M25 gang had `unfair' trial

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THE EUROPEAN Commission of Human Rights has ruled that three men serving life sentences for a murder and a series of brutal robberies around the M25 were denied a fair trial.

The ruling, which means that the case of the so-called M25 Three will now go before the European Court of Human Rights, is the second time this month that the commission has challenged the findings of the British courts.

Last week it ruled that Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, the two boys convicted of murdering the Liverpool toddler James Bulger in 1993, had not been given a fair trial.

Yesterday it reported that the Court of Appeal's decision to allow the use of Public Interest Immunity certificates in the M25 case had prevented "equality of arms" between prosecution and defence. The certificates ensured that certain documents were withheld from the defence.

Raphael Rowe, Michael Davis and Randolph Johnson were convicted of taking part in a brutal crime spree on 15 December 1988. All three were given life sentences in 1990.

The jury decided they had carried out a series of robberies in Surrey in which householders and motorists were tied up and beaten, and the murder of Peter Hurburgh, a hairdresser, who was stripped, battered, then doused in petrol. His attackers stole pounds 10.

But the men have always protested their innocence. Victims suggested the gang consisted of two white men and one black, although all three men convicted were black. The cases of Rowe and Davis are currently before the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

The two men maintain that evidence against them was provided by a gang who were themselves more likely to have been responsible for the attacks. They claimed that the gang had struck a deal with police to avoid prosecution.

Yesterday's ruling by the Strasbourg-based commission was based on a general criticism of the use of PII certificates.