Three men convicted of murder under joint enterprise law gain right to appeal after fourth man's confession

Exclusive: Admission means there is a 'real possibility' the Court of Appeal will consider the convictions unsafe

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Three murderers convicted under the controversial law of joint enterprise have won the right to appeal – after a fellow gang member confessed he was the one who actually stabbed the victim to death.

All four were jailed for life for the murder of a man who was found with more than 30 stab and slash wounds – even though they had not been armed with knives when they turned up for the prearranged fight between rival Sri Lankan Tamil groups in London.

The case is the first referred to the Court of Appeal after MPs from the Justice Committee called this month for a review of the use of joint enterprise – which allows several people to be charged with the same offence even though they may have played very different roles. The MPs said that they were concerned that “minor players” had been convicted of murder.

The four – Aziz Miah, Asif Kumbay, Kirush Nanthakumar and Vabeesan Sivarajah – lost an appeal against their conviction in 2009. They had all denied murdering Prabaskaran Kannan, 28, and accused each other of doing it.

Since the ruling, the oldest of the group, Sivarajah, claimed that he alone wielded the knife and was responsible for stabbing Mr Kannan some 20 times in June 2007.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) said the admission meant there was a “real possibility” the Court of Appeal would consider the convictions unsafe.

“The referral is made on the basis of new evidence relating to who inflicted the fatal wounds on the victim and which, if it had been available at trial, might have led the jury to come to different verdicts,” in relation to the three, the CCRC said.

“The use of the joint enterprise principle in this case was extreme and in my view most unjust,” said Michael Birnbaum, QC, who represented the three men. “Here the attackers intended to use only a cricket bat and bottles. It was the victims who seized two large knives.

“But by defining the joint enterprise as being a plan to use ‘whatever weapons came to hand’, the Court of Appeal was able to uphold convictions of four people regardless of whether any of them had actually done anything to assist in the stabbing.”

The four were part of a nine-strong group who travelled from Croydon to their rivals’ turf in nearby Tooting, south London. The Croydon group arrived in Tooting in the early hours in two cars and found a group of three of their rivals coming out of a shop. As they were being chased through a chicken shop, the three jumped over the counter and grabbed two knives from behind it and fled out the back of the shop.

They were cornered in a yard and disarmed. One of the knives was turned on Mr Kannan, who was stabbed and slashed. The four men – all aged between 18 and 22 at the time of their trial – all pleaded not guilty but were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Two other men were cleared of murder.

The Government says it is examining the recommendations of the Justice Committee, which said lesser charges should be considered against those who played a lesser role in a murder.