Helen’s Law: What Happens When Juries Believe A Liar?

By Mark Leech

Harry Mackenney

Like any parent I can’t even begin to understand the heartache of Marie McCourt, the mother of Helen McCourt, who has no idea where her daughter’s body is located because the person convicted of her murder, Ian Simms, refuses to say – insisting he is innocent of the crime.

The planned law change announced today by Justice Secretary David Gauke, to be known as ‘Helen’s Law’ in her memory, will in future compel the Parole Board to take account of a failure to reveal the location of a victim’s remains when considering a killer’s release.

To any sane person it seems reasonable – doesn’t it?

But what happens if juries get it wrong?

What happens if they convict an innocent person?

What happens when juries believe a liar?

On 30th November 1980, at the Old Bailey, Terence Joseph Pinfold and Henry Jeremiah MacKenney were convicted of six contract killings and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Both men insisted they were innocent and knew nothing about any of the alleged murders.

It was a curious case.

There was no dispute that each of their six ‘victims’ had existed, nor that all of them had suddenly vanished. But the involvement of both Pinfold and MacKenney in their disappearances depended on the word of just one man: John Childs.

Childs, originally arrested and questioned by Flying Squad detectives for armed robbery, a crime he admitted, went on to tell them a bizarre story of six contract murders which, Childs claimed, had each been procured by Pinfold and then carried out by himself and MacKenney.

So where were the bodies?

Childs told detectives each of the six bodies had been dismembered in his east London flat, after which he attempted to mince the victims remains with an industrial three-phase electrical mincing machine.

When that failed, claiming the three-phase machine “would not turn at all” when connected to the flat’s two-phase electricity supply, the dismembered bodies he said had been cremated and reduced to ash in the flat’s fire grate – with the ashes then being dispersed into the wind at numerous rural locations.

Flying Squad detectives, led by Detective Superintendent Frank Cater, were dumbstruck by the story.

MacKenney was a man they knew well. They had arrested him dozens of times for a string of armed robberies but, despite standing over 6’4″ tall and being placed on over 60 of the Flying Squad’s Identity Parades, MacKenney had not been picked out as a culprit on any of them.

MacKenney’s one previous conviction was for punching a bus driver in the early 1960’s – hardly the monstrous murderer portrayed by Childs, but Cater, and his boss, Chief Superintendent Tony Lundy, threw everything they had into the investigation.

It came to nothing.

No bodies of any of the alleged victims were ever found.

Despite months of examinations not a single piece of forensic evidence was ever discovered linking either Pinfold or MacKenney to any of the alleged crime scenes – nor any evidence at all linking even Childs himself to the crimes.

No blood was ever found in the flat occupied by Childs, where the bodies were alleged by him to have been dismembered, and despite detailed searches no trace of the industrial mincing Childs claimed to have used unsuccessfully to mince the bodies, no trace of that was ever found either.

Despite a trawl through three years worth of Exchange and Mart newspapers, through which Childs claimed Penfold had purchased the mincer, no such machine was ever discovered that could to be linked to Pinfold, MacKenney or even Childs himself.

A detailed a month-long forensic search of the domestic fire grate in Childs’ flat, where he claimed each of the six dismembered bodies had been burnt to cinders, produced not a single speck of forensic evidence to support his claims.

Thorough forensic searches of the various locations where Childs claimed to have disposed of the victims’ ashes, also revealed nothing; not a single speck of evidence.

The Crown themselves were forced to confront this when Childs himself appeared for sentencing having pleaded guilty to the six murders.

John Matthew QC, prosecuting, told Mr Justice Lawson at the Old Bailey that, frankly, the only reason Childs was before the court at all was due to his admissions: “Without the admissions of this defendant the Crown could not have brought a prosecution at all in respect of any of these brutal murders.”

So how could Pinfold and MacKenney have been convicted – and how did I become involved in this case?

In 1994 I received a letter from Harry ‘Big H’ MacKenney, I was at the time myself in prison for robbery and writing regular feature articles on prison for The Guardian – the story MacKenney told me seemed utterly beyond belief.

I had been in jail for 14 years, I was no stranger to claims of innocence, but there was something different about his story, it was just so incredibly outlandish that I wanted to know more.

Private inquiries I made with other prisoners, at other prisons, brought the clear response: ‘Big H’ was telling the truth.

I asked Harry MacKenney to send me details of his case; four weeks later five large egg boxes stacked with trial papers arrived and with nine months of my own sentence still to serve, I settled down to read.

It was an astonishing example of justice gone wrong.

Soon after my release in March 1995 I took the case of Harry MacKenney to Michael Levy, a Manchester solicitor I respected and asked him to take the case on, he agreed and employed me as the Case Consultant.

With the advice and guidance of Edward Fitzgerald QC, a barrister I had known and respected for well over 20 years, I got to work.

It was obvious that getting to the bottom of this case meant dismantling the evidence of Bruce Childs.

Childs was a psychopath, that much was known from a report available at the trial of Pinfold and MacKenney, prepared by Mr Barry Irving.

Irving held a master’s degree in Social Psychology and was a member of the permanent research staff at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, he wrote: “I believe Childs to be severely psychopathic insofar as he shows an abnormal lack of reaction to social pressures, he will not exhibit to the court any of the normal externally observable signs of fabrication upon which the jury depend to detect lying from the witness’s demeanour.”

The Pinfold and MacKenney trial judge, Mr Justice May, ruled Irving’s report could not go before the jury.

“It is for juries, not psychiatrists or psychologists to determine whether a witness is telling the truth” he ruled. On the law as it stood at the time, he was absolutely right in his ruling.

Since then however the law had changed – although that of itself was not a sufficient ground of appeal.

I turned to Professor Morgan, a professor of Electrical Engineering at UMIST – the University of Manchester’s Institute of Science and Technology – and a world leader on three-phase electrical machines.

Sitting in his office I came straight to the point: Why would a three-phase industrial mincing machine, when connected to the two-phase domestic electricity supply in Childs’ flat, not work?

Answer: it would work.

In direct contradiction to the evidence of Childs that the mincing machine he had used ‘would not turn at all’, Professor Morgan explained that it would definitely turn, it would lack power, certainly, it may not be able to mince anything, but it would definitely turn because of what he termed ‘its characteristic of inherent torque’ – it was way above my pay grade.

Next, on the advice of Edward Fitzgerald QC, I needed a fire expert.

Inquiries I had made revealed that crematoria needed 1600-1800 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce a body to ash – could a fire in a domestic grate produce such temperatures?

Paul Williamson, a fire expert and Assistant Chief Fire Officer who I approached was adamant it could not; a domestic fire, even with an accelerant would not exceed 1000 degrees, way below the temperatures needed to reduce a body to ash as Childs claimed had happened.

More worryingly, evidence found in police files, but not disclosed to the defence at the trial, revealed that one of the alleged victims, Terry Eve, had actually been tracked down by police, living under an assumed name in west London, three years after Childs and the Crown alleged he had been murdered – and the Detective Chief Inspector who had been told this was still alive and able to corroborate it.

Finally Childs himself admitted, in a sworn affidavit, the whole story was fictitious from beginning to end, he had taken the details from newspaper reports – MacKeney and Pinfold he said were innocent.

It also became clear that Childs had a history of bogus admissions to crimes.

Childs told police he was responsible for:

i) The killing of an inmate when he was at Rochester Borstal in 1958/9. The police investigation of his confession concluded that although he had given a truthful account of his violent behaviour at Borstal, he had embellished it by making up the account of the murder of an inmate.

ii) A murder at the Kray Brothers Club in Holloway in 1964/5. Childs claimed that with criminal associates he “tried” a person alleged to be an informer and then shot him. The police concluded that it was extremely unlikely that this happened.

iii) The robbery and shooting at the Soho Club in 1966/7, stabbings in a public houses in Hillingdon and drive by shootings; the police could trace no record of these.

iv) A murder in Poplar High Street in 1978 of a vagrant whom Childs then claimed to have dismembered and burnt. The police could find no evidence to support this.

In July 2001 the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) having spent 18 months considering MacKenney’s application, referred the case back to the Court of Appeal.

More than two years later, in October 2003, the Appeal Court finally quashed the convictions of Harry MacKenney and Terry Pinfold and both men, after spending 24 years in prison, finally walked free.

But pause now for a moment.

What if none of this had happened?

What if Helen’s Law had been in place?

How could anyone convicted of a murder they knew nothing about reveal the location of the body whose death or disposal they had nothing to do with?

Juries do get it wrong, the case of MacKenney and Pinfold proves that six times over – and what happens even when juries get it right?

What happens when the Parole Board, forced to employ Helen’s Law comes up against someone genuinely guilty of a murder?

Someone who admits their part in it, who is remorseful, has made great progress in custody, whose risk of harm can be safely managed in the community – but who asserts the body was disposed of not by them, but by a third party, who are themselves now deceased, and they have no idea where the body of the person they killed is located?

Are they to be denied release?

And what of those killers who don’t care about getting out, what of those who have nothing to go out to?

What of those who will see this as a sick game, who wish to inflict even greater pain on the victim’s families who may well over the years have constantly abused them in the media whenever their case was mentioned – and who now demand their help?

What if they deliberately mislead by identifying as ‘burial sites’ what are today major buildings, motorways, railway lines, saying these are the final resting place of the deceased?

What if a person claims the body is buried in what is now Canary Wharf, the Port of Dover, or in future along what will be HS2?

How many times are these places to be shut down, sites excavated, and all in vain – raising a family’s hopes, only to have them trashed once again?

What happens if it is claimed the body was buried at sea – how does the Parole Board even start to look into that?

This is a difficult and complex area, one that politicians interfere with at their peril – what seems like the prospect of gaining political kudos may well in reality bring unforeseen and untold distress.

It is understandable why any parent wants to locate the body of their child, brutally slain and left to rot in some godforsaken place and of which they have no idea where.

But we are dealing here with some people to whom feelings do not matter, and the end result of Helen’s Law, however well-intentioned, may well be not what people have every right to wish for, demand and expect.

Justice itself.

Mark Leech, is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales.

He tweets as @prisonsorguk:

Wrongly convicted men seek landmark payout ruling

Sam Hallam - Innocent
Sam Hallam – Innocent

Two men convicted of crime who served long sentences before being freed by the Court of Appeal are fighting potential landmark cases for compensation.

They are asking the High Court to rule that UK law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) because it wrongly restricts compensation in “miscarriage of justice” cases.

Their judicial review challenges are the first to be brought against the coalition government’s decision last year to narrow eligibility for an award.

The first applicant is Sam Hallam, who served over seven years for murder after being ordered, as a youth, to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure for a minimum term of 12 years.

The second is Victor Nealon, who was given a life sentence for attempted rape. He served 17 years in jail – 10 more than the seven-year minimum term – after he persisted in claiming he was innocent.

Both men were set free after appeal judges ruled fresh evidence made their convictions unsafe.

Heather Williams QC, appearing for Mr Hallam, said the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which governs compensation payments was amended last year in a way that made it “incompatible with the presumption of innocence” in article 6(2) of the ECHR.

A narrower definition of miscarriages of justice than the previous version was inserted in March last year into the 1988 Act through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

Applicants for compensation now have to satisfy the Justice Secretary that “a new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt” that they did not commit the offences for which they were jailed.

The QC told Lord Justice Burnett and Mrs Justice Thirlwall at London’s High Court: “This means in effect that the applicant has to prove his innocence, and the Secretary of State has to assess whether he has established his innocence.”

Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg showed that such a criterion was “not permissible”.

Lawyers for the Justice Secretary are arguing that the Supreme Court has already decided that article 6(2) is not engaged, but even if it was the current rules on compensation do not infringe the presumption of innocence.

Mr Hallam was arrested after a gang of youths attacked Essayas Kassahun, who died two days later, on October 11 2004.

Mr Hallam, then aged 17, was convicted of Mr Kassahun’s murder, conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm and violent disorder.

But in May 2012 – seven years and seven months into his sentence – appeal judges decided all three sentences were unsafe.

They ruled that new evidence, in the form of timed and dated mobile phone photographs, dramatically undermined accusations that Mr Hallam had deliberately concocted a false alibi.

But the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) rejected his application for compensation for miscarriage of justice in August 2014 on the grounds that the phone evidence had been partly, if not wholly, attributable to Mr Hallam himself.

The MoJ also said the new evidence did not show “beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Hallam did not commit the offence….”

In the case of Mr Nealon, he was originally convicted of attempted rape on January 22 1997 at Hereford Crown Court and sentenced to life.

His conviction was quashed in December 2013, four years after a DNA test pointed to ‘an unknown male’ – not Nealon – as being the likely assailant.

Although denied legal aid, he was determined to receive compensation for the 17 wasted years spent in jail and the trauma he continued to suffer.

But in June 2014, the Ministry of Justice rejected his application on the grounds that the DNA analysis “did not show beyond reasonable doubt that the claimant did not commit the offence”.

The hearing continues tomorrow.

Gerry Conlon of the Guildford 4 Dies Aged 60

Gerry Conlon outside the House of Commons in 2005, showing the media the letter of apology he received from the prime minister, Tony Blair, for him being wrongly convicted of the Guildford pub bombings.
Gerry Conlon outside the House of Commons in 2005, showing the media the letter of apology he received from the prime minister, Tony Blair, for him being wrongly convicted of the Guildford pub bombings.

One of the best-known victims of a miscarriage of British justice, Gerry Conlon of the Guildford 4 has died at home in his native Belfast.

Portrayed on film by Daniel Day-Lewis in the Oscar-nominated In the Name of the Father, Conlon was still campaigning on behalf of those in prison he believed were innocent even in the days before his death from cancer early on Saturday morning. He was 60.

Conlon spent 15 years in prison for an IRA atrocity of which he was entirely innocent: the pub bombings in Guildford, Surrey, in 1974 in which five people were killed.

In a statement issued through Gareth Peirce, the lawyer who helped him and the other members of the Guildford Four – Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson – gain their freedom, his family confirmed he passed away in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The family said: “He helped us to survive what we were not meant to survive. We recognise that what he achieved by fighting for justice for us had a far, far greater importance — it forced the world’s closed eyes to be opened to injustice. It forced unimaginable wickedness to be acknowledged. We believe it changed the course of history. We thank him for his life and we thank all his many friends for their love.”

The Conlons added: “He brought life, love, intelligence, wit and strength to our family through its darkest hours”.

Conlon, who was from the Lower Falls area of Belfast, watched his father Giuseppe die in prison as one of the so-called Maguire Seven, which also included Conlon’s aunt Annie. They were arrested after being falsely accused of taking part in the same IRA bombing campaign in southern England during the mid-1970s. When he entered prison, Conlon’s father was suffering from emphysema and had just undergone chemotherapy. He died in 1980.

Peirce, who was with the Conlon family when Gerry died, added her own tribute. She said: “Once a community has been made suspect en masse every organ of the state will feel entitled, in fact obliged, to discover proof of their suspicions. The example of what happened to Gerry and his entire family should haunt us forever. Sadly these lessons are jettisoned when the next suspect community is constructed.

“Lessons should have been learned. One of the campaigns that Gerry was most strongly articulating at the time of his death was pointing out what is being done to the Muslim community today. He was the bravest of fighters, not just for himself and his family but, by virtue of his victory, he took on the fight for others.”

In October 1989 the court of appeal in London quashed the sentences of the Guildford Four after doubts were raised about the police evidence against them. On his release after a decade and a half in jail, Conlon went outside to face the media, stating: “I’ve been in prison for 15 years for something I didn’t do, for something I knew nothing about.” In an emotional climax to his speech, he added: “I watched my father die in a British prison for something he didn’t do.”

Conlon also vowed in his first minutes of freedom to fight to free the Birmingham Six, convicted of a series of IRA pub bombings in 1974.

The life sentences handed down to the Maguire Seven were later overturned by the court of appeal in June 1991. In 2005, prime minister Tony Blair issued a public apology to the Maguire Seven and the Guildford Four for the miscarriages of justice they had suffered.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said: “Gerry and his father Giuseppe were two of the most infamous examples of miscarriages of justice by the British political and judicial system. To his family and friends I want to extend my sincere condolences.”

Alex Attwood of the SDLP, whose party conferences Conlon had attended in recent years, also paid tribute: “What he learned from his time in prison and campaign for release was the importance of not only raging against his own injustice but fighting for those who had also suffered miscarriages of justice.”

Among others to pay tribute to Conlon, was the band the Pogues, who tweeted: “All the Pogues send sincere condolences to the family of Gerry Conlon today. How lucky we were to know him. RIP.”

In 2009 Conlon wrote in the Guardian about the personal and emotional struggles he suffered as a result of his incarceration and battle for freedom. He endured two breakdowns, attempted suicide and became addicted to drugs and alcohol following his release. Conlon also began suffering nightmares after securing his freedom. “The ordeal has never left me,” he said.

Despite his personal problems, Conlon dedicated the rest of his life to challenging over miscarriages of justice. He campaigned for the release of British prisoners held by the American military in Guantánamo Bay.

One of his last public outings was in a Belfast court just a few weeks ago, where he was supporting an appeal by two men from Craigavon in North Armagh who unsuccessfully tried to overturn a murder conviction over the Continuity IRA killing of a police officer in 2009.

Arguably the most tenacious campaigner for Conlon’s freedom and his three friends was his mother Sarah, who died in 2008. On the living room of her home in Albert Street, west Belfast, there was a framed photograph of a newspaper headline from the week her son was finally freed from jail. The headline quoted the trial judge, Mr Justice Donaldson, who sentenced the Guildford Four to life in prison back in 1975. The judge told Conlon and his friends: “If hanging were still an option you would have been executed.”

Mark Leech, the editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisons in England and Wales said it is a headline we should never forget.

Mr Leech said: “Everyone should remember that headline when the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade argue for a return of the death penalty.

“I knew Gerry, having spent time with him in 1984/85 in Long Lartin Maximum Security Prison in Worcestershire.

“There we played for the same football team, and it was obvious he was innocent because all of the other IRA prisoners who mixed only with each other would not associate with him – he clearly was not one of them.

“His death is a tragedy and a loss to the continuing fight against miscarriages of justice, my thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”

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.”

 

Former Judge Jailed For Wrongful Murder Conviction

Fornmer Judge Ken Anderson (L) and released Michael Morton (R)
Fornmer Judge Ken Anderson (L) and released Michael Morton (R)

A former Texas judge charged over a wrongful murder conviction when he was a prosecutor agreed to a 10-day jail sentence, accepting the punishment in front of the innocent man he helped put in prisonfor nearly 25 years.
Ken Anderson will also be disbarred and must serve 500 hours of community service as part of a sweeping deal that was expected to end all criminal and civil cases against the embattled ex-district attorney, who was the face of the law in a tough-on-crime Texas county for 30 years.
Anderson, 61, never spoke in his return to the same court in Georgetown where he served as a state judge for 11 years before resigning in September.
Sitting behind Anderson in the gallery was Michael Morton, who was released from prison in 2011 after DNA evidence showed he did not beat his wife to death in 1986.
“It’s a good day,” said Mr Morton, surrounded by family members.
Asked if he felt satisfaction in watching the role reversal – Anderson at the defence table, waiting to be put behind bars – Mr Morton said: “It was one of those necessary evils, or distasteful requirements that you have to do in life.”
He did not dwell on the length of the jail sentence, saying the punishment “or lack thereof” was as much as the legal system could dole out at this time.
Since being freed from prison, Mr Morton has become a visible embodiment of problems in the legal system in Texas, which leads the nation in prisoners set free by DNA testing – 117 in the last 25 years. Earlier this year, the former Republican chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court urged politicians to act on the issue.
Mr Morton was a regular presence at the Texas Capitol this spring and helped push through the Michael Morton Act, which helps compel prosecutors to share files with defence lawyers that can help defendants’ cases.
Anderson entered a plea of no contest to contempt of court. The charge stemmed from a 1987 exchange when Anderson, then the Williamson County district attorney, was asked by a judge whether he had anything to offer that was favourable to Mr Morton’s defence. He said no.
But among the evidence Mr Morton’s lawyers claim was kept from them were statements from Mr Morton’s then three-year-old son, who witnessed the murder and said his father was not responsible. There were also interviews with neighbours who told authorities they saw another man near the Morton home before the murder.
Judge Kelly Moore said the case against Anderson revealed a difficulty in determining justice.”There is no way that anything we can do here today can resolve the tragedy that occurred in these matters,” he said. “I’d like to say to Mr Morton, the world is a better place because of you.”
Mr Morton’s lawyers acknowledged that Anderson could serve as few as four days with good behaviour and time already served. A Texas judge had ordered Anderson’s arrest in in April on the contempt and tampering charges.
He faced up to 10 years in prison if found guilty on the tampering charges, but prosecutors said statues of limitations made it a difficult conviction to pursue.
Anderson has previously apologised to Mr Morton for what he called failures in the system but has said he believes there was no misconduct.
Eric Nichols, Anderson’s lawyer, made it a point to say in court his client “has not been convicted, and will not be convicted, of any criminal offence”.
Mr Morton’s lawyers said later there would be an audit of all cases previously handled by Anderson to look for other instances of alleged misconduct.
Mr Morton said his only goal since being freed was to get Anderson off the bench and make sure he never practised law again.

LOCKERBIE ‘BOMBER’ DIES IN TRIPOLI

Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi has died in Tripoli, his brother said.

Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison for the 1988 bombing of a US airliner over the Scottish town which claimed 270 lives. He was released from jail on August 20 2009 on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and sent home to Tripoli with an estimated three months to live.

The decision by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to free the only man convicted of bombing of Pan Am flight 103 provoked an international storm.

His death at his Tripoli home at the age of 59 was announced by his son, Khaled. The bombing of the American plane, travelling from London to New York four days before Christmas, killed all 259 people on board.

Eleven residents of the Dumfries and Galloway town also died after the plane crashed down on their homes in Britain’s biggest terrorist atrocity. After protracted international pressure, Megrahi was put on trial under Scots law at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. He was found guilty in 2001 of mass murder and was ordered to serve a minimum of 27 years behind bars.

Despite claims that he could not have worked alone, and the lingering suspicion by some that he was innocent, Megrahi was the only man ever convicted over the terrorist attack. He was freed from prison having served nearly eight years of his sentence after he dropped his second appeal against conviction at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh.

Mr MacAskill’s decision to allow him to return home to die in Libya sparked international condemnation from some relatives of victims and politicians, who demanded he be returned to jail.

US families were among the most vocal critics of the decision, along with US president Barack Obama. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton branded the move “absolutely wrong”. American fury at the decision was compounded by the hero’s welcome Megrahi received in Tripoli upon his return.

Prime Minister David Cameron has also come under pressure from some US senators for an independent inquiry into the decision to free the bomber. But the move attracted support from some victims’ relatives in Britain, and high profile figures such as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

David Ben-Ayreah, a spokesman for the victims of Lockerbie families, said: “I was told seven days ago by very good sources in Tripoli that he was slipping in and out of quite deep comas, that the secondary tumours had affected his abdomen and lower chest, and that he had had three blood transfusions. His death is to be deeply regretted. As someone who attended the trial I have never taken the view that Megrahi was guilty. Megrahi is the 271st victim of Lockerbie.”

BARRY GEORGE IN TEST CASE AFTER DANDO ACQUITTAL

Londoner Barry George, who spent eight years in prison after being wrongly convicted of the murder of the TV presenter Jill Dando, is to fight a test case for compensation.

Mr George, 52, who was cleared after a retrial in 2008, will be one of five lead cases to be heard at the High Court in London this autumn, a judge ruled today.

The five will test the law on who is now entitled to payments in “miscarriages of justice” cases following a landmark decision by the Supreme Court in May last year.

Mr George’s claim for damages for lost earnings and wrongful imprisonment was rejected by the Ministry of Justice on the grounds that he was not legally entitled to compensation.

Gordon Bishop, appearing for Mr George, from Fulham, west London, told Mr Justice Irwin his client was “very happy” that his case should go forward as a lead case.

He was still waiting to hear whether he had been granted legal aid to fight his case.

Mr Bishop said if his application was refused, he would seek a “protected costs order” to cap the amount he would have to pay if he lost.

SAM HALLAM CONVICTION QUASHED

A young man who spent more than seven years behind bars for a murder he insists he did not commit had his conviction quashed by judges today.

Sam Hallam, 24, was at the Court of Appeal in London to hear the announcement by Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice openshaw and Mr Justice Spencer that his conviction is “unsafe”.

Mr Hallam, who was convicted at the Old Bailey in 2005 of the murder of a trainee chef and sentenced to life, was dramatically released on bail by the three judges yesterday after prosecutors said they were not opposing his appeal.

His QC, Henry Blaxland, told the court that Mr Hallam, of Hoxton, east London, was the victim of a “serious miscarriage of justice”.

Mr Hallam was 18 when he was found guilty of the murder of Essayas Kassahun, 21, who died after being attacked by a group of youths on the St Luke’s estate in Clerkenwell, London, in October 2004.

His family and friends have waged a high-profile campaign insisting he is innocent, with supporters including the actor Ray Winstone.

Mr Hallam sat in the public gallery with his mother Wendy Cohen as the judges gave their reasons for their decision.

There was tumultuous applause and shouts of “justice” as the conviction was quashed.

SAM HALLAM FREED ON BAIL BY COURT OF APPEAL

A young man who has always pleaded his innocence over a 2004 murder had his first taste of freedom in more than seven years today after a dramatic twist in his case at the Court of Appeal.

Sam Hallam, 24, from Hoxton, east London, whom lawyers described as the victim of a “serious miscarriage of justice”, was released by leading judges after prosecutors announced they were not opposing his challenge against conviction.

Mr Hallam, who was 18 when found guilty and sentenced to life at the Old Bailey for the murder of a trainee chef, was released from the cells at the Royal Courts of Justice in London to be greeted by emotional family members and dozens of tearful and cheering supporters.

His mother Wendy Cohen, 53, who hugged her dazed-looking son, said the family was in a state of shock over the turn of events.

Surrounded by well-wishers she said: “My family has been through hell. It has been torture for Sam and the whole family.”

After leaving the building they were drenched in champagne by supporters waiting outside.

Among those greeting Mr Hallam were his brothers Terry, 31, and Danny, 29, and sister Daisy, 16. His father, Terry, was found hanged in October 2010.

Mr Hallam, who had earlier listened to proceedings from the dock of a packed courtroom, was hurried into a waiting car which sped away up Fleet Street as car horns honked and supporters whooped.

He was convicted in October 2005 of the murder of Essayas Kassahun, 21, who died after being attacked by a group of youths on the St Luke’s estate in Clerkenwell, London, in October 2004.

Since his conviction, his family and friends have mounted a high-profile campaign insisting he is innocent.

His case came before the appeal judges after it was referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent body which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.

Lady Justice Hallett, sitting with Mr Justice openshaw and Mr Justice Spencer, will give their ruling in the case at noon tomorrow, when they are expected to quash his conviction.

During today’s hearing, Mr Hallam’s QC Henry Blaxland told the judges that a miscarriage of justice was brought about by a combination of factors – including failure by the police to properly investigate Hallam’s alibi and by non-disclosure of material by the prosecution that “could have supported his case”.

Summarising the grounds of challenge, he said: “It is our case that this appellant SamHallam – and I put it boldly – has been the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice brought about by a combination of manifestly unreliable identification evidence, the apparent failure of his own alibi, failure by police properly to investigate his alibi and non-disclosure by the prosecution of material that could have supported his case.”

The prosecution case against Mr Hallam was based principally on the evidence of two witnesses who said they were present at the murder scene. They said they saw the then 17-year-old Hallam there and saw him take part in the fatal attack.

Mr Hallam, who was ordered to serve a minimum term of 12 years at the end of his trial, says he was elsewhere on the night of the killing.

An appeal against his conviction was dismissed in March 2007 and he applied to the CCRC to review his case in February 2008.

When announcing its decision to refer the case, the CCRC said it had done so because it “considers that a range of issues, including new evidence capable of casting doubt on the reliability of identification evidence at trial, together raise the real possibility that the Court of Appeal would now quash the conviction”.

Mr Blaxland said the appeal court had “bitter experience of wrongful convictions in cases such as this”.

Sometimes cases come before the court “in which it is necessary to re-learn the lessons of the past”.

He said: “In my submission, this is one such case.”

Mr Blaxland told the court that Mr Hallam had continued to deny that he was present at the scene of the murder, since his conviction.

The appeal judges heard there was new evidence relating to the “circumstances and reliability” of his identification and alleged presence at the scene.

Mr Blaxland argued that the identification evidence given by two witnesses was “so manifestly unreliable that the appellant’s submission of no case to answer should have been allowed”.

Fresh material included evidence from an acquitted co-accused that Hallam was not present at the scene and post-trial evidence from the appellant’s mobile telephone relating to his whereabouts on the evening of the crime.

He said the case “provides a stark reminder of the dangers of a miscarriage of justice from unreliable visual identification evidence”.

The QC told the judges: “The failures of disclosure and investigation by the prosecution are such that the appellant was deprived of a fair trial.”

At the end of today’s proceedings Lady Justice Hallett said: “May we express our appreciation to everybody who has been involved in investigating this matter, particularly the CCRC and Thames Valley Police, who have done an incredibly thorough job.”

publishED! THE DAMNING REPORT THAT COULD PROVE THE LOCKERBIE BOMBER IS INNOCENT

The full report of the legal grounds for the Lockerbie bomber’s second appeal has been published online by a newspaper which could prove Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi is innocent – a link to the report is at the bottom of this post.

The Sunday Herald today posted the 800-page Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) document on its website, the first time the report has been in the public domain.

The document, known as a statement of reasons, sets out the full details of the grounds for referral back to the appeal court in 2007 in the case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

The six grounds for referral were previously published by the SCCRC – the body which investigates potential miscarriages of justice – in summary.

Megrahi dropped his second appeal shortly before he was released from prison on compassionate grounds in August 2009 by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

The Scottish Government had brought forward legislation to bring about the publication of the full report but data protection rules, reserved to Westminster, barred its formal publication.

The Herald, which earlier this month published extracts of the report, said it had made the entire report available because it was in the public interest. The newspaper said Megrahi himself had sent a copy to Mr MacAskill.

Gerard Sinclair, the SCCRC’s chief executive, said: “We are aware of the document which has now been published on the Herald website. Whilst we have not yet been able to fully check through every page I can confirm that our first impression is that this does appear to be a copy of our statement of reasons.

“The Commission has always been willing to publish this document, subject to the appropriate protection of individuals’ rights, and to that end has been working for some time with the relevant parties, including the Crown Office and both the Scottish and UK Governments, to allow for publication of the outcome of our inquiries into Mr Megrahi’s conviction.”

The Crown Office released a statement today stating that “unauthorised publication” did not “deal with any of these (data protection and confidentiality) issues which rightly constrain all public authorities by law”.

It said: “We have become very concerned at the drip feeding of selective leaks and partial reporting from parts of the statement of reasons over the last few weeks in an attempt to sensationalise aspects of the contents out of context.

“Persons referred to in the statement of reasons have been asked to respond to these reports without having access to the statement of reasons and this is to be deplored.

“Further allegations of serious misconduct have been made in the media against a number of individuals for which the Commission found no evidence. This is also to be deplored.

“In fact the Commission found no basis for concluding that evidence in the case was fabricated by the police, the Crown, forensic scientists or any other representatives of official bodies or government agencies.”

In preparing for Megrahi’s second appeal, the Crown Office said it had considered all the information in the statement of reasons and had “every confidence in successfully defending the conviction”.

The Crown Office stressed that while it was the SCCRC’s role to determine whether a miscarriage of justice may have taken place, “it does not follow that there was a miscarriage of justice, only the Appeal Court can decide that”.

Megrahi was the only person convicted of the atrocity which killed 270 people when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie in 1988.

He was convicted by Scottish judges in 2001, unsuccessfully appealing against the verdict the same year.

He launched a second appeal, which was referred back to the courts in 2007.

Four of the grounds for referral back to the appeal court outlined in the SCCRC report refer to undisclosed evidence from the Crown to Megrahi’s defence team.

Those grounds cover evidence about a positive identification of Megrahi by Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who said he sold clothes to a Libyan man.

The clothes were linked to a suitcase loaded on to the plane, which was then linked to the bomb and eventually to Megrahi.

The SCCRC raised concerns that evidence suggesting Mr Gauci had seen a magazine article linking Megrahi to the bomb was not passed to the defence. Contradictions about the day Megrahi was said to have bought the clothes were also highlighted.

Also of concern to the SCCRC was undisclosed evidence about Mr Gauci’s interest in rewards.

A fifth reason covered “secret” intelligence documents not seen by Megrahi’s legal team while the sixth referred to new evidence on the date of clothes purchased in Malta.

Commenting on the publication, First Minister Alex Salmond said: “I welcome the publication in full of this report, which is something that the Scottish Government has been doing everything in our powers to facilitate.

“I especially welcome the fact that it offers a full account of the SCCRC’s deliberations rather than the partial accounts which have appeared in the media in recent weeks.

“While the report shows that there were six grounds on which it believed a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, it also rejected 45 of the 48 grounds submitted by Megrahi, and in particular it upheld the forensic basis of the case leading to Malta and to Libyan involvement.”

He added: “This report provides valuable information, from an independent body acting without fear or favour, and while we can not expect it to resolve all the issues in the Lockerbie case, it does however lay the basis for narrowing the areas of dispute and in many ways is far more comprehensive than any inquiry could ever hope to be.

“The Lockerbie case of course remains an open criminal investigation, and while the only place to determine guilt or innocence is in a court of law, the SCCRC is a valuable body which is itself part of the Scottish criminal justice system.”

Speaking on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Politics programme, Christine Grahame, convenor of Holyrood’s Justice Committee, called for an inquiry into the Crown Office.

She said the publication of the report was “highly significant”.

“The question now is where to go from here, and I would suggest there are routes to take,” she said.

“There are allegations in the report that the Crown Office withheld crucial evidence that might have been substantive evidence to assist the defence, and I think there is a question about how the Crown Office acted.”

She added: “With regard to the Crown Office, we can’t have rebuttals within the press, what we require is an inquiry.

“Colin Boyd was Lord Advocate at the time, if he’s correct (in his rebuttals) then there is no problem, he should have nothing to hide, nor should his office.”

On the appeal against Megrahi’s conviction, Ms Grahame said it would be “quite possible” for his family, after his death, to “step into the dead man’s shoes and resuscitate the appeal with the leave of the court”.

“The appeal process is not finished. There is the appeal process to deal with the conviction, but there is the very serious allegation here against the Crown,” she said.

“I have never known anything like this before. And I think where we have an allegation, I would wish the Crown to be able to establish that this is unfounded.”

Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes MSP said: “I welcome the publication of this full and detailed account of the events surrounding the Lockerbie case.

“Sunshine is the best disinfectant. It is vital for Scotland that our justice system is open and transparent.

“If mistakes have been made, it is vital that we learn the lessons so that justice can be served.”

 

http://login.heraldscotland.com/SCCRC-Statement-of-Reasons-red.pdf