Widdecombe spoke for `killer'

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Ann Widdecombe intervened on behalf of a convicted killer after she became concerned about a possible miscarriage of justice while she was Conservative prisons minister.

She took an interest in the case of Raphael Rowe, serving a life sentence for a murder and robberies committed by the so-called M25 gang, after she was approached by him while on an official visit to Maidstone prison in Kent.

The campaign to review the case of Rowe, 29, and two others convicted with him, Michael Davis, 30, and Randolph Johnson, 32, has gathered the support of a cross-party group of MPs. The case is also due to be highlighted in BBC TV's Rough Justice programme.

Ms Widdecombe's action led to the Home Office promising that a review of the M25 case would not be delayed by the papers being passed on to the newly formed Criminal Cases Review Commission - only for the department's pledge to be broken by her boss, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary.

In a letter to his then shadow, Jack Straw, on 28 February this year, Mr Howard wrote: "... In view of earlier delays in Mr Rowe's case, he has been given an undertaking that a decision will be taken on his representations before responsibility for reviewing allegations of a wrongful convictions is handed over to the Criminal Cases Review Commission on 31 March."

Yet on 10 April the files on Rowe, and two other men convicted with him for murder and armed robberies committed by the M25 gang was passed on to the CCRC, as were other controversial convictions including that of James Hanratty. This led to accusations that Mr Howard did not wish to have to admit embarrassing miscarriages of justice with the election coming up.

Ms Widdecombe subsequently clashed with Mr Howard over the sacking of Derek Lewis, Director General of the Prisons Service, accusing the former Home Secretary of having "something of the night" about him.

The campaign for a review of the case against Rowe, Davis and Johnson is being backed by a number of other MPs including Labour's Chris Mullin, about to take on the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Ms Widdecombe said: "I represented Raphael Rowe in my capacity as a constituency MP. It looks as if we will now have to wait for the review. That is all I can say at the moment."