief that I take my pen to address you by the endearing name of friend for the last time in this world. What am I now? A wretched culprit condemned to a death of shame with tomorrow's sun by the hands of a common hangman for a crime which renders me an outcast from both God and men - for murder, for sending a poor defenceless little girl before her creator.

"I have prayed to God for pardon and I trust I shall be forgiven. Thanks to the worthy authorities of the gaol for their kind attention to me. Dear friend, I wish this letter to be made public. From a guilty but repentant culprit, Frederick Baker."

Fanny was buried four days after her demise, the service conducted by the Rev W Wilkins in front of family, friends and villagers. The gravestone, erected by public subscription, reads: "Sacred to the memory of Fanny Adams, aged eight and four months, who was cruelly murdered on Saturday, August 24, 1867."