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.

Now, under new laws announced this month by the Justice Secretary convicted killers who refuse to reveal the location of their victim’s body may spend longer in prison. The planned law change, 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, I mean if anyone knows where the body is, then it has to be the convicted killer, doesn’t it?

Or does it – what happens if juries get it wrong?

What happens if they convict an innocent person?

What happens when juries believe a liar?

It has happened before – and I was involved.

On 30th November 1980, at the Old Bailey, Harry ‘Big H’ MacKenney and Terry Pinfold were convicted of six contract killings and sentenced to life – MacKenney getting a Whole Life tariff. 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 each and every one of them had suddenly vanished into thin air. But the involvement of both MacKenney and Pinfold in their disappearances depended on the word of just one man: John Childs.

Childs, originally arrested and questioned by Flying Squad detectives for an 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, having arrested him many 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 even once.

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 apart from his claims.

No blood was ever found in the flat occupied by Childs, where the bodies were said 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, well no trace of that was ever found either.

Despite a trawl through three years worth of Exchange and Mart newspapers, from which Childs claimed Pinfold had purchased the mincer, no such machine was ever discovered that could to be linked to MacKenney, Pinfold, or 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 piece 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 in respect of any of these murders.”

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

In 1994 I was nearing the end of a 14 year sentence for robbery in Scotland when I received a letter from ‘Big H’, who I knew from Parkhurst earlier in my sentence. I was writing feature articles on the prison system for The Guardian newspaper at time and he had read one and decided to get back in touch and ask for my help. “I’m innocent” he said.

After all the time I’d been in jail I was no stranger to claims of innocence, we’ve all heard them, but there was something different about Harry’s case, it was just so incredible that I wanted to know more so 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 sat down to read.

It was truly astonishing.

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.”

In short, Irving was saying Childs was so disturbed no-one could tell from watching him in the witness box that he was lying, he wouldn’t show any signs of it – but the 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 might lack power, certainly, but it would definitely turn. Why had no one at the trial checked?

Next, I needed a fire expert. Inquiries I had made revealed crematoria need 1600-1800 degrees to reduce a body to ash – could a fire in a domestic council flat grate produce such temperatures – and what about the smell? Neighbours of Childs questioned in 1979 all said his behaviour was bizarre, but none of them said anything about the smell of burning flesh.

I turned to Paul Williamson, an Assistant Chief Fire Officer with 35 years service. He was adamant about two things; firstly a fire in a domestic grate would not exceed 1000 degrees, you need a fuel injection system to get beyond that and 1000 degrees was way below the temperatures needed to reduce a body to ash – and secondly you could not burn six bodies without the smell of burning flesh being obvious.

“We all know how the smell of a bacon butty lingers in a kitchen for an hour” he said, “the smell of burning flesh is unmistakable, you can’t burn six complete bodies and no one notice a thing without powerful extraction fans.” Childs had never claimed to have extraction fans.

More worryingly, evidence we 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 south 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 start to end, he had taken the details from newspaper reports – MacKenney and Pinfold he said were innocent.

From inquiries we made it also became clear that Childs had a long history of bogus admissions to crimes. At various times, in addition to the claims he made about MacKenney and Pinfold, Childs had told police he was responsible for:

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

A murder at the Kray Brothers Club in Holloway in 1964/5. In this case Childs claimed that with criminal associates he acted as Judge and “tried” a person alleged to be an informer, and acting as Jury he convicted the man, and as Executioner he claimed to have then shot him. The police again conducted a full investigation and concluded that it was extremely unlikely that this ever happened.

There were further claims of a robbery and shooting at the Soho Club in 1966/7, stabbings in public houses in Hillingdon and drive by shooting too; the police could trace no record of any of these.

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 at all.

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, walked free.

But pause here now for a moment.

What if none of this had happened?

What if Helen’s Law, or something similar, had been in place at this time?

How could Pinfold or MacKenney, or anyone convicted of a murder they knew nothing about, reveal the location of a deceased 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 good progress in custody, whose risk of harm can be safely managed in the community – but who genuinely 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 after decades in prison 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 – families who may well over the years have constantly abused the prisoner in the media whenever their case was mentioned – and who now demand their help?

What if killers deliberately mislead by identifying as ‘burial sites’ what are today major buildings, motorways, or 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, Heathrow or Gatwick Airports?

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 and dashed once again?

What happens if it is claimed the body was buried at sea – how does the Parole Board even begin to unpick that one?

It is understandable why any parent wants to locate the body of their child, brutally slain and left to rot in some godforsaken place they know not where.

But this is a difficult and complex area, one that politicians interfere with at their peril. What seems to them like an opportunity to gain political kudos may well, in reality, bring nothing but unforeseen and untold distress to the victim’s family who have surely already suffered more than enough.

We may be dealing here with some killers who have no feelings, serial killers especially rarely do, and the end result of Helen’s Law, however well-intentioned, may be that the victim’s families must endure even greater pain.

Who knows what may happen when juries, families or the Parole Board, believe a liar?

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

He tweets as @prisonsorguk:

Mother ‘Elated’ Helen’s Law Will Deny Killers Parole Until Bodies Are Found

Read our Comment Piece:
Helen’s Law: What Happens When Juries Believe A Liar?

The mother of murdered Helen McCourt said she is “elated” laws are to finally change so killers are denied parole if they refuse to reveal where they hid their victim’s body.

Marie McCourt has begged murderer Ian Simms to tell her the whereabouts of her daughter’s remains ever since the insurance clerk vanished on her way home from work in 1988.

But the pub landlord, who was convicted by a jury on overwhelming DNA evidence of the 22-year-old’s abduction and murder and is still in jail, has always maintained his innocence.

She campaigned relentlessly to keep Simms behind bars until he helped lead police to her daughter’s body.

MPs voted in favour of the law in 2016 but it had yet to receive Government backing, until Justice Secretary David Gauke announced the move on Saturday.

Helen’s Law will make it a legal requirement for the Parole Board to take into account a killer’s failure to disclose the location of their victim’s remains when considering them for release.

Mrs McCourt, from St Helens, Merseyside, said she hoped it would stop the “torture” of killers “calling the shots” and realise they need to co-operate.

If they do help, it should not automatically mean they can be released, she added.

She told PA: “I feel really elated and quite relieved that it’s finally happening.

“I really can’t believe it. I have been trying for so long

“It has been a terrible stress on me since I started the petition in 2015. It was voted for in Parliament but then it was delayed after the general election.

“I just know Brexit took up too much time in Parliament.

“This law will help so many other families.”

When she marks what would have been her daughter’s 54th birthday later this month, she said it would be with her “heart lifted” in light of the news.

But she said it was still agony being denied the chance to recover her daughter’s remains, adding: “I wrote to him, begging him ‘please, please just tell me and you will not hear from me again’.

“I still hope he will remain in prison until he tells me.

“I hope one day I will know.”

She thanked her “amazing” MP Conor McGinn and Mr Gauke for their support in the campaign and said the wait for change was long but worth it.

Parole Board guidance already says offenders who withhold information may still pose a risk to the public and could therefore face longer in prison.

But Helen’s Law will for the first time make it a legal requirement to consider this withholding of information when making a decision on whether to release an offender, the Ministry of Justice said.

It is hoped the legislation will be brought into force as soon as possible.

Courts can also hand down tougher sentences for murderers who deliberately conceal the location of a body.

Mr Gauke said: “It is a particular cruelty to deny grieving families the opportunity to lay their murdered loved one to rest and I have immense sympathy with Marie McCourt and others in her situation.

“Those responsible should know that if they choose to compound this further through their behaviour, they will be held accountable.”

Read our Comment Piece:
Helen’s Law: What Happens When Juries Believe A Liar?

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.”

Six Baltimore police officers charged with prisoner death

Freddie Gray
Freddie Gray

Six officers in the police custody death of Freddie Gray are facing multiple charges including murder and manslaughter, Maryland’s state attorney has announced.

One officer faces a second-degree murder charge while the other officers face manslaughter or assault charges, among others, according to Marilyn Mosby.

She said the officers failed to get Mr Gray medical help even though he requested it repeatedly after he was arrested on April 12. She called his arrest illegal.

At some point while he was in custody, he suffered a mysterious spinal injury and died a week later.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore police officers union is asking Ms Mosby to appoint a special independent prosecutor for the investigation.

Fraternal Order of Police local president Gene Ryan told Ms Mosby in a letter that the union is concerned about her ties to the Gray family lawyer Billy Murphy.

Mr Murphy was among Ms Mosby’s biggest campaign contributors last year, donating the maximum individual amount allowed, 4,000 US dollars, in June. He was also on her transition team after the election.

The union says none of the six officers suspended in the investigation is responsible for Gray’s death.

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.”

 

35% Of People Say Marine Should Not Be In Jail

Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman
Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman

One in three people believes that a Royal Marine sentenced to life in prison for executing a Taliban fighter in cold blood should serve no jail time, a poll has found – but 65% said he should have been jailed and over 20% thought the ten years he received wasn’t long enough.

A total of 35% of respondents wanted Sgt Alexander Blackman to serve no jail sentence, 23% believed he should do five years, 20% were in favour of 10 years, while 22% thought he should be imprisoned for more than 10 years, the Mail on Sunday reported.

It comes as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed that 11 separate inquiries would be held into cases of Iraqis who died in British custody.

The online poll of 900 people conducted by Survation found that asked a more general question 39% of voters said they disagreed with Blackman’s 10-year minimum life sentence, while 37% were in favour.

Commenting on the poll, Sir Gerald Howarth, a former defence minister and current MP for army garrison town Aldershot, said he agreed the sentence was too harsh.

‘The highest standard of discipline must be maintained in the armed forces and this man obviously committed an offence,” Sir Gerald told the MoS. “But 10 years is too much. Five years would be more appropriate.”

Sir Gerald said that the court should have taken the marine’s “fine record” following several tours of duty into account when handing down his sentence.

But arguing in favour of Blackman’s punishment, former Lib Dem leader and ex-Royal Marine Lord Ashdown said he was content with the judge’s decision to follow the law.

An order banning the naming of Blackman, 39, was lifted by High Court judges after he was found guilty at a court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire.

Former senior officers and MPs reacted against that decision, amid claims that he may need protection from Islamists in prison, the Sunday Telegraph said.

Lord West of Spithead, a former first lord of the Admiralty, told the newspaper: “This is a man who has put his life on the line many times. I am not sure due account has been taken of this.”

Blackman, a respected senior non-commissioned officer with 15 years’ experience, was convicted last month following a two-week court martial in which his two co-accused, known only as Marines B and C, were acquitted of murder.

He was also ”dismissed with disgrace” from the Royal Marines.

The killing happened five months into an arduous six-month tour of Helmand province in 2011 with Plymouth-based 42 Commando, known as Operation Herrick 14.

Blackman, a 6ft 3in physically imposing marine, shot the Afghan, who had been seriously injured in an attack by an Apache helicopter, in the chest at close range with a 9mm pistol.

Calls for him to be treated more leniently came as the MoD announced that it had began to organise 11 “semi-inquests” into cases of death in British custody in Iraq following a ruling by the High Court.

An MoD spokesman said: “All serious allegations of mistreatment are investigated by the independent Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), who has the power to recommend prosecution where appropriate.

“We do not accept on current knowledge that it will be necessary to hold quasi-inquests into other cases that were not identified by the court.

“The department will be reviewing this position once IHAT has investigated the claims to see what further investigation needs to be undertaken to comply with Article 3.”

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national prisons newspaper for England and Wales said he felt it was ‘absolutely right’ Blackman should have been jailed.

Mr Leech said: “If murder is wrong then its ‘wrong’; right?

“This poll shows that 65% of the public questioned think it was absolutely right he was jailed, I agree with that, and over 20% think a tariff of ten years wasnt long enough – but its about right when the sentencing guidelines are considered.

“The fact is Blackman clearly knew what he was doing, and he knew it was wrong – he said so himself.

“He was in a difficult situation but don’t forget he was convicted by a Courts Martial – convicted by fellow soldiers who know better than anyone what he was going through and they said he’d crossed the line into murder – if anyone should know they should know.”

Marine Gets Life – Judge’s remarks in full.

Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman
Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman

Here in full are the sentencing remarks of Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett, which were delivered to Sergeant Alexander Blackman during his sentencing at the court martial centre in Bulford, Wiltshire:

“Sergeant Blackman,

“On 15 September 2011, while on patrol near CP Omar in Helmand Province, you shot an unknown Afghan insurgent in the chest and killed him. He had been seriously wounded having been engaged lawfully by an Apache helicopter and when you found him he was no longer a threat. Having removed his AK47, magazines and a grenade, you caused him to be moved to a place where you wanted to be out of sight of your operational headquarters at Shazad so that, to quote what you said: “PGSS can’t see what we’re doing to him.” He was handled in a robust manner by those under your command, clearly causing him additional pain, and you did nothing to stop them from treating him in that way. When out of view of the PGSS (Persistent Ground Surveillance System) you failed to ensure he was given appropriate medical treatment quickly and then ordered those giving some first aid to stop. When you were sure the Apache helicopter was out of sight you calmly discharged a 9mm round into his chest from close range. Your suggestion that you thought the insurgent was dead when you discharged the firearm lacks any credibility and was clearly made up after you had been charged with murder in an effort to concoct a defence. It was rejected by the Board.

“Although the insurgent may have died from his wounds sustained in the engagement by the Apache, you gave him no chance of survival. You intended to kill him and that shot certainly hastened his death. You then told your patrol they were not to say anything about what had just happened and you acknowledged what you had done by saying that you had just broken the Geneva Convention. The tone and calmness of your voice as you commented after you had shot him were matter of fact and in that respect they were chilling.

“That Afghan man, as an injured enemy combatant, was entitled to be treated with dignity, respect and humanity. Some commentators and members of the public have said that you should not have been prosecuted and that you have not committed a crime because it was killing within a conflict. Some also suggest it is legitimate to kill wounded enemy combatants because, as you said after you shot the insurgent, it is nothing they wouldn’t do to British casualties. Those commentators are very wrong: if the British Armed Forces are not assiduous in complying with the laws of armed conflict and international humanitarian law they would become no better than the insurgents and terrorists they are fighting. Hearts and minds will not be won if British service personnel act with brutality and savagery. If they do not comply with the law they will quickly lose the support and confidence of those they seek to protect, as well as the international community. You and all Service personnel learn this throughout your training – you demonstrated that you knew that then, because you tried to cover it up, and you know it now.

“This was not an action taken in the heat of battle or immediately after you had been engaged in a fire fight. Nor were you under any immediate threat – the video footage shows that you were in complete control of yourself, standing around for several minutes and not apparently worried that you might be at risk of attack by other insurgents. You treated that Afghan man with contempt and murdered him in cold blood. By so doing you have betrayed your Corps and all British Service personnel who have served in Afghanistan, and you have tarnished their reputation. In one moment you undermined much of the good work done day in and day out by British forces and potentially increased the risk of revenge attacks against your fellow service personnel. You have failed to demonstrate the self discipline and restraint that is required of service personnel on operations, and which sets British troops apart from the enemy they fight.

“Of course sitting in a court room in middle England is a far cry from the brutality of the conflict in Afghanistan, but you have been judged here by a Board made up of Service personnel who understand operational service because they too have experienced it. That is one of the strengths of the court martial system.

“Many people have expressed views on your sentence in the media demanding a severe punishment on one hand and leniency on the other. However, you are not being tried by the media nor by those who express themselves vociferously. This court martial is an independent and impartial tribunal which will not be influenced by these sorts of statements and we have ignored them. We have reached an independent decision on the appropriate sentence based on all of the evidence we have heard, your plea of mitigation and the legal framework which we are obliged to apply, together with our collective experience of the law and the context and stresses of operations. Board members have served in all the theatres in which you have served.

“Murder has always been regarded as the most serious criminal offence and the sentence prescribed is different from other sentences. By law, the sentence for murder is imprisonment for life and, by virtue of the Armed Forces Act 2006 s217, that is the sentence we must pass on you. There is no discretion to do otherwise. You will remain subject to that sentence for the rest of your life.

“The decision whether to release you from custody during this sentence will be taken by the Parole Board which will consider whether it is safe to release you on licence. We are therefore required by law to set a minimum term that has to be served before the Parole Board may start to consider whether to authorise your release on licence. If you are released, the licence continues, as I said, for the rest of your life and recall to prison is possible at any time.

“This offence is unique and unprecedented in recent history. You were in a tough operational environment where you were legally entitled to use lethal force against the enemy. Whilst carrying out your duty, you came across a very seriously wounded enemy combatant. You were obliged to care for him but instead you executed him. That is a wholly different matter from the cases of murder in the UK normally considered by the civilian courts, but we are still required by law to apply the same law which those courts are required to apply.

“Parliament has set starting points (based on the circumstances of the killing) in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 Schedule 21, and we must apply that Schedule when fixing the minimum term. We reject the defence submission that Schedule 21 is not applicable. The drafters of the legislation provided a framework for all offences of murder and it is an unmeritorious argument to suggest that one particular type of murder was outside their contemplation. Schedule 21 provides a framework to assist the court in arriving at an appropriate sentence and there is sufficient flexibility to take into account the exceptional circumstances of this case.

“We have, therefore, identified an appropriate starting point within Schedule 21. From there we have gone on to consider whether to increase or reduce the sentence from that starting point in the light of aggravating or mitigating factors.

“This is not a case where a whole life order is appropriate. The normal starting point for a murder involving the use of a firearm is 30 years. (paragraph 5 of Schedule 21). In the case of R v Jones and Others [2005] EWCA Crim 3115 Lord Phillips LCJ (at paragraph 26) explained why this was the case. He said: ‘We have no doubt that the reason why the seriousness of such an offence is normally considered to be particularly high is that it results from the unlawful carriage of a loaded firearm and that the usual purpose of carrying such a firearm is to be able to kill or cause really serious injury. It is possible to envisage circumstances where this is not the case, but they will be very rare. Where a firearm is carried for the purpose of being used as an offensive weapon, we find it hard to envisage what reason there could be for not following the guidance in Schedule 21 and adopting 30 years starting point.’

“Clearly this is not a ‘normal’ firearms case. You were on duty in Helmand Province where you were undertaking duties on behalf of the British Government. Those duties were dangerous and life threatening and you were required to carry weapons and if necessary use lethal force in the furtherance of Government policy. Your case is one of the exceptionally rare circumstances envisaged by their Lordships in Jones where a firearm was used but where the starting point will be less than 30 years.

“We are also satisfied that this offence does not fall within Schedule 21 paragraph 5A which specifies a minimum term of 25 years for offenders who take a knife or other weapon to the scene intending to commit any offence or have the weapon available and use it in committing a murder. As I have already said, you were armed legitimately and there is no suggestion that you set off on that patrol intent on murder.

“In circumstances where the offence does not fall within the whole life, 30 year or 25 year starting points, the appropriate starting point is 15 years (Schedule 21 paragraph 6) and that is the starting point we have adopted. As I have said we must then apply aggravating and mitigating factors to that starting point.

“We have considered the list of statutory aggravating factors in paragraph 10 of Schedule 21. We do not accept the prosecution submission that the use of a firearm is an aggravating factor. You were armed legitimately and authorised to use lethal force. In fact in this circumstance your use of force was illegal, but it would be wrong to consider the use of a pistol which was carried lawfully in the context of military operations as an aggravating factor. We also accept that there was not a significant degree of planning or premeditation although it is clear from what you said that you decided shortly after you had disarmed the insurgent that you were going to do something to him which you did not want to be seen by your superiors in the headquarters. However, we have taken into account the following statutory and other aggravating factors:

a. The victim was particularly vulnerable because he was seriously wounded and lying helpless and in obvious pain while you considered what to do with him.

b. Your actions have put at risk the lives of other British service personnel. You have provided ammunition to the terrorists whose propaganda portrays the British presence in Afghanistan as part of a war on Islam in which civilians are arbitrarily killed. That ammunition will no doubt be used in their programme of radicalisation. That could seriously undermine the reputation of British forces and ultimately the mission in Afghanistan. As I have already said, committing this sort of act could well provoke the enemy to act more brutally towards British troops in retribution or reprisal.

c. You were in charge of the patrol and it was incumbent upon you to set the standards. Long before you shot the insurgent you should as a Senior NCO have shown better leadership to young and less experienced men. In fact you abused your position of trust by involving the other junior and subordinate members of your patrol in covering up what you had done and lying on your behalf.

“On the other hand, there are a number of statutory and other mitigating circumstances which apply, and which we have taken into account.

a. First provocation: The cumulative effect of the increased kinetic activity, together with the deaths and life changing injuries to fellow marines had an obvious effect on you. You were also affected by the story that the Taliban had hung a British serviceman’s severed limb in a tree, although you did not personally see that. You were also in no doubt that the victim was an insurgent who had been firing at CP Taalanda moments before he was wounded.

b. Second, the stress of operations: This was your sixth operational tour and your second to Afghanistan in under 14 years of service. We accept that you were affected by the constant pressure, ever present danger and fear of death or serious injury. This was enhanced by the reduction of available men in your CP so that you had to undertake more patrols yourself and place yourself and your men in danger more often. We also accept the psychiatric evidence presented today that when you killed the insurgent it was likely that you were suffering to some degree from combat stress disorder.

c. Third your personal mitigation: The recent death of your father, your previous good character and excellent record of Service and the fact that you would never have committed this sort of offence at home in the UK.

“The determination of the ultimate sentence is not a mathematical calculation but a question of balance and we have drawn together our collective experience of the law and of the Armed Forces to pass a sentence which reflects the seriousness of the offence, the context of the offending and your personal mitigation. While we acknowledge your personal circumstances and the immense pressure you were under, we note that thousands of other Service personnel have experienced the same or similar stresses. They exercised self-discipline and acted properly and humanely; you did not.

“It is also very important that this Court sends out a very strong message that while this sort of offence is extremely rare, if not unique, those Service personnel who commit crimes of murder, or other war crimes or crimes against humanity while on operations will be dealt with severely. This is a message of deterrence but it is also to reassure the international community that allegations of serious crime will be dealt with transparently and appropriately. In our view that message is delivered by sentencing you to imprisonment for life. Setting the minimum term reflects the seriousness of the offence while taking account of the unique and special circumstances of this case and your personal mitigation.

“We took some of the operational contextual mitigating factors into account in reducing the starting point from 30 to 15 years, but the other mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors we have identified. Having balanced all of these matters we have determined that the minimum term you must serve before you are eligible for the Parole Board to start considering whether you should be released on licence will be 10 years. That will be reduced to 9 years 327 days to reflect the 38 days you have already spent in custody.

“As an inevitable consequence of a sentence of life imprisonment you will also be reduced to the ranks and dismissed with disgrace from Her Majesty’s Service. We consider it necessary to dismiss you with disgrace because a sentence of dismissal simpliciter would be inadequate to reflect the gravity with which the court regards your conduct.”

Marine ‘Devastated’ At Life Sentence

Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman
Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman

An experienced Royal Marine says he is “devastated” at being handed a life sentence for executing in cold blood an injured Taliban fighter.

Sergeant Alexander Blackman, 39, will serve at least 10 years’ imprisonment for murdering the Afghan national in Helmand province in 2011.

The married commando, known to friends and family as Al, said he was “very sorry” for his actions, which were filmed on the headcam of a comrade during the fateful patrol in “the most dangerous square mile in Afghanistan”.

At the court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire, Blackman, a respected senior non-commissioned officer with 15 years’ experience, was “dismissed with disgrace” from the Royal Marines.

Speaking after Blackman was led away to begin his sentence in a civilian prison, his solicitor Issy Hogg thanked the public for the support they have shown to him and his wife.

“Sgt Blackman and his wife are devastated by the life sentence imposed upon him together with the order that he serve a minimum of 10 years before he is eligible for parole,” she said.

“Furthermore, he has been dismissed with disgrace from the Royal Marines, with whom he has served proudly for 15 years.

“He is very sorry for any damage caused to the Royal Marines. Finally, Sgt Blackman thanks the public for the support shown to him and his wife.”

Miss Hogg added that Blackman, who until yesterday was known as Marine A when judges at the High Court in London ruled he should be named, intends to appeal.

Blackman was convicted last month following a two-week court martial in which his two co-accused, known only as Marines B and C, were acquitted of murder.

The killing happened five months into an arduous six-month tour of Helmand province in 2011 with Plymouth-based 42 Commando, known as Operation Herrick 14.

Blackman shot the Afghan, 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.

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

Blackman, a 6ft 3in physically imposing marine, then turned to comrades and said: “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention.”

He told the court martial that he fired his gun out of anger but insisted the insurgent was already dead and explained why he fired: “Stupid, lack of self-control, momentary lapse in my judgment.

“I thought about it over the last year as we get towards these proceedings but I cannot give any other reason than to say that it was poor judgment and lack of self-control. I thought he was dead.”

The court heard a glowing reference from Blackman’s commanding officer who said the sergeant was being considered for promotion.

Lieutenant Colonel Simon Chapman pledged his “full support” to Blackman – describing him as “a normal citizen tainted only by the impact of war”.

“His momentary and fatal lapse of judgment on the battlefield two years ago not only served to end an enemy combatant’s life prematurely, but it has also altered his own life, and that of his family, immeasurably,” Lt Col Chapman said.

“He had so much to behold – a proud career and a promising future. Sadly, this is no longer the case. But, fundamentally, he is not a bad man. In fact, in almost every respect, he is a normal citizen tainted only by the impact of war.”

Anthony Berry QC, for Blackman, called for leniency on the grounds of the “exceptional circumstances”.

“It is no exaggeration to say that sergeants like Blackman in the British Army and the Marines really form the backbone of the individual operations which they are required to undertake,” he said.

But sentencing Blackman, Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett said the commando had betrayed the armed services.

“You treated that Afghan man with contempt and murdered him in cold blood,” the judge said.

“By doing so you have betrayed your corps and all British service personnel who have served in Afghanistan and you have tarnished their reputation.

“In one moment you undermined much of the good work done day in day out by British forces and potentially increased the risk of revenge attacks against your fellow service personnel.

“Your actions have put at risk the lives of other British service personnel. You have provided ammunition to the terrorists whose propaganda portrays the British presence in Afghanistan as part of a war on Islam in which civilians are arbitrarily killed.

“That ammunition will no doubt be used in their programme of radicalisation. That could seriously undermine the reputation of British forces and ultimately the mission in Afghanistan.

“Committing this sort of act could well provoke the enemy to act more brutally towards British troops in retribution or reprisal.

“You have failed to demonstrate the self-discipline and restraint that is required of service personnel on operations, and which sets British troops apart from the enemy they fight.”

The judge added: “It is also very important that this court sends out a very strong message that while this sort of offence is extremely rare, if not unique, those service personnel who commit crimes of murder or other war crimes or crimes against humanity while on operations will be dealt with severely.

“This is a message of deterrence but it is also to reassure the international community that allegations of serious crime will be dealt with transparently and appropriately.”

After the sentencing, the Ministry of Defence released a short statement saying: “Throughout this case the Ministry of Defence has followed the independent legal process and a sentence has now been delivered.

“We respect the authority and decision of the court and it would be inappropriate of us to comment on the sentence.”

Rent Boy On Murder Charge

michael_and_ree

A rent boy has claimed the Brighton man he is accused of bleeding dry financially and murdering wanted to marry him, a court has heard.

Ricardo Pisano (r) said Michael Polding (l) not only gave him money to send to his family in South Africa but also offered to marry him in order to sort out his “visa issues” so he could stay in the UK, a jury was told.

Pisano, 36, dubbed the South African Artful Dodger after he fled a New Zealand prison, is accused of murdering 62-year-old Mr Polding at his Brighton flat and going on the run for nearly a year.

Mr Polding’s badly decomposed body was found by police neatly positioned and wrapped up in bedding in his rented two-bedroom flat in St George’s Road on July 16 last year, although he is believed to have died two months earlier from “blunt force trauma” to his chest.

Pisano, formerly of Methuen Street, Southampton, was arrested on May 7. He denies murder and causing grievous bodily harm but has admitted preventing the lawful and decent burial of a body, the jury has heard.

Giving evidence at Lewes Crown Court, Pisano said he met Mr Polding in December 2009 after advertising himself as a rent boy in a gay magazine to get himself out of financial difficulty.

Even though he is not homosexual, Polding paid him for sexual services and they became friends, so much so that Pisano took to calling him St Mikes and eventually moved into his Croydon home when he needed somewhere to stay, he told the court.

“When I met St Mikes I was at a very low point in my life and I wanted to take my own life. He took me out of it and made me see differently, that I should not worry and that something good would come,” he said.

“He was a very caring person; very caring and understanding.”

William Mousley QC, defending, asked Pisano about his past and how he came to the UK.

Pisano told the court that Ricardo Pisano was not his real name and that he left a daughter, who he would send money to, and an ex-wife in South Africa, neither of whom he has seen since leaving in 2000.

After fleeing prison in New Zealand, where he was jailed for extortion, he lived in Australia for 18 months and then caught a boat to South Africa where he flew to Cape Town and arranged for papers which would get him into the UK illegally, arriving in 2004, the court heard.

He could not stay in South Africa because a “fatwa” was issued against him by controversial vigilante group People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad) and that he would be “dead within a week”, Pisano said.

Mr Polding knew about some of his past, including that he feared for his life if he was to return to South Africa, Pisano told the court.

Mr Polding offered to marry him, even throwing an engagement party at his Croydon flat, he said.

But even though he felt comfortable with him, describing him as “a trustworthy person who would not sell me out”, he had not wanted to marry him, the defendant told the jury.

Mr Polding decided to sell his share of his home in Croydon and move to Brighton, taking Pisano and the defendant’s friend Emmett Friel, the court heard.

Mr Polding, who had health problems and would often fall over, began drinking even more heavily than normal once he had received money for his share of the Croydon house and they were living in Brighton, Pisano told the jury.

Mr Polding visited his family in Scotland during Christmas 2011 but returned home to Brighton early because they did not agree with the amount of alcohol he was drinking, Pisano said.

He tried to stop Mr Polding from spending so much and made him open a separate savings account where he deposited £20,000 which was eventually used to set up a hairdressing salon in north London, the court heard.

“St Mikes paid for everything. Emmett said he paid for bills when he was living there but that was not true,” Pisano said.