Prisoner in new move to secure appeal: Man jailed for murder claims stolen files cast fresh doubt on conviction

ONE OF Britain's longest serving prisoners alleges that file documents have been stolen from the Director of Public Prosecutions' Office and passed to him in an attempt to help prove his innocence.

Yesterday a spokeswoman for the DPP said: 'We have no reason to believe that anything has been stolen from our files.' However, to support his claim, and risking a police inquiry into the alleged theft, Paul Cleeland - who has served more than 20 years for a murder he says he did not commit - produced part of the transcript of his 1973 trial. Last year, Home Office officials told the High Court that a transcript, which Cleeland had argued in judicial review proceedings might support his claim of innocence, could not be found.

From Wormwood Scrubs prison, Cleeland, now 50, alleged that these documents demonstrated that the evidence to the court was false. He further claimed that as a result of the theft he now has a copy of at least one statement which was not made available at his trial and which he argues may have helped his defence.

Cleeland was jailed, after a retrial, for the shotgun murder of a friend and business associate, Terry Clarke. He has always maintained that as a known criminal, he was framed for what was a gang killing over drugs. A series of anomalies in the case have long aroused concern and there have been many attempts by MPs to get the case reopened:

The murder was witnessed by Mr Clarke's wife, who would have recognised Cleeland.

The dead man's wounds were not consistent with the alleged murder weapon.

Cleeland's prison records at Wandsworth jail, London, were altered to show that he had been visited by a man called Nash. Cleeland says he never met Nash and claims it was a cynical move to deprive him of the chance of independent evidence which contradicted alleged confession evidence. The Home Office later admitted the alteration of prison records was a 'clerical error'.

The prosecution's expert witness, John McCafferty, who gave evidence about the murder weapon, had no formal qualifications in forensic chemistry.

An inquiry into Cleeland's allegation of perjury against police was never made public.

White powder found at the murder scene in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, was not analysed. Cleeland argues a test would have supported his claim that it was a drugs-related killing.

MPs and Baroness (Shirley) Williams, a former Home Office minister, have fought for years to have his case reopened. Television and newspapers have also raised questions about the case.

Last month, however, Cleeland was informed that he had been turned down for parole on licence and would not be considered again until March 1996.

Had the decision been taken after yesterday, when the rules governing detention of life sentence prisoners changed, the Home Office would have been obliged to tell him the reasons for his continued detention.

As it is, he cannot know. But one major factor is almost certainly his protestation of innocence. A major criticism of the licence parole system is that those who maintain their innocence do not qualify for early parole because they have 'failed to face up to their crime'.

In the mid-1980s, the Home Office made it clear that he would be released on licence if he accepted his guilt. He refused. 'I'll rot in here,' he said, 'rather than have anything to do with their damn licence, because I'm innocent. I won't give up until it comes out that I never had a fair trial.'

Cleeland alleges the Home Office wants to avoid a reference back to the Court of Appeal for fear that proving his innocence would cast doubts on the scientific evidence given by Mr McCafferty. That, he says, could lead to a review of the many other notorious cases in which he was involved, including the Hanratty murder trial in 1962.

Yesterday, a Home Office spokeswoman said: 'If Mr Cleeland has material which has not been seen by the Home Office before, which he thinks may have some significance regarding the safety of his conviction, then he should let us see it.'

(Photograph omitted)

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