Man wins murder conviction appeal after 14 years in jail

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The Independent Online

A former aircraft engineer who claimed a guilty verdict at his murder trial was "biased" had his conviction quashed today after spending more than 14 years in jail.

Andrew Adams, now 36, was convicted at Newcastle Crown Court in 1993 of shooting dead a retired science teacher, grandfather Jack Royal, 58, in 1990.

His co-accused, John Hands, was acquitted.

The shooting was said to have been a revenge killing for the fatal stabbing by Mr Royal of a man during a street fight in 1987.

Mr Royal had been cleared after two trials heard he had acted in self-defence against David Thompson, his son's 29-year-old former business partner.

In March 1990 Mr Royal was shot after he answered the door to his home in Laburnum Grove, Sunniside, Gateshead.

Mr Adams, 23, at the time of the trial, from Chapel Park, Newcastle, had his case referred to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent body which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.

Lord Justice Gage, Mr Justice Silber and Mr Justice Treacy, sitting in London, ruled today that Mr Adams's conviction was unsafe and ordered that it be quashed.

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

It concluded: "We are not to be taken as finding that if there had been no such failures the appellant would inevitably have been acquitted.

"We are however satisfied for the reasons given that the verdict is unsafe. The appeal will be allowed and the conviction quashed."

Speaking after hearing of the findings, Mr Adams said: "I am overwhelmed with all that has happened.

"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."

Concerning the time he has spent in prison, he said: "During the past 14 years my mum has died, my friends have got married, settled down and had children, whilst I have been in prison.

"I will now return to Newcastle and begin to rebuild the life I once had.

"I am so grateful to all those who have stood by me. Without them I would not be here today."

Ben Rose, his solicitor, added: "This is a great day, a sad day and a shameful day.

"It is a great day because, after being in prison for 14 years for a crime he did not commit, Mr Adams's conviction has finally been quashed.

"It is a shameful day because the material which has led the Court of Appeal to quash Mr Adams conviction was there for his original lawyers to examine - something they failed to do.

"Finally, it is a sad day because Mr Royal's murderers are still at large."

The Court of Appeal heard in December that a member of the jury which convicted Mr Adams remarked to fellow jurors that he and his co-accused were guilty.

Judges were told a woman juror had remarked on several occasions outside the jury room during the trial that she knew "these lads are guilty".

Evidence of the woman's remarks was given by a fellow juror - referred to only as "Juror 9" - who told the appeal judges last month that the "passing comment" was repeated by the woman "numerous times".

Other jurors said "this can't be right", but the comments were not reported to the jury foreman or to the trial judge, Mr Justice Ognall.

Chief Superintendent Steve Bolam, of Northumbria Police, said today: " The Court of Appeal has made its decision and we accept that.

"We will not be making any further comment until we have had the opportunity to study the court's findings in detail."

Lord Justice Gage said a failure to use evidence relating to three topics, which was available to the defence before trial, "demonstrates that, for whatever reason, the legal advisers at trial had failed in those respects in their pre-trial preparations".

He ruled: "It was this deficiency in pre-trial preparation which caused the failures which we have identified."

He said: "It is difficult to conclude that the criticisms and failures which we have found in respect of any one of the individual topics were on their own sufficient to render the verdict unsafe but we are quite satisfied that taken together, cumulatively they were sufficient to render the verdict unsafe."

But the judges rejected the ground of appeal relating to alleged jury bias.

Lord Justice Gage said: "Before the jury was sworn, the judge said that any juror with prior knowledge of any defendant should declare it before being sworn. None did.

"No irregularity was drawn to the attention of the judge by any juror during the course of the trial.

"The verdict was unanimous. In the circumstances, we are quite satisfied that no evidence of bias has been shown, so as to render the verdict unsafe."

Adams was in the public gallery in court later to hear that the Crown would not be seeking a retrial.

Later, he spoke to waiting reporters outside London's Royal Courts of Justice.

He said: "I have been waiting for today for 15 years. This is the result I ought to have had at my trial."

Adams, surrounded by family and friends, including long-term girlfriend Clare Brayson, 35, added: "It is hard to describe how I feel right now. I have very mixed emotions."

He said that to describe himself as being "over the moon" would be an "understatement".

Thanking his current legal team, Adams commented: "I feel bitter that my original lawyers let me down so badly."

His "one great sadness" was that his mother was not alive to see him freed.