Man jailed for 25 years on false confession has verdict quashed

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A man who spent 25 years in prison for attempted murder has had his conviction quashed after an appeal court ruled that police lied about his "confession" and had made parts of it up.

A man who spent 25 years in prison for attempted murder has had his conviction quashed after an appeal court ruled that police lied about his "confession" and had made parts of it up.

Paul Blackburn, now 41, was aged 15 when he was convicted of the attempted murder and attempted buggery of a nine-year-old boy in Warrington, Cheshire.

Mr Blackburn was not released until March 2003 on life licence. He was detained longer than he might otherwise have been partly because he refused to admit the crime, the Court of Appeal heard.

The crucial piece of evidence used to convict the teenager, who was 14 when the attack took place, was a confession obtained by officers from Cheshire police.

The written confession, which Mr Blackburn insists was obtained after he was shouted at and threatened, followed a three-hour interview during which Mr Blackburn was not accompanied by a solicitor.

Specialists have since established that the words and language in the confession would have been unfamiliar to a young teenager and have advised that the police must have prompted him.

Three appeal courtjudges sitting in London quashed the conviction, ruling that it was unsafe.

Lord Justice Keene said the fact that the prosecution had conceded there was evidence suggesting that police officers had "involvement" in the drafting of Mr Blackburn's confession cast doubt on their overall credibility in the case. "That calls into question the credibility of the police officers who said on oath that they sat quietly by as Mr Blackburn wrote his confession," he said.

"We are conscious we have not heard from them as they have not been called but we cannot escape the conclusion that they cannot have told the truth about the written confession.

"Once it emerges that the officers did not tell the truth about one element, their whole account of the interview becomes undermined."

He added that the Crown had conceded there was linguistic evidence now available which suggested significant police involvement in the wording of the confession.

Furthermore the judge ruled that officers had "breached" guidelines both by failing to inform Mr Blackburn that he could have a solicitor present and by interviewing him at the approved school at which he was in care at the time instead of at a police station.

The victim had been stabbed and beaten in Warrington, Cheshire, on 25 June 1978 and was left under a pile of bricks and planks for 18 hours. When he was found he was suffering from hypothermia and nearly died.

Mr Blackburn was one of several teenagers from an approved school for offenders who was interviewed about the crime. At least one other youth is understood to have "confessed", but no action was taken against him.

There was no scientific evidence linking Mr Blackburn to the crime, there were no witnesses and the victim was unable to identify his attacker. Despite this, Mr Blackburn was convicted at Chester Crown Court in 1978 and ordered to be detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure, the juvenile equivalent of a life sentence. He served 25 years in 18 different prisons.

His case was referred to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission last August.

The quashing of his conviction is likely to result in substantial compensation from the Home Office.

Speaking after the ruling he said: "Of course I feel angry. I have always felt angry. But what do you do? Destroy your own life by being angry? It is so destructive and damaging."

He added that he had never thought about giving up the fight to clear his name and would not have admitted guilt just to be allowed his freedom earlier.

Asked if he could now return to a normal life, Blackburn said: "I don't know. What is a normal life after 25 years in there?"

He said he found life outside prison "very difficult". "I am still very unsettled and have great difficulty with relationships and being around people."

Being in prison was "not very nice", he said: "Being in for the kind of offence I had, being a target for the prison system because I wouldn't comply and be what they wanted me to be."

Police questioned Mr Blackburn within seven days of the attack on the boy.

He was arrested on four different occasions. It was at the last interview, at which the only non-police person was one of the house wardens from his approved school, that he wrote the now discredited confession.

A previous challenge to his conviction was rejected by the Court of Appeal in March 1981.

In May 1995 a petition on behalf of Mr Blackburn was submitted to Michael Howard, who was Home Secretary at the time, but Mr Howard turned it down.

An investigation by North Wales police into the conduct of the Cheshire officers involved in the case - all of whom have since retired - concluded that there was insufficient evidence for criminal charges to be brought against them.

Cheshire police refused to comment yesterday on the case until they had seen the details of the judgment.

Speaking after yesterday's ruling, Mr Blackburn's solicitor, Glyn Maddocks, said: "The police officers lied ... we have said all along that their evidence was unreliable."

Asked whether a claim for compensation would be made, Mr Maddocks said: "Absolutely. It goes without saying. He will be entitled to a substantial amount of compensation."