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'M25 gang witness threatened': Woman tells court she was pressurised by police and is no longer sure of evidence

A KEY prosecution witness at the trial of three men accused of the so-called 'M25 gang' crimes, told the Court of Appeal yesterday that police had pressured and threatened her when she was making statements to them, and that she was no longer sure of her evidence.

Joanne Ceasar, of south-east London, who was 21 and six months pregnant at the time of the police interviews, said she was not certain about key aspects of her account, including her claim at the Old Bailey trial that she had been given a plant by one of the men, which had been stolen from the scene of one of the crimes.

Under repeated questioning yesterday from Julian Bevan QC, counsel for the Crown, Ms Ceasar denied that she had been pressured into changing her story by a visit by sisters of two of the convicted men after the trial, or that they had dictated a letter she wrote saying the police had put words into her mouth.

She insisted she had written the letter of her own free will and that she was not part of the campaign to free the men. She was giving evidence on the third day of the appeal by Raphael Rowe, Michael Davis and Randolph Johnson, who were convicted in 1990 of murder, robbery and firearms offences which had occurred on one night in December 1988. The people sought for the crimes had been dubbed the 'M25 gang.'

At the time of the incidents Ms Ceasar had been staying with a man called Jason Cooper, who lived with two other white men and the three convicted men, who are all black. The appeal has already been told that witnesses said at the time that the attackers consisted of two white men and one black man.

Her account, given in statements to the police and to the trial, corroborated the timings which formed a crucial part of the Crown's case. She also told the trial that a plant - stolen from the scene of one of the crimes - had been given her by Davis.

She told the Court of Appeal yesterday that she was now unsure about some of the timings because of the pressure police had put upon her. 'They did threaten me, saying that if I didn't turn up in court I would go to prison. They pumped me. They kept on and on at me for six or eight hours at a time. They would just sit there. No wonder my statements were so detailed and so long, they took so much time pressurising me.'

Ms Ceasar suggested that the stress had led to her child being born five weeks prematurely.

Mr Bevan said an admission by Ms Ceasar yesterday that Rowe and Davis had told her early on the Friday morning after the crimes, that they had 'just got in' and appeared wide awake and lively had a 'devastating effect' on the defence case. It had exploded Rowe's alibi.

The hearing continues.