Riot confession proved to be false: Heather Mills on on a case which highlights the right to silence

Click to follow
The Independent Online
JOHN HOWARD gave police a graphic account of the killing of PC Keith Blakelock at the height of the riots that tore apart the Broadwater Farm estate eight years ago.

In a 50-page statement he named names, gave detailed descriptions and placed himself 20 feet from the murder scene, damaging property and hurling objects at the police. He was charged with affray, which carries a lengthy jail sentence.

But John Howard, (not his real name) then 17, was nowhere near Broadwater Farm that night. He was in a public house in Windsor.

His extraordinary statement came after prolonged questioning by officers: four interviews adding up to nine hours over a three-day period, when he had no access to solicitors.

His fate, and potentially that of others he identified may well have been sealed, but for the efforts of Jim Nichol, his solicitor, who found several witnesses who placed him far from Tottenham, including the pub landlord and a bus conductor.

The charges were then dropped. According to Mr Nichol, Mr Howard's case illustrates the importance of maintaining the right to silence. 'When people are told their silence may be given as an indication of their guilt, they will be under even more more pressure to confess or incriminate others. Police will be tempted to stop detecting crime and come to rely more and more on getting some sort of statement or confession, which may be false.'