Op-Ed: Omar Benguit – a case for more than reasonable doubt Special

Posted Sep 24, 2011 by Alexander Baron
In the United States earlier this week, convicted murderer Troy Davis went to his death protesting his innocence; hopefully, Omar Benguit won’t have to do the same.
Miscarriage of justice prisoner Omar Benguit.
Miscarriage of justice prisoner Omar Benguit.
John Aidiniantz
Many murderers protest and continue to protest their innocence even in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt. Troy Davis shot a man to death in front of witnesses, and tried to blame another man; Linda Carty smothered a young mother with a plastic bag then blamed her conviction on a conspiracy of wicked drug dealers, and an incompetent lawyer; Mark Dixie claimed he ‘found’ his victim in the street and had sex with her dead body. And Omar Benguit? Well, he just might be innocent, in fact the question we should be asking is not why is Benguit serving a life sentence for the murder of Korean student Jong-Ok Shin, but why isn’t another man?
One person who has asked this question more than most is John Aidiniantz; if that name sounds familiar to you, it may be because you read his Digital Journal interview of June 12. His (for the moment small) Omar Benguit website can he found here. Describing himself as a legal student rather than a scholar, he was until recently the Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Museum. The creator of unarguably the world’s most observant detective, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famously believed in fairies. It is the view of Mr Aidiniantz that both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have not only closed their eyes and their minds to the demonstrable evidence in this case, but will believe anything that suits them.
Omar Benguit was tried no less than three times for the same murder before the Crown got the result it was seeking. Although this is exceptional, it is by no means unprecedented, but there appear to be very cogent reasons it should not have happened in this case.
In July 2005, Benguit’s appeal against conviction was dismissed by Lord Justice Latham. The transcript of this judgment – which is short at 32 paragraphs – can be found here. Probably the most important part of this judgment is paragraph 8, where the victim is said to have claimed the person who attacked her was wearing a mask. The inference from the testimony of the girl alluded to here as VB is that when Benguit committed this murder, he was not alone. There is also no mention of a mask, and no real suggestion of a rational motive. If as implied here Benguit had desired to have sex with the victim, even if that meant raping her, it would have made little sense to stab her to death (from behind, implying he hadn’t even propositioned her) and then run off. This is clearly the modus operandi of a psychopath rather than a rapist or even rapist-murderer.
The identity of VB has now been revealed; her name is Beverley Brown, and she appears in this video from The Jeremy Kyle Show.
Having said all that, her evidence together with the evidence of the other witnesses might have made some sort of case if another suspect had not only emerged but been known to the police at the time. Danilo Restivo has now been convicted of the murder of another woman in the vicinity, four months to the day after the murder of Oki Shin. In addition to that, he faces extradition to his native Italy for the murder of a 16 year old girl in 1993. The evidence that he rather than Benguit murdered Oki Shin is striking, except apparently to the British police.
This is not the first time they have been presented with a far more credible suspect than the local nutter, junkie, or in the case of Michael Stone, small time habitual criminal, and refused even to look at a man who has far better credentials for the senseless murder at hand, with or without a confession, and have literally refused to even consider the evidence.
Returning to John Aidiniantz, here we are playing Devil’s Advocate, and the case against Benguit still doesn’t look any stronger.
AB: Where, when and how did you first hear the name Omar Benguit?
JA: I read about the case.
AB: When did you register the domain?
JA: At the beginning of 2011 on behalf of the defendant.
AB: Apart from his sister and Barry Loveday, who else has shown an interest in this case?
JA: Few people may appreciate that a unanimous verdict of guilt doesn’t necessarily mean a thing as a result of the dubious ways in which the CPS obtains convictions, so not many people take an interest in people who have been convicted of murder, except family members of the defendant who believe he is innocent.
AB: This is the second such case you have taken up, but would it be fair to say that apart from the word murder, this has little or nothing in common with that of Michael Stone?
JA: The conviction relies solely on the testimony of drug addicts - crackheads to be precise - while in Stone’s case his conviction relied solely on the testimony of other prisoners who were also drug addicts into the bargain. So the case bears all the hallmarks of the modus operandi of the CPS where the most unreliable evidence imaginable is put before a jury in the hope of gaining a conviction. And if at first you don’t succeed, the law allows the CPS to try several attempts until a conviction is obtained.
AB: That may be and is true, but this is the same argument the police use every time they’re caught with their hands in the heimishe pickle jar up to the elbow, ie “they always say they didn’t admit it”; “it’s a fair cop, guv”, “I’ve been a police officer for twenty years and have an unblemished record”; “this guy is a serial burglar”, and so on.
Furthermore, there are some circumstances in which “reliable” witnesses are impossible to find, such as when someone is the victim of a serious assault in prison - like Roy Whiting, Ian Huntley and many others.
What about the prostitute who claims she was beaten up by a client? What about the drug addict who is stabbed or even murdered in the presence of another or several of his ilk? Are you saying no one can or should ever be convicted under such circumstances because some people are regarded as unworthy of belief under any circumstances whatsoever?
That may be a fine approach to take with a doorstep salesman or tele-evangelist who wants you to open your wallet, but it can’t be right in the halls of justice, surely?
JA: There is nothing wrong in considering the evidence of a crack addict /prostitute/prisoner/self-confessed liar etc who may be telling the truth about a particular incident which they themselves witnessed.
However, if an account is riddled with numerous inconsistencies and quite major factual errors - as in Beverly Brown’s case where she made completely contradictory statements at different times (and in the early stages even identified another person as the murderer!) - one has to treat such evidence very carefully and certainly not rely upon it in the hope that a jury may or may not convict. Evidence which is so tainted with absurdities should never be entertained as the sole criterion for establishing guilt - if at all it should even be considered.
In the case of Omar Benguit, he had to face three trials before a conviction was finally returned. By the law of averages one might think that if you keep placing your bets on the red colour, sooner or later you will strike lucky.
AB: What in your opinion are the strongest points of the case against Benguit, and why do you think they don’t add up?
JA: The strongest point against Benguit was that he lived in Bournemouth at the time of the crime and associated with crack addicts who pointed the finger of blame at him (and of course collected the £10,000 reward money along the way). Not very strong points perhaps, but that’s the only evidence against him, taken at its highest. Without wishing to sound facetious, there are no other points to add up.
AB: What do you think are the weakest points?
JA: The weakest points against him are that the Italian police had already telexed Dorset police warning them about the presence of Danilo Restivo in the Bournemouth vicinity, but the Dorset police merely responded by saying “thanks, but we’ve got our man” (Benguit). In the meantime, the murder of Oki Shin bears all the hallmarks of Danilo Restivo’s involvement who later went on to murder another local woman, Heather Barnett.
AB: If the case is as weak as you say, why do you think it got to trial, why did the judge allow it to proceed, and why did the jury convict?
JA: A good question, especially as Benguit faced three trials and not just one! One would think after so many trials and eventually a unanimous verdict of guilt that the CPS and police had got the right man in the dock. As the judge said to Benguit when handing down a 20 year [tariff] “you are a nasty piece of work”. As a result of these judicial endeavours however, the wrong man was standing in the dock all the time while the actual murderer- Danilo Restivo - was busily hunting down his next victim - Heather Barnett.
The questions you ask will be properly addressed on the website in due course and will probably form the basis of yet another “official enquiry”, but do you think any police officer or crown prosecutor will be losing any sleep over the matter?
AB: I haven’t seen the Jeremy Kyle footage but there is a big write up in the Daily Mail; it remains to be seen if the CCRC or the Lords Justices of Appeal will be impressed with either tabloid newspapers or tabloid TV. [The relevant part of the Jeremy Kyle interview can be found here].
JA: I don’t think the Jeremy Kyle footage will feature in the Court of Appeal’s deliberations. The Court of Appeal is not concerned if the CPS relies on the Devil himself as the “witness of truth” because if a jury believes what the Devil tells them, that is a matter for the jury, and the court will not render a conviction unsafe simply because the CPS has called the Devil himself to give evidence as their “Witness of Truth”.
AB: What do you hope happens, and what do you think can be done, by the authorities or by anyone else?
JA: When Benguit is released - which he must be because of the fresh and withheld evidence recently discovered - the authorities will have to clean up their act and reopen other cases where the sole evidence against a defendant has been the word of drug addicts or prisoners. Convictions should require more than simply asking witnesses to come forth to state “he did it, M’laud”.
In view of the weakness of the case against Benguit, the recent conviction of Danilo Restivo, and the way Beverley Brown broke cover, this does not seem an unduly optimistic prognosis, but Benguit as stated, he has already faced three trials and a failed appeal, and those who know how the system works, including John Aidiniantz, have no real basis for such optimism.