The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has asked Greater Manchester Police to review the original Surrey Police investigation into two members of the so-called "M25 Three". It is the first time that the newly formed CCRC has called for a new police investigation of a case.
One of the men, Raphael Rowe, said yesterday that he was concerned by the prospect of police officers investigating each other. The review may be his last chance of having the case overturned.
Greater Manchester Police will produce a report on the evidence against Rowe and Michael Davis which will be passed to the commissioners so that they can decide whether the case should be referred to the Court of Appeal.
The two men - along with Randolph Johnson whose case is not being reviewed - were jailed for a brutal crime spree close to London's orbital motorway in 1988.
The series of robberies in Surrey, in which householders and motorists were tied up and beaten, included the murder of Peter Hurburgh, a hairdresser, who was stripped, battered and then doused in petrol. His attackers stole pounds 10.
Rowe and Johnson were not identified by the robbery victims or by Mr Hurburgh's partner Alun Eley. There was no forensic evidence to link them to the offences.
An earlier appeal in 1993 was unsuccessful after judges ruled that undisclosed police notes which cast doubt on the identity of the attackers were not a "material irregularity".
But the inquiry will include fresh representations from the men and their lawyers.
Andrew Myatt, a spokesman for the CCRC, said he could not predict the length of the investigation, which was the pair's remaining avenue to a new appeal bar a judicial review.
He said: "We could have had it investigated by Surrey police who dealt with the case but it was felt more appropriate for it to be referred to an outside force."
Speaking from Maidstone Prison, Rowe welcomed the inquiry but expressed concern that the investigation would be mounted by the police.
"Once again we will have the police investigating the police. I am into my ninth year of imprisonment - when will the British justice system stand up and see the facts.
"We are innocent - set us free," he said.
Pauline Smith, spokeswoman for the M25 Three Campaign, said the decision was a mixed blessing since the men had already been promised that a decision would be taken on whether to refer their case to the Court of Appeal before the CCRC came into existence in March.
She said: "Obviously they have read the papers and there are doubts, serious doubts, with the case.
"The fact that it is being investigated can only be positive but on the other hand it is very frustrating that now it is 1997 and one wonders how long it will take them to reach the right decision."Reuse content