M25 witness `was paid by the police'

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THREE MEN who have spent the past 10 years in jail for a murder and a series of violent robberies have had their case referred to the Court of Appeal.

Michael Davis, Randolph Johnson and Raphael Rowe, known as the M25 Three, were jailed for life in 1990 for the offences carried out close to the London orbital motorway, but have always denied their guilt.

One of the men's solicitors claimed yesterday that a witness at their trial was paid pounds 10,000 by a national newspaper and pounds 300 by the police. Other documents are reported to show that one or two white people were involved in the crimes, while the "M25 Three" are all black. A witness at their trial is also said to have now withdrawn his evidence.

The men were jailed after an Old Bailey trial for a series of attacks on the night of 16 December 1988. Peter Hurburgh, 57, was dragged from his car at gunpoint with his homosexual lover. They were tied up and beaten, which led to Mr Hurburgh suffering a fatal heart attack.

During the same night, three men wearing balaclavas, and armed with weapons including a machete and a gun, broke into a house. Timothy Napier, 40, almost died after the assailants broke into his father's house and stabbed him during a struggle. In a third assault a couple were tied up at their home. The crimes were linked to a string of other offences, including a rape.

The three accused were arrested several weeks after the murder.

The case was based almost entirely on the evidence of three other suspects who turned prosecution witnesses. No direct scientific or identification evidence linked the "M25 Three" to the crimes. One of the victims of the attacks said two white men and one black were involved.

The three appealed against their convictions but their case was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in July 1993.

James Nichol, solicitor for Rowe, said yesterday that he had been given documents showing that a principal prosecution witness, Norman Duncan, was paid: "This information was withheld from the defence in 1990, and again by the Court of Appeal in 1993.

"In addition, a prisoner who gave evidence against the defendant Randolph Johnson now says that the evidence was not true." He added that the Criminal Cases Review Commission had uncovered many matters that indicated the men had not had a fair trial.

The commission ordered a new police investigation into the case, which was carried out by Greater Manchester Police. The Court of Appeal last month decided to lift court orders, imposed on the grounds of public interest, which prevented the defence seeing details of payments to a witness.

The court's decision came after the European Commission of Human Rights ruled in March that the three were denied a fair trial.

A campaign group for the three men said they were all "absolutely delighted" with the latest news.

The case will now go to the Court of Appeal, which will decide whether the convictions should be quashed.