As the Court of Appeal quashes yet another murder conviction, Britain's longest serving miscarriage of justice prisoner waits for new forensic tests.
The story of the quashing of Sam Hallam's murder conviction as reported by the BBC is not quite accurate. This is not a man who spent eight years behind bars, like Thomas Haynesworth in another and even more terrible miscarriage of justice the other side of the Atlantic, Hallam was a mere boy, 17 years old, when he was convicted of the murder of Essayas Kassahun.
This was also not a case where a convicted man was exonerated by new evidence, rather it was evidence that our wonderful boys in blue had failed to disclose, that they had in effect suppressed. These are the same people who barracked the Home Secretary earlier this week.
There were two pillars on which Sam Hallam's successful appeal rested: flimsy identification evidence and mobile phone evidence. Although the judgment hasn't yet been published, in quashing Hallam's conviction, Lady Justice Hallett will undoubtedly have alluded to Turnbull. Turnbull was mentioned en passant in a BBC dramatisation earlier this week - of which more anon. To give it its full title, it is R v Turnbull and others, and the judgment was published in the ALL ENGLAND LAW REPORTS, 1976, VOL. 3, pages 549-60.
The Turnbull judgment is not one case but three cases involving four men:
R v Turnbull, R v Camelo,
R v Graham Roberts
R v Christopher Whitby
Turnbull and Camelo had their appeals dismissed; this was a rather unusual case involving conspiracy to burgle.
Both Roberts and Whitby had their convictions quashed. Whitby was said to have participated in a violent robbery. Although his co-defendant was acquitted, and Whitby's wife gave him an alibi, and while only 3 of 12 witnesses (from a total of 14) identified him, in his summing up, the trial judge said:
“Nevertheless...make no bones about it, there is a massive block of prosecution evidence implicating these two accused in this robbery, three people have identified each of them.”
It remains to be seen how any jury could have swallowed that, but the identification evidence in the Hallam case appears to have been even flimsier.
To understand just how easy it can be to misidentify someone after a fleeting glance, look at the photographs of the two men below, and ask yourself if under less than optimum conditions you could tell them apart.
Football manager Harry Redknapp.
Football manager Roy Hodgson.
The other evidence in the Hallam case, exculpatory evidence, is less easily explained. Well, no, it isn't. The bottom line is that the police knew this kid was innocent, or at least they strongly suspected it, and sat on this to bolster their case. Although he has spent the best years of his life, certainly the best years of his youth, behind bars, Hallam should count himself lucky in one respect, because the evidence could have been not simply suppressed to reappear at a later date, it could have been destroyed altogether.
Which brings us to the case of Michael Stone; the website for Britain's longest running miscarriage of justice prisoner can be found here.
Not much is happening on Stone's case at the moment, but in a personal communication earler this week, he reveals that he has now changed his lawyers again, and that the lab reports relating to tests or further tests on the little forensic evidence that exists in this case have not actually been disclosed.
It is believed by Stone's supporters that the Chillenden Murders, of which he has been twice convicted on evidence that would be laughable if it were not so tragic, were actually committed by Levi Bellfield, who was convicted last year of the murder of 13 year old Amanda Jane Dowler, making him a serial killer.
Earlier, we alluded to a BBC dramatisation; this is Silk, the first episode of the new series concerned a man of low intelligence who was charged with a particularly heinous crime. When arrested, he made one of those classic “It's a fair cop, guv” confessions in the back of a police car. The evidence against his co-defendant was that of a fleeting glance by the victim - who had been blinded in the attack. The case against him was thrown out, rightly - even though he was obviously guilty. In his submission, Counsel for the defence citied Turnbull - alluded to above. What was not brought into question though was the reliability or otherwise of the spontaneous confession in the back of a police car.
At one time, this practice - known as verballing - was widespread. With the Police And Criminal Evidence Act, 1984, verballing disappeared literally overnight. Police officers no longer fabricate such clumsy and at times ludicrous confessions because they will generally be ruled inadmissible - although the confession in this BBC series was genuine. In this actual situation, the jury would almost certainly not have been allowed to hear of this confession. That would have been the case too if Michael Stone had allegedly confessed in the back of a police car, or anywhere without a tape running. So instead, Kent Police used a drug addict/dealer, and self-confessed liar to fabricate a confession, and at his second trial Stone was convicted on that basis, and only that basis.
If that sounds bizarre, there is a good reason for that: it is. Stone's supporters are confident though that justice will eventually prevail in this case, but one thing is for certain, even if one day the real Chillenden murderer is put in the dock, neither Stone nor Sam Hallam will ever see those responsible for their years of torment held to account, for such is the nature of the privilege money can't buy.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com