Three killers had their murder convictions quashed after a female police officer tried to hide the fact a jury member in their trial was her son’s girlfriend.
Detective Constable Rebecca Bryant lied about her relationship to juror Laura Jones, and sent texts telling her “don’t tell anyone who you are” during the murder trial in 2016.
The officer’s relationship to Miss Jones, a teaching assistant, was eventually discovered just weeks after Dwayne Edgar, Jake Whelan, and Robert Lainsbury, were sentenced to life in prison for knifing 29-year-old Lynford Brewster to death in Cardiff.
The three men then managed to get their convictions quashed in the Court of Appeal after a High Court judge ordered a retrial, accusing Det Con Bryant and Miss Jones of wasting court time and public money.
Lord Justice Treacy told the appeal hearing in July last year: “It is crystal clear that this juror should never have sat on this trial and that the assertion of objective bias is fully made out.
“In the circumstances, this trial was fatally flawed and the safety of the convictions is totally undermined.
“The folly of the juror and the police officer have wasted vast amounts of time and cost the public a great deal of money.
“Moreover, the agony for the victim’s family is inevitably prolonged.
“We very much regret that fact.
“However, there has not been a fair and proper trial because of the conduct of the officer and the juror and in those circumstances it is our duty to act.”
Text exchanges between the two women before the original trial at Cardiff Crown Court showed Det Con Bryant was aware Miss Jones could be involved as a juror, and also that both women knew Miss Jones worked at the school of victim Mr Brewster’s young nephew.
One text the police officer sent to Miss Jones read: “Remember what I sed (sic) though, as long as you don’t know any of the witnesses that’s fine.
“Don’t tell any of them who u r to me tho in case they think I’ve told u about it although u know I haven’t xxx”.
Det Con Bryant, who was working as a family liaison officer with Mr Brewster’s family during the court proceedings, initially lied about her relationship with Miss Jones after she was questioned by police, but later admitted the juror was in a long-term relationship with her son.
The officer is still employed by South Wales Police and is due to face disciplinary proceedings.
Assistant Chief Constable Jeremy Vaughan said: “When issues regarding the original trial came to light, the matter was voluntarily referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct and has been investigated by the South Wales Police Professional Standards Department.
“Our investigation, which has also been subject of independent review, has not found any evidence that the officer intended to undermine the criminal justice process, and following a formal submission to the Crown Prosecution Service the matter will now be dealt with through South Wales Police disciplinary processes.
“Our thoughts remain with the family of Mr Brewster who we have continued to support throughout this difficult time.”
Edgar, Whelan and Lainsbury were all convicted of murder on Monday following their retrial at Bristol Crown Court, and will be sentenced on March 26.
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”.
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 Guardianabout 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.”
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.