68% of Convictions Reviewed in
England Are Overturned
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Latest victim of miscarriages of justice
SUPPORTERS of Stephen Downing describe his case as the longest running miscarriage of
justice in British legal history.
His 27 years in jail ended last year when he was released on bail, and today saw his
conviction quashed. Only the conviction of Derek Bentley took longer to be overturned, and
as the teenager was hanged his punishment stands in a different category to Downing.
Bentley, who was 19 but had a mental age of 11 and an IQ of 66, went to the gallows
despite a public outcry on January 28, 1953, less than three months after a bungled
robbery. He was technically under arrest when his companion Christopher Craig, 16, shot PC
Bentley was said to have shouted "Let him have it, Chris", which prosecutors
interpreted as an incitement to pull the trigger. Others suggested that he was urging
Craig to give up the weapon.
In July 1998, forty five years after Bentley was hanged, the conviction was overturned by
the Court of Appeal and Lord Bingham, the then Lord Chief Justice, mounted an
unprecedented attack on his predecessor, Lord Goddard, for denying Bentley a fair trial.
Iris Bentley, who died of cancer the previous year, had fought for more than 30 years to
clear her brother's name.
Her daughter, Maria Dingwall-Bentley, celebrated tearfully outside the court and declared
"The fight has been worthwhile" before opening a bottle of champagne bought by
Bentley's father in 1958 in anticipation of a pardon.
The resolution of the Bentley case came after a spate of high-profile miscarriages of
justice - all with their roots in the 1970s - shook the British legal system to its core.
In 1989 Carole Richardson, Gerard Conlon, Patrick Armstrong and Paul Hill were cleared of
the Guildford and Woolwich bombings. The Guildford Four had already served 14 years in
prison when prosecutors told the Old Bailey that the "honesty and integrity" of
police officers in the case had been thrown into question.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, heard officers had "seriously misled" the
court and altered notes of interviews. Officers were also accused of suppressing and
fabricating evidence, including concocting supposed confessions to the Woolwich and
Convictions against the Maguire Seven were ruled unsafe in 1990 after an inquiry exposed
disturbing holes in the police's forensic evidence.
The seven - Annie Maguire, husband Patrick, Sean Smyth, Vincent Maguire, Patrick
"Guiseppe" Conlon and family friend Patrick O'Neill were convicted of running an
IRA bomb factory in north London in 1974.
Mr Conlon died in prison in 1980 while serving his 12-year sentence. However, three appeal
court judges found that traces of nitroglycerine found on their hands and gloves could
have been the result of innocent contamination.
The following year saw one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice from the 1970s.
The Birmingham Six were convicted in 1975 for the murder of 22 people in two pubs in
Birmingham the previous year. Another 160 people were injured in the IRA attacks.
The men - Paddy Hill, Richard McIlkenny, Hugh Callaghan, Gerard Hunter, William Power and
John Walker - were freed in March 1991 after the Court of Appeal quashed all the
convictions, having heard that police interview notes were fabricated and other evidence
The crucial evidence came from a revolutionary new forensic test, electro-static analysis
of documents, which suggested the record of an interview with one of the defendants was
written at different times.
Judith Ward was wrongly convicted of the 1974 M62 coach bombing in which 12 people died -
at the time it was the worst IRA outrage on the British mainland.
She served 17 years for crimes she did not commit and lawyers at her appeal said there had
been "significant and substantial" non-disclosure of information to the defence.
This series of cases left the police and the criminal justice system seriously
discredited. It took them most of the rest of the decade to recover.
Apart from the terrorism-related miscarriages, there were a number of appalling cases
where individuals were wrongly convicted.
One which had striking parallels with the Downing appeal was that of former boy soldier
Andrew Evans, who served 25 years for a murder he did not commit.
He was 17 when convicted in 1973 of battering 14-year-old Judith Roberts to death near her
home in Tamworth, Staffs, but in December 1997 the Court of Appeal ruled his
uncorroborated confession was unsafe.
Like many freed victims of a miscarriage of justice, Mr Evans was prosaic on the day of
his release, commenting: "I'm not going out to celebrate. What have I got to
celebrate? I'm going to have a quiet evening, maybe watch some telly."
Carl Bridgewater, a 13-year-old newspaperboy, was shot at Yew Tree Farm, outside Wordsley
in Staffordshire, in September 1978.
Four men were convicted of killing him - Jimmy Robinson and Vincent Hickey were given life
sentences; Michael Hickey, Vincent's cousin, who was 16 at the time of the killing, was
detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure; and Pat Molloy was given a 12-year sentence for
There was no forensic evidence against the men. Mr Molloy signed a confession but died in
prison in 1981 maintaining the statement was forced out of him.
Four weeks after the men's trial ended in November 1979, Hubert Spencer, an early suspect
in the Bridgewater case, shot dead Hubert Wilkes, an elderly farmer, at the farm next to
Yew Tree Farm. He was subsequently jailed for life.
The three surviving members of the Bridgewater Four were finally released in 1997, after
serving 17 years. In 1976, a jury found Stefan Kiszko guilty of the murder of 11-year-old
schoolgirl, Lesley Molseed.
He served 16 years before being freed by the Court of Appeal in February 1992 after it
emerged evidence which might have cleared him of the murder had not been made available at
the original trial.
Mr Kiszko suffered a fatal heart attack the following year. It was this series of cases
which led to wholesale reform of the appeals procedure.
The creation of the Criminal Cases Review Commission in April 1997 saw the beginning of a
new chapter, sweeping away the earlier system in which it rested upon the Home Secretary
to re-examine alleged miscarriages and send them back to the appeal court.
It left the process open to allegations of political bias, particularly in cases where the
offence was a terrorist atrocity.
The independent CCRC, which is based in Birmingham and has a budget of ï¿½6 million a year,
was set up as a result of the Runciman inquiry into criminal justice, which itself was
triggered by the case of the Birmingham Six.
It employs 48 caseworkers to review cases - providing the applicants have already been
through the initial appeal process and, crucially, that they have new evidence or legal
argument which was not considered at the trial or first appeal.
Since it began, the CCRC has examined 3,808 cases and referred 154 to the Court of Appeal.
Of the 82 which have so far been heard, 56 convictions were quashed, 23 were upheld and
three were reserved judgments.
Other recent miscarriages include:
a.. Patrick Nicholls was Britain's second longest serving victim of a miscarriage, after
serving 23 years for a murder appeal judges ruled never even took place. The former
showman was jailed for life in 1975 for killing a 74-year-old widowed friend, Gladys
Heath, from Worthing. Evidence against Mr Nicholls had suggested she had been beaten and
suffocated - but in 1998 he walked free after modern scientific opinion concluded she had
died after falling down the stairs.
a.. Darren Hall, Michael O'Brien and Ellis Sherwood, also known as the Cardiff Three, had
their convictions quashed in December 1999, 11 years after being wrongfully jailed for
life for battering newsagent Philip Saunders to death during a robbery.
a.. In March last year a former hospital porter who spent nearly all his adult life behind
bars after confessing to the murders of two women was cleared by the Court of Appeal.
Peter Fell, 39, jailed for life in 1984, was described as a "serial confessor"
who had been the victim of "oppressive" police interrogation. Mr Fell's
solicitor, Jim Nichol, said: "He may be a crackpot, he may be crazy, he may be all
these things - and probably was in 1982 - but a murderer he was not and never has
6 March 2001: 'Serial confessor' free after 17 years
31 July 1998: Bentley cleared after 45 years
13 June 1998: Prisoner cleared after 23 years
23 January 1997: Bentley's sister dies without winning pardon she
1 January 1997: New appeals body 'will be deluged by killers and