Jamaican death row prisoner in appeal to London

Jamaica's most notorious death row prisoner, the man convicted of killing reggae star Peter Tosh - a founder member of the Wailers - yesterday pleaded his innocence to the Privy Council in London.

Dennis Lobban was convicted in June 1988 of being one of three robbers who broke into Tosh's home in Kingston, killing the musician and two of his friends, and injuring three others. Tosh sprang to international fame as the guitarist with the Wailers, co-writing reggae classics like "Get Up, Stand Up" with Bob Marley.

In a test case which may affect trial procedures on the Caribbean island, Lobban, 40, claims the judge wrongly allowed the jury to hear prejudicial legal submissions which should have been argued in the jurors' absence. Five Law Lords, making up the Privy Council panel - the final court of appeal for 16 Commonwealth countries - were also told the judge wrongly allowed hearsay evidence.

Lobban has always maintained his innocence and yesterday the Privy Council was told his conviction should be quashed.

At the end of the murder trial and before the jury had retired, the court heard legal argument that Lobban's co- accused - a man called Russell - had no case to answer. Such submissions are never made in a UK court in front of a jury because any argumentor comment, or decision by the judge may influence the jury. Also, a statement from Russell, in which he says he recognised Lobban as one of the killers from a newspaper article, was presented to the jury.

The jury convicted Lobban. But Peter Thornton QC, for Lobban, told the Council that the last thing the jury had "ringing in their ears" was Russell's statement, which amounted to hearsay evidence.

Lobban has spent the last seven years on Jamaica's infamous death row, where conditions were deemed so cruel that the Privy Council a year ago reprieved all who had been there for more than five years, including Lobban. But according to his legal advisers, the Jamaican authorities have yet to implement the reprieve because of other legal complications.

Lobban is one of three menclaiming to have been the victim of such an injustice. The appeals of Nigel Neil, convicted in 1990, and Rupert Crossdale, convicted in 1989, are being heard alongside that of Lobban.

Saul Lehrfreund, a human rights adviser for Simons Muirhead and Burton, the solicitors who represent 70 death row prisoners in the Commonwealth including Lobban, said success in this case "will lead to fairer trials in a country where a miscarriage of justice can result in the death penalty".

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