Girl, 14, freed from life sentence for murder

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The Independent Online

Scotland Correspondent

The youngest girl serving a life sentence in Britain was released from custody yesterday after three Appeal Court judges quashed the 14-year- old's murder conviction.

Claire Codona burst into tears as she was led from the Appeal Court in Edinburgh and driven home after spending four months in a young offenders' institution.

The schoolgirl was sentenced to be detained "without limit of time" last year for her part in a savage "gay-bashing" murder in a Glasgow park. But three judges overturned the conviction yesterday and said that she was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. They ruled that police officers had unfairly pressured her into making a confession. Her conviction could not stand, Lord Hope, Scotland's senior judge, said.

The girl broke down when the ruling was announced. As she was led away to be reunited with her mother, Janette, her solicitor, Gerry McClure, said: "She is a child. Her detention has been traumatic. She will certainly be going back to school. She will be getting on with the rest of her childhood."

He appealed to the media to "let her get on with her life in peace and quiet". He said the girl's mother did not wish to speak about the case.

At a trial at the High Court in Glasgow last October, Miss Codona, from Hillhead in Glasgow, who attended Shawlands Academy before her conviction, was found guilty of killing Michael Doran, 33, of Govanhill, Glasgow.

Even though she pleaded not guilty, the court heard that she had admitted to police that she had taken part in the attack.

Mr Doran suffered 83 injuries during a frenzied assault inQueen's Park, Glasgow, a meeting place for gay men, last June. He was stabbed and suffered a fractured skull after being kicked and stamped on.

Three Glasgow youths - Richard Bell, 20, Richard Ferguson, 16, and John Cairns, 18 - were also sentenced to life imprisonment for the killing.

At her appeal yesterday, Miss Codona's counsel, Gordon Jackson QC, argued that the trial judge had erred in law in allowing the prosecution to refer to her "confession".

Police officers told the court she conceded that she had kicked Mr Doran once on the back of the feet. However, the admission had been obtained unfairly, Mr Jackson argued. Officers had put pressure on a young girl who had not been given the protection of a close relative during her interview. There was insufficient evidence to show that she was involved in a "concerted, murderous attack", Mr Jackson said.

Lord Hope ruled that the "confession" was inadmissible. The police, he said, could not be criticised for questioning Miss Codona intensely, especially over her knowledge of the part played by Bell, Ferguson and Cairns.

However, when they questioned her about her own involvement, they appeared to be trying to extract an admission which she was clearly not prepared to make voluntarily.