Criminal review body starts work on miscarriages

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The body set up to investigate possible miscarriages of justice starts work today, launching fresh inquiries into convictions, including the notorious James Hanratty and Derek Bentley cases.

The independent Criminal Cases Review Commission, which will take on about 180 cases from the Home Office where doubts have emerged, was welcomed by civil liberties campaigners. "The Commission has the power to deal effectively with individual cases, and to be pro-active in identifying systematic failures in the criminal justice system, particularly the effect of recent hastily passed legislation," said Anne Owers from Justice. "It is to be hoped that it uses these powers robustly and independently."

The CCRC will consider whether the Stephen Craven case should be referred back to the Court of Appeal. Campaigners claim Craven was unjustly convicted of a teenage girl's murder in a nightclub.

The case is the subject of a BBC Rough Justice documentary tomorrow, focusing on the circumstances surrounding the Christmas Eve 1989 death of Penny Laing, 19, after a beer glass smashed against her neck, severing her jugular vein.

The Commission will also look at the case of Derek Bentley, hanged 45 years ago after police testified that he shouted "Let him have it, Chris" to his accomplice Christopher Craig, who then shot dead PC Sidney Miles. Although he did not pull the trigger, the 19-year-old was executed.

Michael Howard the Home Secretary granted Bentley a posthumous pardon, but limited it only to a judicial admission that the death sentence was wrongly imposed. The CCRC will decide whether the Court of Appeal should get another opportunity to clear his name.

The Commission will also decide whether the case of James Hanratty, convicted of the notorious A6 murder, should be re-opened. Hanratty was hanged in April 1962.

The Commission does not have the power to overturn judicial decisions, but can refer cases back to the appeal courts. It will be headed by Sir Frederick Crawford.