Law: A whole decade in the dock

The Seventies produced many miscarriages of justice - but have all its victims been heard?

The Seventies are worst remembered for a series of miscarriages of justice that went on to rock the criminal justice system. Cases such as those of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four led to recommendations for new methods of gathering evidence and prosecuting crimes. This week, however, new evidence has emerged that shows there are still people imprisoned during the Seventies whose guilt is in serious doubt. And many of these convictions may never be overturned because the accused lack the skills to bring their cases to the attention of the proper authorities.

One such case is that of Martin O'Halloran, who was given life for the murder of a gay hairdresser, Thomas Walker, in 1976. O'Halloran's conviction, secured just two months after that of the Birmingham Six, will once again turn the spotlight on the police procedure.

The case has echoes of Stefan Kisko, the man with a mental age of 12 who was wrongly convicted of raping and murdering a young girl. O'Halloran, 49, has a low IQ and was illiterate when he was arrested. He has spent almost all his adult life in prison. The BBC's Rough Justice programme, broadcast tomorrow, has found letters from the co-accused (O'Halloran's best friend) confessing to the murder and has reinterviewed witnesses whose original statements supported O'Halloran's version of events. Called The Price of Friendship, the programme charts extraordinary events in which O'Halloran's sister, girlfriend and, most damagingly, best friend testified against him.

The friend, Arthur Langford, relied on O'Halloran's poor memory and low IQ to convince him that the two were with each other in London at the time of the murder. O'Halloran confirmed this to the police, although he had already said that he had been meeting his girlfriend in London. Langford, who has since died, then changed his story to accuse O'Halloran of the murder. Like Kisko, also accused of a sex crime, O'Halloran's low intelligence and illiteracy were not taken into account during his prosecution, but were used against him. On several occasions O'Halloran broke down while being questioned by the police. Langford told police that O'Halloran had attacked Thomas after all three had been drinking in a well-known gay pub. This supported the police's belief that Thomas had been the victim of a "queer rolling". O'Halloran's sister told the court that Langford and her brother came to her house in Birmingham in the early hours of the morning and confessed to the crime.

When the judge asked him why his sister had come to court to give evidence against him, O'Halloran said it was because she was in love with Langford and she thought O'Halloran had "taken him away from her". His alibi was further shattered when his then girlfriend told police that she had not met him that evening, as he had claimed. The evidence appeared overwhelming, and the jury took just three hours to find him guilty of murder.

However, the Rough Justice team has spoken to Langford's daughter, Maggie Phillips, who says that her father went to his grave protesting O'Halloran's innocence. In a letter written to O'Halloran, he said: "I did this killing on my own." Langford repeated this to O'Halloran's lawyers.

Maggie Phillips concludes: "He was adamant that he'd done it. And he would not say that and stick to it all this time if it weren't true. My dad is dead now, and Mark [Martin O'Halloran was known to her as Mark] is still in prison for something that he didn't do."

Rough Justice has reinterviewed some of the witnesses, including O'Halloran's girlfriend, Patricia Riorden, who said that she gave six statements to the police. The first of these confirmed O'Halloran's alibi that he had been in London with her. Moreover, the programme's researchers have also spoken to Patricia's father, who also backed up O'Halloran's version of events.

Jeremy Dein, a barrister, says: "The procedures that were followed were laughable. Today, the evidence of witnesses, who identified O'Halloran by photographs, would not see the light of day. The witnesses expressed themselves in vague terms. There was no positive identification."

The case demonstrates how much has changed since the Seventies, when criminal justice procedure was uncodified. Before the birth of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Crown Prosecution Service, the police decided what evidence to disclose. In another echo of the Kisko case, police evidence that would have supported O'Halloran's alibi was not given sufficient weight at the time of his trial. In the Kisko case it was a woman, his mother, who brought the case to the attention of the authorities. For O'Halloran the key person in his fight back has been his wife, Margaret, a Quaker who married Martin in1995 after meeting him during a prison visit when she stood in for a friend.

Like Kisko's mother, who fought tirelessly to overturn her son's conviction, Margaret O'Halloran has spent the last few years digging up evidence that she hopes will prove his innocence. This evidence, including Langford's confession letters, has been sent to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. But because the Commission has a two-year backlog before it can even consider a case for review, O'Halloran's wife and other supporters fear he may die before the courts can clear his name. He has already suffered two strokes, and, although the Commission does have a fast-track procedure for exceptional cases, it could be another three-and-a-half years before his situation is reassessed by the Court of Appeal.

Although the Criminal Cases Review Commission celebrated its second anniversary earlier this year, and has been given increased funding, it still receives more new cases each week than it finishes reviewing. The Home Affairs Select Committee said in March that delays were unacceptable and recommended that the Government and the commission make it a priority to speed up the handling of cases. In December, Sir Frederick Crawford, the commission's chairman, admitted it would take many years to clear the backlog because a lack of money meant that there were only 25 case workers instead of the 60 needed. Lawyers have suggested that the commission's time would be best used concentrating on cases in which the accused is still alive rather than reviewing cases where the only remedy is a posthumous one, such as those of James Hanratty and Derek Bentley. Stefan Kisko was eventually released, but died in 1992 from what many believe was the trauma of being imprisoned for a crime he had not committed.

Margaret O'Halloran says: "Martin could go at any time, and I hope his name is cleared before he dies. I hope he can live some time out here in the open, where he should have been for the past 24 years."

`Rough Justice: The Price of Friendship' will be shown on BBC1 tomorrow (2 June) at 10.30pm

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn