Justice watchdog sued by wrongly convicted man who spent 17 years in prison for attempted rape

Review body failed to order DNA test that eventually led to former postman's release

A man who spent 17 years in prison for attempted rape before having his conviction quashed on the basis of a DNA test is suing the miscarriage of justice watchdog for negligence. It is claimed the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) repeatedly failed to undertake forensic analysis of the victim’s clothing, instead relying on the assurances of the same police force that investigated the case.

Victor Nealon was sentenced in 1997 for life with a minimum tariff of seven years for an attack which took place outside a nightclub in Redditch, Worcestershire. He was released in December 2013 following a referral of his case to the Court of Appeal by the CCRC.

The former postman made two applications to the Birmingham-based body in 1999 and 2002. On both occasions, the CCRC agreed to investigate his case and, on both occasions, Mr Nealon called on the watchdog to undertake a DNA test.

According to a letter from Mr Nealon’s lawyers received by the CCRC last week, the watchdog “relied upon assurances from West Mercia Police which, in due course, were found to be false” and consequently did not commission a DNA test. The same force had investigated the original case and was the subject of a complaint by Mr Nealon. In its 2002 decision not to refer the case, the CCRC said that it was not its policy to undertake “speculative tests”.

 

“The CCRC three times failed to review my case properly,” Mr Nealon said yesterday. “I spent an additional 10 years in prison because they accepted at face value evidence given by the police that examinations had been carried out in respect of forensic evidence. We now know that isn’t the case.” Mr Nealon, who always protested his innocence and offered hair and blood samples to the police on his arrest, could have been released after seven years but was rejected for parole because he refused to accept guilt.

He said there was “overwhelming evidence” to suggest the CCRC failed in all three reviews to investigate his complaints of police misconduct. “In every application we detailed a list of complaints against the police: that they had no reason to arrest me; that they influenced the ID parade; and that they failed to investigate the forensic position,” he said. “All of those issues were dismissed by the CCRC on the basis they relied upon assurances from the police. As it turned out, my conviction was quashed on the basis of evidence which the police say was already investigated. We now know it was not.”

Richard Foster, chairman of the CCRC, wrote to Mr Nealon last June acknowledging that, in its first two reviews, the organisation “could and should have identified there were forensic opportunities that had not been explored” and that those opportunities had “the potential to make a difference to your case”.

“Our understanding of the position with regards to forensic evidence at trial, as expressed in the 2001 and 2003 statements of reasons, was mistaken and/or incomplete,” Mr Foster said.

Mr Nealon’s legal team claims that at a meeting with the CCRC where the apology was repeated, the watchdog asserted it had received “false information from the police”; however, it could not produce any records to substantiate that claim.

In January, The Independent on Sunday revealed Mr Nealon and another victim were challenging Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in the High Court over law changes preventing them from being compensated for wrongful conviction.

“The way that Victor has been treated since his release has been nothing short of a scandal,” said solicitor Mark Newby.

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