by Blackwater Law
Getting accused of something you know you didn’t do can be annoying at the best of times, but imagine actually being sent to prison as a result. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system still has its flaws and mistakes are often made. These mistakes aren’t just a case of “oh, whoops…sorry about that.”… They ruin people’s lives.
It seems incredible that despite the technology and forensic intelligence we have nowadays that innocent people can still be wrongly convicted for crimes they simply didn’t commit, but it does happen! It’s pretty interesting in all honesty, which is why we’ve put together a list of the UK’s top 7 famous miscarriages of justice cases. Some of these are honestly shocking!
Date convicted: 1986
Released: 2003 (16 years)
Michael Shirley was sentenced to life imprisonment after he was wrongly convicted for the rape and murder of 24-year old barmaid, Linda Cook. The victim was found with a broken spine, jaw and larynx – all caused by the heel of the murderer’s shoe. The logo of the branded shoe was left imprinted on Linda Cook’s body and annoyingly for Shirley; he was one of the 250 people in Portsmouth that owned a pair.
On the night of the incident, Shirley was enjoying a night out with a female accomplice at a nightclub not too far from the murder scene. Supposedly, the 18-year-old male was given the “pie” and forced to pay for the taxi back home…alone. With no evidence to suggest otherwise, a case was built against Shirley that he allegedly took his frustration out on Linda Cook in a drunken rage.
After serving 15 years of his sentence, Shirley maintained his innocence even though it meant he couldn’t be released on parole. Fresh DNA evidence discovered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 2002 concluded that Mr Shirley was in fact, innocent.
Date convicted: 1996
Sentence: Life (twice)
Sally Clark, from Wimslow, Cheshire, was convicted of murdering her two baby sons Christopher and Harry and was given two life sentences as a result. Clark spent a three years in jail after she was finally released on appeal in 2003. She always maintained that her children had died of cot death syndrome, which was later found out to be true after the court of appeal reviewed the case.
As it turns out, the convictions were based on evidence provided by Home Office Pathologist Alan Williams, who actually failed to disclose important information about the two deaths – including clear signs of a staphylococcus aureus infection that had spread to Harry’s cerebral spinal fluid. At the time, ‘expert’ paediatricians told the jury that the likelihood of two children in an affluence family both suffering cot death was “one in 73 million”. Experts now claim that this could occur in as little as one in 100 cases.
Understandably, Sally Clark never mentally recovered from the trauma caused by the ordeal and in 2007 she was found dead at her own home – the cause of death was believed to be alcohol poisoning. Truly tragic.
Date convicted: 2005
At the tender age of 18, Sam Hallam was given life for the alleged murder of a trainee chef Essayas Kassahun in North London, 2005. He served a total of 7 years in prison before his conviction was reviewed and quashed in 2012. The murder was said to be a classic case of gang violence; that Hallam was apparently involved in.
After the police interviewed 37 witnesses, nobody placed Hallam at the crowded murder scene – except for a main witness, who later stated that she was just looking for “someone to blame on the spot”. Well done, miss, you successfully ruined the life of an innocent 18-year-old boy.
Weirdly enough, the compiling evidence that was in fact used to confirm Hallam’s innocence was on his mobile phone. The shear naivety of the police to not use his phone in the investigation essentially cost this boy a huge chunk of his life. It turns out there were photos that placed him in a pub with his dad at the time of the murder. Tragically, Hallam’s father committed suicide shortly after his son was wrongly sent to prison – one of the most serious cases of miscarriage of justice, for sure.
Date convicted: 2001
Released: 2008 (8 years)
48-year-old Barry George, from Fulham, was prosecuted for the murder of BBC television presenter Jill Dando in 2000. George has a history of mental illness and disability and was described as the “local nutter.” When he was accused of allegedly shooting Jill Dando on her doorstep in West London, no one batted an eyelid.
George also supposedly stalked and collected photographs of females (including presenters) and had an obsession with guns – that was enough for the police, the jury and the judge. Furthermore, despite being found with bits of gunpowder in his pockets, the retrial concluded that there wasn’t enough “conclusive circumstantial evidence” to rightfully convict George.
Judges claimed George did not possess a high enough IQ (being in the lowest 1% of the population) to be able to orchestrate and perform such a tactical murder. He endured two trials and two appeals before he was eventually freed and the mystery murder is still yet to be found.
Date convicted: 1975
Sentence: Life (All)
Released: 1991 (17 years)
In November 1975, six men were sentenced to life after being adjudged responsible for the infamous Birmingham pub bombings. The bombing, caused by detonated explosive devices placed in two popular Birmingham pubs, killed 21 people and injured 182. Aside from the London 7/7 bombings in 2005, this was the worst ever UK terrorist attack.
In this case, the six men were simply revealed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker were all seen leaving Birmingham just after the time of the explosion – on a train to go to a funeral of a former IRA member in Belfast. The men were arrested at Belfast and failed reveal their reasons for their journey. Following this they were apparently brutally interrogated and subjected to mock executions and threats with dogs and guns in order to force confessions. The investigators succeeded and four of the men confessed.
They were all later charged with murder and the conspiracy to cause explosions. A public outcry followed this, and campaigns, lead by Labour MP Chris Mullin, to release the men were met with an eventual appeal and retrial. In 2001, they were released due to the fabrication and suppression of evidence and the unreliability of forensic evidence.
It is believed that the IRA were responsible for the attack, but no suspects have been identified since. The Birmingham six received several millions of pounds in compensation. Worth the 17 years in jail? I’m not so sure.
Date convicted: 1976
Released: 1992 (16 years)
In 1976, Stefan Kiszko was wrongly convicted for the rape and murder of 11-year-old child Lesley Molseed. Stefan’s case has been described as “the worst miscarriage of al time” – and based on the facts, it’s not hard to see why.
During his interrogation, Kiszko falsely confessed to the murder as he was told it would lead to his freedom. Side note, Kiszko had a history of mental illness and relied heavily on his mother. The compiling evidence came from a group of teenage girls who claimed the 23-year-old tax clerk had indecently exposed himself to them on the day the murder took place. It was later found that the girls made the claim up for a joke. Additional evidence that was used against Kiszko included sweets and ‘girlie’ magazines found his car – things that could have been used to attract his victim.
Due to his mental condition, Kiszko was given injections of testosterone, which the police later interpreted to be a reason for his sexual assault. Upon the referral, it was discovered that Kiszko’s sperm sample (which had a count of zero) would have proved his innocence buy confirming his medical inability to carry out the sexual act and produce the sperm that had been found on Lesley’s clothes.
The persistent mother of the wrongly accused man fought hard to earn a retrial and after 16 of prison torment, her son was eventually freed. Kiszko died of a heart attack a year later. All because of a crime he didn’t commit.
Date convicted: 1982
Released: (27 years)
“The Bakewell tart murder” – Stephen Downing, 17, was sentenced to life for the murder of 32-year-old Wendy Sewell in Bakewell, 1973. The attack took place in a church graveyard, where Downing coincidentally worked as a gardener. After he, himself, found the victim beaten (by the handle of a pickaxe), and covered in blood, Downing was taken immediately taken in for questioning by the police, where he was interrogated for nine hours before he was made to sign a confession to the crime.
Downing had severe learning difficulties and had a reading age of just 11 – reports suggest the 17 year old didn’t know he was confessing to the murder and literally signing his life away. Essentially, Downing couldn’t read the statement.
The case was appealed twice. The first appeal was denied after eyewitness evidence that claimed they saw Downing leave the graveyard at the same time they saw Wendy Sewell alive, was apparently not enough. The second time around, it was concluded that the original confession was unsafe – unfair police questioning and the fact Downing wasn’t given a solicitor helped his defence.
Forensic evidence found there was a bloody palm print on the pickaxe handle, which didn’t match Downing’s. Downing was also wearing gloves at the time, which had no blood on them. Despite also confessing to hitting the victim over the head twice, it was later found that she had been hit eight times, by a right handed man – Downing was a lefty. The innocent 17-year-old continued to deny the murder throughout his stint in prison and was therefore illegible for parole. He eventually cleared his name after a gruelling 27 years in the slammer. This is considered to be the worst case of miscarriages of justice in English legal history.
This article was written by Blackwater Law; a trusted firm of personal injury solicitors. Blackwater provide expert legal advice and representation for client compensation claims across a multitude of different personal injury law cases including road traffic accidents, public liability, clinical negligence, head and brain injuries, birth injuries and cosmetic surgery.