Man cleared of revenge murder after 14 years in jail

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The Independent Online

A former aircraft engineer who served nearly 14 years in jail for the murder of a science teacher, had his conviction quashed yesterday after judges concluded his trial had been biased.

Andrew Adams was 23 when he was convicted at Newcastle Crown Court of shooting Jack Royal on his doorstep. But after the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) re-examined the conviction, a series of flaws emerged.

One was evidence that a member of the jury influenced the others with claims she had "personal knowledge" of Mr Adams, who was a "bad lad". A juror's conduct has never before formed part of a Court of Appeal case.

The decision of three judges that Mr Adams' conviction should be quashed provides a new twist to a case which already has seen many. By the time Mr Adams was arrested, detectives had seen another man tried and acquitted of murdering Mr Royal, 58, who had himself been tried twice for a murder and was cleared by a second jury after the first failed to reach a verdict.

Mr Adams, a successful and high-earning engineer known for his glamorous girlfriends and sports cars, seemed to have a motive: revenge. The man of whose murder Mr Royal had been cleared was the brother of Mr Adams' girlfriend and the killing was a macabre "birthday present" for her, it was said.

Kevin Thompson, a schoolfriend of Mr Adams, told police he had collected Mr Adams and a friend, John Hands, from a hotel car park where Mr Adams had boasted: "I blew his head off." On May 18 1993, a jury acquitted Mr Hands of murder but convicted Mr Adams, who cried to them: "Do you realise what you've done?" An appeal against his conviction was rejected in 1997 and it was not until the CCRC picked up the case - backlogs delayed their investigations by a further three years - that flaws emerged.

The CCRC found that Mr Thompson had agreed to testify only after negotiating a deal by which he and his girlfriend would avoid jail for the violent armed robbery of an elderly couple. The deal was not illegal but should at least have been disclosed to the defence.

A juror from the trial came forward to tell the CCRC that she and others were unduly influenced by a female member of the jury - referred to in the Appeal Court as "Juror 9" - who on "numerous occasions" had said: "These lads are guilty". She testified that other jurors had said: "This can't be right." The comments were not reported to the jury foreman nor to the judge.

Lord Justice Gage, Mr Justice Silber and Mr Justice Treacy, sitting in London, ruled that Mr Adams had been "badly let down" by his legal team during the original trial. The two barristers originally assigned the case had to withdraw and the new team had just 10 days to prepare their case. As a result, they failed to call key witnesses.

The ruling found that when taken together, various "criticisms and failures" had the cumulative effect of being "sufficient to render the verdict unsafe".

Soon after the ruling, Mr Adams, 36, was in the public gallery to hear the Crown would not seek a retrial.

Later, surrounded by family and friends, he declared himself "overwhelmed". He said: "A few minutes ago I was a prisoner serving a life sentence for a crime I did not commit. I am now a free man.

"During the past 14 years my mum has died, my friends have got married, settled down and had children, while I have been in prison. I will now return to Newcastle and begin to rebuild the life I once had."