Marine Serving Life For Murdering Afghan Fighter Challenges Conviction

Sergeant-Alexander-BlackmanA Royal Marine serving life after being found guilty of murdering an injured Afghan fighter challenges his conviction today.

Five judges at the Court Martial Appeal Court in London will review the case of Sergeant Alexander Blackman.

Blackman, of Taunton in Somerset, will watch proceedings via video link from prison.

His wife Claire and dozens of supporters are expected to attend the hearing, which is due to last three days.

Blackman’s case has been referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent body that investigates possible miscarriages of justice.

The CCRC announced it had concluded that a number of new issues, including fresh evidence relating to Blackman’s mental state, ”raise a real possibility” that the Court Martial Appeal Court ”will now quash Mr Blackman’s murder conviction”.

Blackman applied for bail in December, pending his appeal, but the move was rejected by two judges.

The conviction challenge is being heard by Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, Sir Brian Leveson, Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice openshaw and Mr Justice Sweeney.

Blackman was convicted in November 2013 by a court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire, and sentenced to life with a minimum term of 10 years.

In May 2014, the Court Martial Appeal Court rejected a conviction challenge, but reduced the minimum term to eight years because of the combat stress disorder he was suffering from at the time of the 2011 incident in Helmand province while serving with Plymouth-based 42 Commando.

Blackman shot the insurgent, who had been seriously injured in an attack by an Apache helicopter, in the chest at close range with a 9mm pistol before quoting a phrase from Shakespeare as the man convulsed and died in front of him.

He told him: ”There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil, you c***. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.”

He then turned to his comrades and said: ”Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention.”

The shooting was captured on a camera mounted on the helmet of another Royal Marine.

During his trial, Blackman, who denied murder and was known at that stage as Marine A, said he believed the victim was already dead and he was taking out his anger on a corpse.

He was ”dismissed with disgrace” from the Royal Marines after serving with distinction for 15 years, including tours of Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.

Reporting restrictions remain in place which prevented contemporaneous reporting of details given during preliminary hearings, including the application for bail.

Journalists have been able to report the judgments given by the court at the conclusion of those hearings.

Whether or not restrictions are to continue during the full hearing will be decided by the judges at the outset of Tuesday’s proceedings.Sergeant-Alexander-Blackman

Court of Appeal allows charities to challenge legal aid cuts for prisoners

legalaidcutsTwo charities have today (Tuesday 28 July) won the right to challenge legal aid cuts for prisoners after the Court of Appeal ruled there was a risk that the system could be unfair and unlawful.

The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) have been inundated with requests for help from children and prisoners since the cuts were introduced in December 2013.

The cuts have coincided with an unprecedented deterioration of safety standards in English and Welsh prisons and a rise in suicides, compounded by staff shortages.

A challenge by the Howard League and PAS was blocked by the High Court in March 2014 – but that decision was today overturned by Court of Appeal judges Lord Justice Leveson, Lord Justice Tomlinson and Lady Justice Sharp.

The Court of Appeal’s decision means that the case can now proceed to a full trial. 

The charities argued in court that there were seven key areas of work cut from the ambit of legal aid that carry an unacceptable risk of unfairness. These included:

  • cases where prisoners appear before the Parole Board about their suitability for a move to open prison (but not release);
  • cases about pregnant prisoners being allocated to mother and baby units;
  • segregation;
  • access to offending behaviour work;
  • having a suitable home to go to on release from prison.

Unlike other cuts to legal aid, where a safety net was introduced to allow people to apply for legal aid in exceptional circumstances, the cuts for prisoners were absolute: there is no lifeline for even the most vulnerable or incapacitated prisoner to apply for legal aid for prison law matters.

In its detailed decision, the Court of Appeal recognises the risk of systemic unfairness as a result of the legal aid cuts to prison law. Lord Justice Leveson concludes: “The question of inherent unfairness concerns not simply the structure of the system which may be capable of operating fairly, but whether there are mechanisms in place to accommodate the arguably higher risk of unfair decisions for those with mental health, learning or other difficulties which effectively deprive them of the ability effectively to participate in, at least, some of the decisions to which [the applicants’ counsel] Ms Kaufmann refers.”

Lord Justice Leveson adds in the judgment that the Howard League and PAS are “pre-eminent in this field” and have “the very highest reputations”.

In the year following the cuts, calls to the Howard League’s advice line increased by 45 per cent. The legal team, which provides the only dedicated legal service for children and young people in prison in the country, is overwhelmed with requests from young people with nowhere else to turn.

Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) represents adults (over-21s) and receives thousands of letters and calls each year. The charity simply does not have the physical or financial resources to deal with the large amount of requests that it now receives for pro bono assistance and representation.

The first key point of the case argues that the removal of legal aid for a small number of important Parole Board cases is unlawful. These cases affect prisoners on life sentences and imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentences who can only progress to open conditions if the Parole Board advises that it would be safe for them to do so. This is important because, once in open conditions, prisoners can apply to work and receive education in the community. This step is key for prisoners’ rehabilitation and public safety. Making prisoners go through this stage without legal advice and representation is counter-productive and increases the risk to the public.

The second argument concerns the removal of legal aid for prisoners facing particular difficulties such as mothers threatened with separation from their babies, children and disabled prisoners who need a support package so they can be released safely, and mentally ill prisoners held in isolation. Managing people through long prison sentences is a skilful business which needs to be handled with extreme care so that they can resettle safely into the community.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:
“We welcome today’s decision, which offers hope to children and young people in prison.

 

“The Howard League’s legal team has represented many hundreds of children in prison and we want them to thrive inside and on release. Legal aid gets them the best help to achieve that.”

Deborah Russo, Joint Managing Solicitor at the Prisoners’ Advice Service, said: “We are delighted with the outcome of today’s hearing. The legal aid cuts to prison law have resulted in prisoners’ access to justice being severely curtailed with the consequence of further isolating an already very marginalised sector of our society.

“We therefore welcome today’s judgment, which now allows for a full hearing of the case and are thrilled to be now given the opportunity to put forward our case for legal aid for the most deprived and disadvantaged of prisoners.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Court of Appeal heard oral argument on 7 July 2015.  The case was before Lord Justice Leveson, Lord Justice Tomlinson and Lady Justice Sharp.
  2. The seven key areas of cuts to legal aid under challenge are:

    (1) Cases before the Parole Board about a move towards open conditions, otherwise known as pre-tariff reviews and return to open condition cases;

    (2) Prisoner eligibility for one of the few available places in mother and baby units;

    (3) Prisoner segregation and placement in Close Supervision Centres;

    (4) Category A reviews;

    (5) Access to offending behaviour courses

    (6) Resettlement and licence conditions

    (7) Disciplinary proceedings (where no additional days may be awarded)

  3. The Justice Committee’s year-long inquiry into the impact of the Government’s programme of reforms and efficiency savings across the prison estate raised concerns about the deterioration in safety. The report was published in March 2015 and is available here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/news/report-prisons-planning-and-policies/
  4. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  5. The Prisoners’ Advice Service is an independent registered charity which provides legal advice and information to prisoners in England and Wales regarding their rights, the application of the Prison Rules and conditions of imprisonment.
  6. The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service are jointly represented in these cases by Simon Creighton of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, Phillippa Kaufmann of Matrix Chambers, and Martha Spurrier and Alex Gask of Doughty Street Chambers.

Further information

 

Rob Preece

Press Officer

The Howard League for Penal Reform

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7880

Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955

Email: robert.preece@howardleague.org

ISDN line available on 020 7923 4196 – uses a G722 system

For enquiries outside normal office hours, please call +44 (0)7918 681094.

 

Deborah Russo

Joint Managing Solicitor

The Prisoners Advice Service

Tel: +44 (0)20 7253 3600

Tel: deborah.russo@prisonersadvice.org.uk

 

Killer cleared on retrial

The Prisons Handbook 2015 – out now  /  Home Page  /  Converse Prison Newspaper

 

staceyhyde

A young woman fell to her knees sobbing as she was cleared by a jury of murdering her friend’s violent boyfriend after a retrial ordered by the Court of Appeal.

Stacey Hyde was originally convicted at Bristol Crown Court in 2010 of killing 34-year-old Vincent Francis when she was aged 17 at the flat he shared with her friend, Holly Banwell.

Miss Hyde, now 23, from Wells, Somerset, had denied murder saying she was in fear for her life but the original jury disagreed and she was sentenced to a minimum of nine years in prison by Mr Justice Field.

However, in November last year, the court of appeal overturned her murder conviction and Lord Justice Laws ordered a retrial which has been held at Winchester Crown Court lasting four weeks.

Miss Hyde sobbed and wiped away tears as the judge, Mr Justice Teare, discharged her and told her she was free to leave the court.

The original trial heard that Miss Hyde, a waitress, armed herself with a 10-inch knife and stabbed Mr Francis up to 17 times.

The Bristol court was told that after stabbing Mr Francis, Miss Hyde told Ms Banwell: “I did it for you because I don’t like the way he treats you.”

Mr Justice Fields said that in sentencing Miss Hyde he had taken into consideration that the violence had been initiated by Mr Francis.

The trial heard that Miss Hyde, who had been drinking heavily that night, had gone back to Ms Banwell’s flat in Wells on September 4, 2009, after a night out.

Ms Banwell had called 999 after Mr Francis had attacked her and then Miss Hyde before the defendant then hit him back before she went and picked up a carving knife and stabbed him in the back and chest.

The jury was played the 999 call made by Ms Banwell in which she asks for help to stop Mr Francis from attacking Miss Hyde as the defendant then stabs him.

She says in the call: “My boyfriend is smashing, beating up my friend, she’s a girl and I need the police, I need the police ASAP.”

She continued: “There was a huge row and he hits me, and he started on, basically he hit me and he hit me so she hit him and now he has started on her and now they are hitting each other. I need the police.”

Ms Banwell then goes on to say: “Don’t f****** punch me, I’m on the phone to the police, don’t punch me, do you know what I mean, I’ve just got a smack in. No Stacey, put that down.”

With screaming heard in the background, she continues: “She has got a knife, she’s got a knife, she’s got a knife. She’s stabbed him. Oh my God she has stabbed him.”

The retrial has heard about Miss Hyde’s mental health with expert witnesses for the defence and prosecution disagreeing to the extent she may have suffered from a personality disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) which can lead to a failure of impulse control.

The Winchester court was also told that the defendant had difficulty coping with stressful situations and in 2009 had been sent for urgent assessment for problematic use of alcohol, depression, self-harm and suicidal tendencies.

 

In a statement released after the hearing, Miss Hyde said: “I would like to say thank you to Justice for Women, my legal team, friends and family for believing in me and giving me hope and strength to never give up.

“I will be forever grateful and blessed to have been given my life back.”

Her mother, Diane Hyde, said: “It’s the happiest day of my life. We’re ecstatic, very happy, can’t believe this has happened.

“We are very sad that someone died but we are very grateful for this verdict. We are very proud of Stacey who has shown great courage and dignity throughout this nightmare.

“It’s been five years of knowing the verdict was wrong in the first place, my daughter wouldn’t knowingly hurt anyone and none of us know what we would do if we are in fear.”

A spokeswoman for Justice for Women criticised the prosecution as the “unnecessary and costly murder retrial of a damaged and vulnerable young woman”.

She said: “Justice for Women have supported Stacey since 2011 throughout a series of appeals.

“We are delighted that justice has finally been done and that Stacey will now be able to receive the support she needs instead of being unjustly punished for her own vulnerability and fear.”

The spokeswoman said that the retrial had been unnecessary because Miss Hyde had been willing to plead guilty to a charge of manslaughter on the grounds that she was acting out of self-defence.

She added that even prosecution psychiatric witnesses had agreed that Miss Hyde had been suffering from a “number of mental disorders”.

The spokeswoman continued: “A 999 call made at the time of the killing revealed that Stacey was screaming in terror throughout the incident and that her former friend Holly Banwell, despite her evidence to the contrary, was under attack by Francis at the time of the stabbing.

“Evidence emerged of a history of violence towards women by Francis, including a former girlfriend who gave similar evidence.”

Failed Bomber Loses Appeal

Manfo Asiedu
Manfo Asiedu

One of the men jailed over a failed suicide plot to attack London’s transport network has lost a bid to appeal against his conviction.

Three judges at the Court of Appeal in London rejected an application by Manfo Asiedu for the go-ahead to challenge his conviction for “conspiracy to cause explosions likely to endanger life or to cause serious injury to property”.

Asiedu, who was jailed for 33 years in November 2007, claimed his conviction was “unsafe”.

Charges against Asiedu and others arose out of the taking of home-made bombs onto the London transport system on July 21 2005.

Ghanaian-born Asiedu, then aged 34, who was described as a ”trusted and major participant” in the failed plot, was tasked with exploding his rucksack device on the Tube at White City station but ”lost his nerve at the last moment” and dumped it in woodland.

Two weeks earlier, on July 7, a similar plot killed 52 innocent people on London’s transport network.

Asiedu’s application was turned down today by Lord Hughes, Mr Justice Wilkie and Mr Justice Irwin.

Restrictions previously in place preventing reporting of the case were lifted with immediate effect.

Asiedu pleaded guilty to the conspiracy to cause explosions offence at a retrial in 2007.

As well as the jail term, the sentencing judge recommended deportation on his release.

Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said Asiedu had lied on an ”epic scale” about his involvement in the planning of the attacks in which four bombs were detonated on three tube trains and a bus, but the main charge failed to ignite.

Four men were jailed for life at Woolwich Crown Court in London in July 2007 after being convicted of conspiracy to murder, and were ordered to serve a minimum of 40 years in prison.

Giving the Court of Appeal’s decision, Lord Hughes said Asiedu’s contention was that his conviction was unsafe “grounded upon complaints of lack of proper disclosure by the Crown of material relating to scientific evidence”, and associated criticism of one of the scientists called by the prosecution.

The judge said that a defendant “will not normally be permitted in this court to say that he has changed his mind and now wishes to deny what he has previously thus admitted in the Crown Court”, but added that it “does not follow that a plea of guilty is always a bar to the quashing by this court of a conviction”.

But the appeal judges declared that submissions made on behalf of Asiedu in his application were “unarguable”.

Lord Hughes announced that Asiedu’s “plea of guilty unequivocally establishes his guilt”, and there was “nothing arguably unsafe about his conviction”.

BBC Presenter loses appeal against 22 year sentence

Michael Souter
Michael Souter

A former BBC presenter jailed for 22 years after being found guilty of sexually abusing seven boys over two decades has lost challenges against his conviction and sentence.

Three judges at the Court of Appeal in London rejected applications by ex-BBC Norfolk and former Radio Clyde broadcaster Michael Souter.

Souter, now 61, of Low Bungay Road, Loddon, Norfolk, was convicted at Norwich Crown Court in October 2013 of abusing boys between 1979 and 1999.

Today, the appeal judges dismissed renewed applications for leave to appeal against both conviction and sentence.

Ruling on the conviction application, Mr Justice Goss said there was “no basis for any allegation that the applicant did not have a fair trial”.

He added that the court was satisfied that the matters raised by Souter relating to his conviction were “without substance or merit”.

The judge, announcing the court’s decision to also reject Souter’s sentence challenge, said: “This was indeed an appalling catalogue of sexual abuse of vulnerable victims over a protracted period. The applicant remains in denial.”

He continued: “The sentence, though severe, accorded with sentencing practice, and appropriately reflected his culpability and the harm caused by his offending.”

Souter was found guilty of a series of offences, including indecent assault, indecency with a child and seven counts of possessing indecent images of children.

He claimed his victims had lied.

When sentencing, Judge Mark Lucraft told him: “The childhood of many of your victims was destroyed and their lives blighted. You exploited your position to groom each of them.”

Clifford loses sentence challenge

Jimmy_max_and_gary

Disgraced PR guru Max Clifford has lost a challenge against his eight-year jail sentence for sex offences.

The sentence was upheld by three Court of Appeal judges in London today.

Clifford, 71, was jailed in May after being convicted of a string of indecent assaults, carried out between 1977 and 1984, using his celebrity connections to lure women.

The former celebrity agent, who branded his accusers “fantasists”, denied the charges, but was convicted at London’s Southwark Crown Court.

Announcing the appeal court’s decision, Lord Justice Treacy, who heard the case with Mr Justice Turner and Judge Michael Pert, said the sentence was “justified”.

At a recent appeal hearing, Clifford’s barrister Richard Horwell QC told the three judges that Clifford’s last offence was committed 29 years ago, “since when he has led an industrious life, and devoted a considerable part of his time to charitable works for which he has raised substantial funds”.

The trial judge had “accepted that he is no longer a danger to women and that he will not commit further offences”.

Mr Horwell said that for a number of reasons the sentence imposed was “too long”, adding: “Although the sentencing process must reflect modern attitudes, and I fully accept that that is our law, the sentencing process must not abandon common sense and fairness.”

Rosina Cottage QC, for the Crown, said the total sentence imposed was one the trial judge was “entitled to reach”.

When sentencing Clifford, Judge Anthony Leonard told him his personality and position in the public eye were the reasons his crimes were not revealed earlier.

He said: “The reason why they were not brought to light sooner was because of your own dominant character and your position in the world of entertainment which meant that your victims thought that you were untouchable, something that I think you too believed.”

He added: “These offences may have taken place a long time ago, when inappropriate and trivial sexual behaviour was more likely to be tolerated, but your offending was not trivial, but of a very serious nature.”

Clifford is currently serving his sentence at Littlehey Category C men’s prison in Cambridgeshire.

Announcing the court’s decision today, Lord Justice Treacy said: “It seems to us that, after consideration of the individual offences and the application of modern sentencing attitudes reflected in the guidelines, but tempered by the need to have regard to the statutory maximum available at the time, an overall sentence of eight years was justified and correct.”

It was a “just and proportionate” sentence “taking account of considerations of harm and culpability together with aggravating factors and such mitigation as was available to the appellant”.

Lord Justice Treacy said Clifford was sentenced to a total of eight years on eight counts of indecent assault relating to four victims who were “young and vulnerable” at the time of the offences.

He said: “Each was affected in respect of confidence and relationships and was harmed by what had been done to her.”

In considering the seriousness of any offence the court “must consider the offender’s culpability and any harm which the offence caused”.

The judge said: “Sexual offending will by its very nature cause harm at the time the offence is committed, but it is well recognised that for many victims significant harm persists for a considerable period afterwards.

“This is a case where it is clear that the effect of what was done to the victims was not something from which they recovered quickly.

“The appellant’s actions towards these victims had long term consequences for their lives. This is clearly a highly material circumstance for this court to consider.”

Rolf Harris in appeal bid

RolfHarris

Disgraced entertainer Rolf Harris has applied for permission to appeal against his convictions for a string of indecent assaults.

A spokesman for the Judicial Office confirmed that lawyers for the 84-year-old had lodged papers at the Court of Appeal this week.

The artist and musician was convicted of 12 indecent assaults on June 30 at Southwark Crown Court – one on an eight-year-old autograph hunter, two on girls in their early teens and a catalogue of abuse of his daughter’s friend over 16 years.

The court will now consider whether to grant permission for him to continue with his appeal bid.

Harris, a family favourite for decades, was finally unmasked as a predator who was fixated with under-age girls during his trial, with jurors told how his 16-year campaign of sex abuse against his daughter’s friend ”haunted” her and made her abandon her dreams as he continued to be adored by millions of fans worldwide.

His fall from grace was underlined as he was stripped of a Bafta fellowship and accolades in his native Australia were removed, and he faces losing his prestigious CBE.

The performer’s multi-million pound fortune is also at risk from potential compensation claims.

Harris was jailed for five years and nine months for the sex abuse, meaning that he is due to serve just under three years for the crimes, which spanned between 1968 and 1986.

Earlier this week the Attorney-General’s Office confirmed that the sentence would not be referred to the Court of Appeal for being unduly lenient.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright decided not to take action despite his office receiving 150 complaints about the leniency of Harris’s sentence, of which he will serve half, although it only takes one complaint to trigger the review process.

Alan Charlton ‘body in carpet’ conviction sent to appeal

Alan Charlton
Alan Charlton

A man convicted of murdering a Cardiff teenager whose remains were found wrapped in carpet 25 years ago has had his case sent to the Court of Appeal.

Alan Charlton is serving a life sentence for killing 15-year-old Karen Price, who disappeared from a children’s home in 1981.

He was convicted in 1991 and an appeal failed three years later.

But it has now been referred because of concerns over techniques used by South Wales Police to investigate the case.

‘Body in the carpet’

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) said there had been concerns about the alleged “oppressive handling” of key witnesses by officers and alleged breaches of police regulations.

It became known as the “body in the carpet” case after the teenager’s remains were discovered wrapped in carpet in a shallow grave on 7 December 1989.

A plastic bag had been placed over her head and her arms had been tied behind her back.

The body was found by workmen in the garden of a property in Fitzhamon Embankment, Cardiff, eight years after Karen had disappeared.

After failed attempts to identify her body, Richard Neave, of Manchester University, created a clay facial reconstruction of the skull.

Karen was identified following the reconstruction and DNA samples taken from her parents and the skeletal remains.

Charlton, from Bridgwater, Somerset, was living at Fitzhamon Embankment at the time the teenager went missing.

He was convicted on 26 February 1991 at Cardiff Crown Court and sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 15 years, but he remains in jail more than 20 years later.

In 1994, Charlton’s appeal was heard alongside that of co-defendant Idris Ali, from Birchgrove in Cardiff, who was Karen’s pimp.

The court dismissed Charlton’s appeal but quashed Ali’s conviction and ordered a retrial, where he admitted manslaughter and was released from prison.

Notorious cases

But following a lengthy investigation, the CCRC has now referred Charlton’s conviction to the Court of Appeal as it considers there is “a real possibility that the court will quash the conviction”.

CCRC has said a number of officers involved in the case also investigated two notorious cases that resulted in miscarriages of justice – the murders of Lynette White and Philip Saunders.

The CCRC has also told the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary about its concerns.

IPCC commissioner Jan Williams said it raised important questions about the conduct of South Wales Police during the 1980s and 1990s.

“In the light of questions around other similar cases, this clearly raises serious issues for public confidence in the integrity of the force at that time,” she said.

“We therefore expect South Wales Police to review all the evidence from the CCRC, make a decision, and record and refer any conduct issues that may come to light and which may then require IPCC action.”

Following news of the appeal, South Wales Police Chief Constable Peter Vaughan said: “We note that the Criminal Cases Review Commission has referred the conviction of Alan Charlton for the murder of Karen Price to the Court of Appeal.

“In light of this referral we must now allow the judicial process to take its course and therefore cannot comment further at this stage.”