Author Archives: Carole McCartney

Ireland: Inaugural International Wrongful Conviction Conference & Film Festival

The Irish Innocence Project, working since 2009 at Griffith College, has announced Ireland’s Inaugural International Wrongful Conviction Conference and Film Festival – to newlogo2be held 26th and 27th June 2015. They have also launched a crowd funding appeal: “Be the Key: Set an Innocent Free”, to help the college students to work on overturning wrongful convictions in Ireland.

300914 Wrongful Conviction CR Shutterstock_0_0

See more details of the  conference and film festival – with great speakers, and the crowd funding appeal here:

Inaugural International Wrongful Conviction Conference & Film Festival

Great day in UK for Innocence: Cardiff University Justice Project Overturns Wrongful Conviction

The news coming from the UK in recent months, if not years, has rarely been good. Today (9th December 2014) is different, for today, the Criminal Court of Appeal found the conviction of Dwaine George ‘unsafe’ and overturned his  _79607026_ico12-1conviction for murder. George, convicted of shooting dead a teenager in a gang related incident in 2001, served 12 years of his life sentence behind bars, and was released last year.

Professor Julie Price and Dr Dennis Eady, who run Cardiff’s Innocence Project, were joined at the Royal Courts of Justice by 30 Cardiff law students, past and present, to hear the result of the students’ investigative work. Dr Eady said: “It has taken nine years of hard work since the project was launched to get to this point, and based on our students’ efforts the Court of Appeal has decided that Mr George’s conviction is unsafe.We appreciate that today’s decision will be difficult for Daniel Dale’s family, but if the wrong person was jailed then the right outcome has today been achieved.”

Prof Price added: “For Cardiff Law School Innocence Project, and other university projects working on alleged wrongful conviction cases, this is a significant day. It demonstrates that universities are about more than research, and can show public impact from innovative teaching and learning. This result has been achieved by collaborative effort. A huge thanks to our many supporters and students past and present.”

Sir Brian Levenson said in his ruling: “In addition to expressing our gratitude to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, we pay tribute to the work of the Innocence Project and Pro Bono Unit at Cardiff Law School, which took up the appellant’s case and pursued it so diligently.”

With the recent turmoil amongst those working in universities across the UK and their Innocence Projects (mostly called Justice Projects today because they do not satisfy the criteria for the title ‘Innocence Project’) this is a great victory. Many staff work tirelessly for little or no recognition, with students facing ever greater hurdles to have their work and dedication praised. Cardiff University;s staff and students will continue to work tirelessly and have many other cases that are working their way, slowly, through the CCRC. One can only hope that this is the first success of many. But today is a also shot in the arm for all of those working on behalf of the innocent – sorely needed, and richly deserved.

Watch news item and interviews here:

Cardiff Uni students help Dwaine George win murder appeal

Read more here:

UK judge praises students for helping overturn murder conviction

Judge praises Cardiff University law students for helping overturn Dwaine George’s murder conviction

Ex-gang member Dwaine George cleared of 2002 murder on appeal

Parliamentary Inquiry into UK’s Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC)

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of the Guildford Four, (one of the notorious ‘Irish’ miscarriages of justice in England and Wales that led to the creation of the Criminal Cases Review Commission – see anniversary article here… ), controversy still surrounds the organisation. This week it was revealed that the body is ‘fast-tracking’ the case of professional footballer Ched Evans, released this week after serving half of a five year sentence for rape. Ched, who played for UnknownSheffield United football club, has always maintained his innocence and has applied to the CCRC to investigate his case. The CCRC’s explanations for the decision to fast-track his case have been unconvincing (read more here…). This negative publicity comes at a critical time for the CCRC, as a Parliamentary inquiry into the operation and effectiveness of the miscarriages body is launched by the Justice Committee. The Committee is inviting submissions from interested parties, in order to answer the following four questions:

  1. Whether the CCRC has fulfilled the expectations and remit which accompanied it at its establishment following the 1993 report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice
  2. Whether the CCRC has in general appropriate and sufficient (i) statutory powers and (ii) resources to carry out its functions effectively, both in terms of investigating cases and in the wider role of promoting confidence in the criminal justice system
  3. Whether the “real possibility” test for reference of a case to the Court of Appeal under section 13(1) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 is appropriate and has been applied appropriately by the CCRC
  4. Whether any changes to the role, work and remit of the CCRC are needed and, if so, what those changes should be.

The deadline for submissions is 5th December. You can read more here…. 

In prison since 2003, yet authorities knew man wrongfully convicted in 2007

Shocking news coming from Spain, where it has become clear that a Dutch citizen, Romano van der Dussen, convicted in 2005 of a series of sexual assaults, REMAINS in prison, despite DNA proving his innocence in 2007.

Spanish authorities have had van der Dussen in prison since the rapes took place in 2003. He was found guilty on – now definitively erroneous – eyewitness identifications (with no other links between the suspect and the crimes) in 2005. 1410717812_066741_1410798646_sumario_normal

ven der Dussen, the photofit, and Mark Dixie

However, in 2007, INTERPOL were informed by British police, that convicted murderer Mark Dixie – serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of 17 year old model Sally Ann Bowman in the UK – had previously lived in Malaga in 2002-2003. Spanish authorities uploaded the DNA obtained from the sexual assaults, and subsequently received a report in March 2007 that the DNA from the scenes matched British murdered and serial offender Mark Dixie.

One might expect that in 2007, Spanish authorities – horrified that they were keeping an innocent man behind bars, would move swiftly to ensure his release. Instead, the case has bounced around the legal system, delayed by legal technicalities. His solicitor is now awaiting fingerprints and DNA of Dixie from British authorities to proceed further with securing the release of van der Dussen. ELEVEN years since his imprisonment, and SEVEN years since the authorities discovered his innocence. What can the Spanish possibly be doing?

Read more here:
Dutchman in Spanish jail waits for DNA justice

Fuengirola court reopens sexual assault case

Spanish authorities reopen Dutchman’s rape case

There are more detailed reports in Spanish and Dutch e.g.:
En la cárcel pese a las pruebas de ADN

Is ‘Innocence’ work over in the UK?

For some time, the news emanating from the UK has been getting worse with regard to the potential for miscarriages of justice, with law reforms diminishing legal protections for suspects and the almost total withdrawal of legal aid for the vast majority (nevermind the current moral panic of historic child sexual abuse which is swelling the prison population). This also comes at a time when changes to the rules on who can receive compensation for miscarriages of justice have also been ‘tightened’ to the point where barely anyone will qualify. I have blogged about many of the bad news stories coming out of the UK – including forensic science mishaps and police corruption seemingly continuing unabated regardless of new regulators or complaints bodies.Justice statue

Despite what one could view as the growing IMPORTANCE therefore of ‘innocence’ work in the UK, it looks as if things may be heading in the opposite direction. Following years of expansion with Innocence Projects being set up in universities across the country, it appears that these are now being encouraged to close. There are a host of reasons why Innocence Projects in the UK may be under threat (not least their position within univerisities whose priorites narrow ever further every day toward simply profit-making and rising up league tables.) They do not operate as a mirror to those in the US and internationally, largely because of the existence of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. However, their work is still invaluable. When I was Director of the University of Leeds Innocence Project, we received hundreds of letters (which still arrive weekly if not daily), reviewed dozens of cases, and assisted many prisoners. It also educated many students in the causes of, and remedies for, miscarriages of justice.  It gave many law students a passion for criminal legal aid work – where there is no money to be made and certainly no glory.

So – to read the announcement on the INUK website is all the more shocking. (see here… INUK – New Beginnings ). Where innocence work in the UK needs innovation, inspiration and support, it is being told that the day has come to pack our bags and go home. My thoughts are not only with those of us (staff and students alike) who have worked many years to get innocence taken seriously again in the UK, but those prisoners now who will be back at square one, with nowhere to turn yet again. How an ‘innocence network’ can survive, nevermind have any impact, with only one member, will remain to be seen.

UK Supreme Court Rule on Access to Evidence Post-Appeal

400px-uk_supreme_court_badgeThe Supreme Court of England and Wales has today ruled in the case of Kevin Nunn, an important ruling concerning the right of a convicted prisoner to access evidence in his case after he has been tried, and lost an appeal. Nunn had applied to the CCRC, claiming to be innocent of the murder of his girlfriend in 2005. Nunn is serving a life sentence for the murder. The CCRC denied a request to DNA test fluids found on the victim’s body. Nunn then applied through the Courts to gain access to the evidence in his case to have it re-tested (at his own expense). The Supreme Court this morning were ruling on whether he had the right to demand this evidence from the police and Crown. The full ruling (of just over 9 minutes) can be watched on YouTube here…. There has been some reporting of this morning’s judgement here…

Supreme Court rejects Kevin Nunn’s evidence release plea

Kevin Nunn: Lifer loses forensic tests fight eight years after murder conviction

There has also been a blog post, expressing unease – particularly as it lays a heavy burden upon the CCRC, who have not been known in the past to always make the right decision with regard to the re-testing of evidence. see here….

Kevin Nunn Case – Supreme Court application dismissed

I have jotted down a very quick summary of the main points of the unanimous judgement (which was mercifully short).

This appeal concerns the extent of disclosure duty AFTER the close of the case and any appeal. Police declined to keep going back to the evidence. Were they allowed to take this stance? Were they under the same duty of disclosure?

Unanimous decision that duty of disclosure does NOT continue unaltered after the trial. Up until end of trial he is presumed innocent. Once convicted he is no longer presumed innocent, but rather is proven guilty.

There remains a public interest in any flaw in his conviction being exposed. No-one ought to remain convicted if the conviction is unsafe. BUT also an important public interest in the finality of the process, for the family, witnesses etc. but also because of resources. There should not be indefinite re-investigations take resources away from new investigations.

There is a duty of disclosure but it is now more limited after trial. Guidelines issued by AG set out rules. Police and prosecutors must provide defendant with anything new if it casts doubt on the safety of the conviction. They must cooperate in further inquiry if the new inquiry has a real prospect of casting doubt. Not speculative reinvestigation simply because the defendant does not accept the decision of the jury.

In England and Wales, and Scotland, there is a specialist body charged with investigating suspected miscarriages of justice (CCRC). The existence of this body is another reason why there is no occasion for the Crown’s duty of disclosure to continue unaltered after conviction. If there is a proper inquiry on a topic where these is a real prospect that the conviction might be shown to be unsafe, the police and prosecution ought not to wait for an approach from the CCRC, but should cooperate in the inquiry.

If DNA retesting had a real prospect of showing that someone else committed the crime, then the continuing duty of disclosure would apply to it. on the facts of this case, it would not. It was known at the trial that the fluid could not have come from the defendant. Retesting in this case would not eliminate the defendant. A request for DNA testing should be dealt with according to the principles set out under the AG Guidelines.

 

Police lying: an endemic international problem?

It is starting to feel in the UK like ‘another day, another story of police lies’. In what feels like just a few months we have had media coverage of (to mention just a few) scandals where, for example, police have been caught falsifying reports of an altercation that they ‘witnessed’ when they were not present (see Plebgate scandal...). We have the ongoing revelations over police lies and their coercion of others to lie in the Hillsborough disaster cover-up (see Hillsborough inquiry...). It is suspected that these tactics were honed during the Miner’s Strike when striking miners were ‘fitted up’ (see Miners Strike….). Such tactics clearly have continued for years with many undercover police officers lies leading to convictions  (see undercover policing....) as well as the recent revelation that high profile victim Stephen Lawrence’s family were put under police surveillance during the inquiries into the police failures after Stephen’s murder (to try and discredit the family and their campaign for justice). This all comes on top of the almost run-of-the-mill stories of police ‘collusion’ with one another after fatal police shootings, with the introduction of body-worn cameras to enable the police to be ‘more transparent’ about fatal shootings. In fact, the introduction of police body-worn cameras has been posited as a boon for police as it will cut down on false allegations from the public. However, is it perhaps more likely that police body-worn cameras may serve to make the police more honest? Will they be able to lie with camera footage of the real altercation readily available?

0In Omagh, Northern Ireland, the introduction of CCTV cameras in the town has led to the uncovering of police lies leading to miscarriages of justice – with solicitors claiming that miscarriages may be ‘endemic': increasingly, CCTC footage is being shown to demonstrate that the police account of events is unreliable – even untrue (see story here…) Of course this has not been a good week either for police south of the border in Ireland, having been found to have been illicitly tape recording phone calls made to police stations (see here…). The other side of the world, in New Zealand, they are calling police lies and false evidence which have led to convictions as ‘failings’ and ‘sloppy police work’ (see here…Police failures led to wrongful conviction).

We have all known for years that there are ‘rotten apples’ and that wrongful convictions have often had police misrepresentations, if not outright corruption and lying, at their heart. However, the question must surely now be asked: is lying among the police an endemic international problem? If so, what can be done about it? These questions are already beginning to be murmured in corners of the UK, I think it is now time to get such questions out in the open. These are challenging times for the police, and if we are not to lose trust in them completely, I believe some hard questions must be asked and answers demanded.