Man freed after murder conviction quashed

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A man who has spent eight years behind bars for murder was released by the Court of Appeal today.

Ian Lawless, 47, who was jailed for life in 2002 after confessing to the murder of retired sea captain Alf Wilkins on the Yarborough estate in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, was present in the dock for the ruling.

Three judges in London ruled that his conviction was unsafe after hearing fresh medical evidence about his mental condition at the time - including a "pathological need for attention".

His case had been referred to the Court of Appeal for review by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, an independent body which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.

The appeal against conviction was not opposed by the prosecution and no retrial was ordered.

Lawless and another man were convicted of firebombing Mr Wilkins' flat after wrongly suspecting him of being a paedophile.

The former tugboat skipper's body was found in the kitchen of his smoke-damaged flat with his 12-year-old black Alsatian dog Lucky lying nearby.

Lord Justice Richards, sitting with Mrs Justice Gloster and Mrs Justice Dobbs, said the court was satisfied that if the jury had heard the new medical evidence at trial "it might have affected their assessment of the reliability of the various confessions made by the appellant".

He added: "The verdict might have been different."

Allowing the appeal against conviction, Lord Richards said the judges had also borne in mind that the verdict was a majority of 10 to 2 and was returned after a "very long period of deliberation".

Lawless had made various "confessions" to third parties, including regulars in a pub and a taxi driver.

He said he was the "lookout" in the attack, but he denied any involvement in police interviews and in court.

It has since emerged that he suffered from a personality disorder and that his need for attention was exacerbated when drinking.

Lawless was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted at Hull Crown Court.

Mr Wilkins died as the result of smoke inhalation at his home on 9 February, 2001.