Kenneth Noye trial witnesses 'discredited'

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The Independent Online

Key prosecution witnesses at the road rage trial of Kenneth Noye are now "so discredited" that his murder conviction should be quashed, the Court of Appeal heard today.

Clare Montgomery QC, for 63-year-old Noye, who watched the proceedings via video link from prison, argued at a hearing before the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge and two other judges in London that his conviction was unsafe.

Miss Montgomery submitted that the court must regard pathologist Michael Heath and eye-witness Alan Decabral as being "so discredited or potentially discredited that the court would have to ignore their evidence".

Fresh evidence demonstrated their unreliability, making "this an unsafe conviction", she said.

Noye was jailed for life at the Old Bailey in 2000 for the fatal stabbing of 21-year-old Stephen Cameron on an M25 slip road at Swanley, Kent, in 1996.

He denied murder, claiming self-defence.

In 2001 he had a conviction challenge dismissed by appeal judges.

His case is being looked at again after a decision to refer the case to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent body which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.

Noye fled to Spain after the stabbing but was extradited in 1998.

The hearing is expected to last all day. The judges have indicated that they will reserve their judgment.

Miss Montgomery told the court "this was clearly a case in which the issues raised by the evidence of Dr Heath were at the heart of the case".

His evidence, "given in this case as it always was - forcibly and with charm - may well have made a difference to the way in which the jury approached Mr Noye's evidence to them".

The QC told the judges: "As you know Dr Heath is now discredited as a witness."

She said he had "failed to carry out proper post-mortem examinations" and to document his findings in a way that rendered them susceptible to expert examination.

Miss Montgomery criticised various aspect "failings" in the evidence given by Dr Heath at Noye's trial.

One area of complaint was that the evidence he gave "about the necessary force needed to inflict the two wounds was unsustainable scientifically and forensically".

It is also being argued that the evidence of Mr Decabral has now been discredited.

The witness had given an account that "undermined the claim by Mr Noye that he had acted in self-defence".

At the trial Mr Decabral, a Rolls-Royce driver, said he saw Noye hide a knife behind his back before lunging and stabbing Mr Cameron in the chest.

He told the jury: "As he walked past my car he nodded to me as if to say: 'That sorted him out, you've got yours mate', that sort of thing."

Mr Decabral was shot dead in October 2000.

In 2001, when Noye appealed his conviction, one of his grounds was that Mr Decabral had a criminal background and had lied in the witness box.

In written argument before the court, Miss Montgomery said Dr Heath was an important prosecution witness in the trial, who had now been discredited.

She said: "The evidence which is now available undermines Dr Heath's credibility and impacts directly upon conclusions the jury may have reached in order to convict Mr Noye."

It was now a real possibility, she submitted, that "the jury would have concluded that Mr Noye only used moderate force and that he was telling the truth when he said that he struck out blindly and did not recall stabbing twice".

There was now evidence from a "highly experienced and distinguished pathologist which supports and develops the evidence given at trial which was consistent with Mr Noye's evidence that he acted in self-defence".

On the ground of appeal relating to Mr Decabral, it was argued that non-disclosure of material relating to him "can now be seen to have affected the safety of the conviction".

Miss Montgomery said the first appeal arose after information was given by Mr Decabral's widow that her husband had been a drug dealer who owed substantial amounts of money.

The QC told the judges: "It also emerged that there was material in the hands of the prosecution at the time of the trial which had not been disclosed to the defence, which further undermined his credibility."

She said: "The impact of the material breach of the prosecution's common law duty of disclosure in relation to Mr Decabral can now be seen to have rendered the verdict unsafe given the impact of the fresh evidence on the balance of the evidence as a whole."

Miss Montgomery submitted: "Mr Noye submits that Dr Heath's discrediting as expert witness undermines the evidence he gave at the trial. This, taken together with the fresh evidence and the material non-disclosure, means that his conviction for murder can no longer be regarded as safe."

The judges heard Noye came to public attention during the 1980s in connection with the Brink's Mat gold bullion robbery.

In 1986 he was convicted of handling the stolen gold and he was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment.

The previous year he was acquitted of the murder of an undercover police officer, whom he stabbed to death in the garden of his Kent home at night. Noye said he acted in self-defence, believing the man to be an intruder.

In opposing the appeal, Mark Ellison QC, for the prosecution, said the issue was not Dr Heath's evidence but whether the use of the knife at all was "proportionate".

The judges later reserved their decision. No date was given for the ruling.