Professionals blamed for boy's wrongful conviction: Miscarriage of justice on teenager was 'appalling disaster'

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The Independent Online
A CROWN COURT judge, a barrister, solicitors and police were all blamed yesterday for an 'apalling disaster' that sent a 13-year-old model schoolboy into custody for a crime he did not commit.

Last week Ivan Fergus, now 16, won an unprecedented declaration of innocence from the Court of Appeal. He had been convicted of assaulting a bank clerk with intent to rob, solely on questionable and uncorroborated identification evidence.

But yesterday, the judges made it clear that had every professional involved in the case performed their duties correctly, this latest miscarriage of justice would not have occurred.

Ivan's trial judge, Peter Rountree, failed to withdraw the case from the jury - and gave a 'seriously flawed' summing-up; his then solicitors Toppin and Co, of New Cross, south London, were guilty of a 'flagrant disregard of their duty'; his barrister, Stephen Fletcher, 'fell markedy short' of the Bar's standards; and Lewisham police were guilty of a lamentable failure to investigate.

Lord Justice Steyn, sitting with Mr Justice Hutchison and Mr Justice Rougier, said Ivan's one advantage in adversity was his mother, Nellie, who was determined to uncover the injustice. The case against him was remarkably thin. A month after the assault, the victim identified Ivan when he spotted him at a bus stop. But he bore little resemblance to the description the clerk had originally given.

He had a cast-iron alibi for the attack, which everyone was told about and which no one bothered to investigate properly. Two of his alibi witnesses even turned up at his trial, but were not called to give evidence.

The judges said the defence team was guilty of 'an amazing lapse'. Calling for the solicitors - who have since been suspended over another issue - to be reported to the Law Society, the judges said they 'acted in the most flagrant disregard of their duties to Ivan and his mother . . . If they had carried out their duties properly, Ivan would in our judgement not have been convicted'.

They accepted that the solicitors had badly briefed Mr Fletcher to defend Ivan, but said he should have called alibi and character evidence and asked the judge to withdraw the weak case from the jury. In any event, when a case relied entirely upon weak identification, the judge had a duty to withdraw the case. But they added: 'Even if the judge had not been obliged to withdraw the case from the jury, his summing up was seriously flawed in as much as it failed in a number of respects to put the case fairly and properly before the jury.'

Police involved in the case ignored no less than seven requests from the Crown Prosecution Service to take statements from the alibi witnesses.

Law report, page 8