Robbers freed after 'unfair' trial

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The Independent Online

Two armed robbers, nicknamed "Mad Dog" and "Chainsaw Woody", walked free from court yesterday after a judge ruled they could not have a fair trial because of the involvement of allegedly corrupt Scotland Yard officers in the case.

John Woodruff, 63, and William Hickson, 56, had been accused of taking part in the robbery of £33,000 from a post office in Manor Park, east London, in January 1996, armed with a handgun and a bottle of ammonia. They were jailed for 15 years each in 1997 for the crime but the Court of Appeal ordered a retrial into the case after the officer who investigated their case was arrested on corruption allegations. The defendants claimed weapons had been planted on them.

Their case is one of the first to be overturned because of allegations that trials involving officers accused of wrong-doing in the Metropolitan Police's anti-corruption drive are now tainted. Dozens of convictions are being challenged after the corruption purge at the Yard.

At the Old Bailey yesterday, Judge Grigson cleared the men of conspiracy to rob. He said: "It is my judgment that no fair trial is possible. Serious allegations were made against 25 members of the squad, including theofficer in charge ... of theoperation involving these defendants."

"Mad Dog" Hickson and "Chainsaw Woody" Woodruff, both from east London, have been sentenced in total to 60 years in prison for a series of multi-million-pound robberies. In the Sixties Woodruff was jailed for 12 years for armed robberies with sawn-off shotguns. He was jailed again in 1979 for 18 years for his part in a robbery in Banstead, Surrey, in which an armed gang waylaid a security van, cut into it with a chainsaw and stole more than £1m.

Hickson was arrested after the £6m robbery on a Security Express depot in 1983. Accused of handling cash from the robbery, he was jailed for six years and then went to ground.