After Bridgewater: Four more 'murderers' join British courts' list of shame

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The case of the Bridgewater Three is not the last of its kind, writes Chris Blackhurst. Four more alleged miscarriages of justice are expected to be referred to the Court of Appeal within the next month, before officials at the Home Office hand over this task to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (see above).

If, as expected, the four are referred with a view to their convictions being quashed, the names of James Hanratty, Derek Bentley, Mahmood Mattan and Sheila Bowler will be added to the long list of victims of an over- zealous judiciary or corrupt police.

The first two are well-known. Hanratty was hanged at Bedford jail in April 1962 for the "A6 murder", shooting Michael Gregsten at Deadman's Hill in Bedfordshire in 1961. He was executed largely on the identification evidence of Valerie Storie, the passenger in the car with Michael Gregsten who was herself raped and then shot - despite her only seeing her assailant for a few seconds and only identifying Hanratty in a second identity parade. Alibis have since been uncovered placing Hanratty hundreds of miles from the murder scene.

Bentley was hanged in 1953 for the murder of PC Sidney Miles. The Old Bailey judge ignored the jury's recommendation for mercy after it was claimed Bentley urged Christopher Craig, 16, to fire.

No less disturbing are the cases of Mattan and Bowler.

Mahmood Mattan, a religious Somali from the Tiger Bay area, was hanged in Cardiff jail in 1952 for the murder of Lily Volpert.

His trial lasted three days. The jury was out for little more than 90 minutes and less than seven weeks later he was dead.

Miss Volpert, a shopkeeper,was found with her throat cut. Mattan was convicted on the identification evidence of one witness and one piece of "forensic" evidence: blood on one shoe.

The witness maintained that Mattan had left the shop at 8pm at the latest. But even Miss Volpert's family were sure that she was still alive at 8.05 to 8.10pm.

The man was described as being 5ft 10in, with a gold tooth, no hat or coat, aged 30 to 40 and wearing a brown suit. Mattan was 5ft 8in and aged 29. He had no gold tooth and had worn a dark overcoat that night.

The blood was a few tiny specks on a secondhand shoe. It was not tested forensically. When he was refused leave to appeal, three weeks before he hanged, Mr Justice Oliver said this was enough for the jury to convict. Of blood-stained clothing, or a murder weapon, or a motive, there was no trace.

Underlying the Mattan case was race. His was a mixed marriage, Tiger Bay was prone to racial violence and local feelings about the murder were strong. Mattan's English was poor and he refused to have an interpreter. His solicitor did not attend the critical identification parades.

Sheila Bowler's conviction is more recent. In 1993, then aged 64, she was jailed for life for murdering her husband's aunt, apparently to secure an inheritance. According to the prosecution, Bowler, a recently widowed music teacher from Rye, East Sussex, pushed 89-year-old Florence Jackson into the river Brede. She gave her aunt a lift, the car broke down, Bowler went off to call the recovery services, when she returned her aunt had disappeared. Her body was later found in the nearby river.

It was accepted that the aunt could not have reached the river by herself. But there was no forensic evidence to link Bowler with the river bank or with the injuries her aunt had sustained. Neither were there tyre marks or footprints, and no blood or mud was found on her clothes.

The police did consider accidental death - they sent someone shuffling down the road in similar slippers to see whether anything could be proved from the wear and tear on the slipper found on the riverbank - but discovered nothing conclusive.

In the absence of the jury, the trial judge, Mr Justice Garland, agreed that every plank of direct evidence against Bowler had collapsed. But he ruled that the jury was still entitled to ask: "If not the defendant, then who?"

"I will die if I have to stay in here," said Bowler last year. She should soon be released to live the rest of her life - unlike Hanratty, Bentley and Mattan.