M25 Three vow to find police who lied in court

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The Independent Online

Three men who had their convictions for murder quashed yesterday demanded an urgent inquiry into detectives who conspired to bring false evidence against them and left them to languish in jail for more than a decade.

Three men who had their convictions for murder quashed yesterday demanded an urgent inquiry into detectives who conspired to bring false evidence against them and left them to languish in jail for more than a decade.

The so-called M25 Three, who were found guilty in 1990 of a murder and a series of robberies close to the London orbital road, walked free from the Court of Appeal after judges said they could not be sure of the safety of their convictions. The judgment highlighted a "conspiracy to give perjured evidence" between some police officers and a key prosecution witness.

But their victory was partly soured by the comments of the presiding judge, Lord Justice Mantell, who said that the quashing of the convictions was "not a finding of innocence - far from it".

The three men, Michael Davis, 34, Raphael Rowe, 32, and Randolph Johnson, 35, from south-east London, were convicted of the murder of Peter Hurburgh, a hairdresser, during a series of attacks in December 1988. The jury were told they had gone on a crime spree around the M25, armed with a gun and a machete, robbing and causing mayhem.

Mr Hurburgh died from a heart attack after he and his gay partner were dragged from a car near Fickleshole, Surrey, tied up and severely beaten. Another victim, Timothy Napier, almost died after three men broke into his father's house at Oxted, Surrey, and stabbed him during a struggle.

The three men, who are all black, always stressed their innocence and lawyers who brought an appeal against the conviction in 1993 argued the convictions were based almost entirely on the evidence of three witnesses who had originally been suspects. There was also a lack of scientific evidence to link the men to the crime.

The battle to clear their names was rejoined in 1997 when the Criminal Cases Review Commission ordered a fresh inquiry into the killing and the subsequent investigation. That inquiry, by Greater Manchester Police, threw up several problems with the original case on which the judges yesterday made their ruling.

Most importantly, the judges said, both the defence and prosecution had not been aware at the time of the appeal and the original trial that a central witness, Norman Duncan, was an informer for Surrey Police. The judges said he had lied about the way he had volunteered information to officers and declined to mention that he had been offered a reward.

Mr Justice Mantell said: "That could only have been in collusion with the police. It amounts to no less than a conspiracy to give perjured evidence ... We found the fact profoundly disturbing."

Yesterday, as he was released from the cells to the delighted cries of family and friends, Raphael Rowe said: "We have waited a long time for this. The only reason I am standing here is because my sister, family, supporters and friends have fought long and hard to prove we are innocent.

"Today they have done that. The victims said from the outset it was two whites and one black. They weren't listened to. The system allowed them to lock up innocent men.

"I was 19 years old when they put me in prison and I'm 32 now. Twelve years of my life lost for ever. I will never ever get those years back."

A statement read out on Michael Davis's behalf said: "There has been a very long and hard battle to prove my innocence. I am totally relieved... We are innocent, regardless of what this court said.

"The judges said there was a conspiracy by the police and witnesses in this case. I want those policemen brought to book."

Mr Rowe's solicitor, Jim Nichol, called for an investigation into the behaviour of those officers involved. He said the men would now also be seeking compensation.

"I think there should be an inquiry with a view to prosecuting the relevant officers," he said. "It is really quite appalling."

A statement from Surrey Police said: "Surrey Police co-operated fully with the work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission and with the investigation carried out by Greater Manchester Police.

That investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by any Surrey Police officer so we will be seeking clarification of the suggestion of collusion between Duncan and police officers."