A van driver wrongly hanged for one of the Rillington Place murders is expected to have his name cleared more than 50 years after the notorious miscarriage of justice.
Timothy Evans, a Welshman with a mental age of 13, was executed in 1950 at the age of 25 for murdering his 14-month-old daughter, Geraldine, the previous year. He was also charged with strangling his wife, Beryl, to death, but that case did not come to court and was left on file.
Three years after Evans was hanged, his landlord, John Christie, admitted the murders after being sentenced to death for killing six other women. The story of the murders was later made into a film, 10 Rillington Place starring Richard Attenborough as Christie and John Hurt as Evans. Postwar Britain was gripped by the case, the first mass murder of the era.
Christie, then aged 40, who lived in a flat in Notting Hill, west London, below Evans and his family, had buried his victims in his flat or garden over a 10-year period. His confession led in 1966 to the posthumous pardon of Evans, who had an IQ of 70. But his conviction as a murderer still stood.
Now the Criminal Cases Review Commission has agreed to fast-track an application by lawyers representing Evans's two sisters for the case to be referred to the Court of Appeal.
Legal sources have indicated that the courts are likely to overturn the conviction and bring a not guilty verdict on the outstanding murder charge.
Evans had moved into the top-floor flat at 10 Rillington Place in 1948 with his 19-year-old bride and they soon had a child. Given to boasting about non-existent managerial jobs, Evans was always short of money and claimed he was horrified when his wife became pregnant again. On 30 November 1949, Evans walked into Merthyr Tydfil police station, close to where he was staying, and told detectives: "I want to give myself up. I have disposed of my wife. I have put her down a drain."
When the police searched the drain they found nothing, but later the bodies were found in a washhouse at the back of the building and Evans was charged with murder.
It now seems likely that he was dominated by his landlord, a former policeman, who had murdered Beryl and the baby. Christie had some medical training and is thought to have offered to perform an illegal "backstreet abortion" on Beryl. When she panicked, Christie strangled her with a stocking and, in view of later cases, probably had sex with her after death.
Christie took advantage of Evans's sub-normal state and let him believe he had murdered his wife and child.
It was only after Christie was hanged at Pentonville prison in July 1953 - three more bodies of women had been found behind a false wall in the house, plus two skeletons in shallow graves - that campaigners criticised the integrity of the Evans investigation.
Bernard de Maid, a Cardiff solicitor who represents Evans's two surviving sisters, believes it is crucial that the dead man's conviction be overturned. "In the eyes of the law, he is still a convicted murderer with another murder outstanding. There is a terrible stigma attached to the killings, particularly because they involve a man's wife and child. A pardon is not the same as a declaration of innocence, which we believe is long overdue."
The sisters are also seeking £1m compensation from the Home Office. A hearing to decide the level of compensation is due at the end of the year.
Ellen Ashby, 82, one of the sisters, said: "All I have ever wanted is someone to tell me they accept they were wrong to convict Timothy. I have always known he was innocent, so in a sense it doesn't matter what the Court of Appeal says. But it's important to put this dreadful wrong right."Reuse content