Patricia Bass, 49, showed no emotion as Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice, sitting with Mr Justice Brian Smedley and Mr Justice Thomas, announced that her conviction was quashed. He ordered her to be discharged from custody after the Crown said it would not be seeking another retrial.
Mrs Bass said after leaving court: "It's just wonderful to be believed at last ... I just believed that one day, somehow, the truth would come out." The worst part of imprisonment was being parted from her husband, and not being believed.
She said she was looking forward to going home and seeing her dog, Rufus, a lurcher which her husband had bought while she was in prison.
Her husband, Richard, said: "I'm delighted now we've had justice for Pat. But we still want justice for Pat's mother, who was killed six years ago. The police have no more idea now who killed her than then."
Yesterday's events were the culmination of a saga which began in March 1992 with the death of Mrs Bass's mother, Beatrice Greig, at her home in Nottingham. In 1996, three judges quashed Mrs Bass's conviction for murder from the previous February, and ordered a retrial. They ruled that the conviction should not stand because the trial judge had misdirected the jury on crucial scientific evidence.
The prosecution's case, which was entirely circumstantial, suggested that Mrs Bass was motivated by financial greed.
Mrs Bass, of Ripley, Derbyshire, was freed on bail pending a retrial before a different judge at Birmingham - at which she was again convicted - in June last year.
At her second appeal, last month, Mrs Bass's counsel, Edward Rees, argued that the second conviction was unsafe set against the evidence overall. He said the trial judge had been wrong to rule that evidence about pounds 16,000 in Mrs Bass's bank account, which she said was a gift from her father shortly before he died, should go before the jury.
This point created a "dangerous and prejudicial situation" for Mrs Bass, because it left the jury with a "false route" to the murderer's identity.
The appeal judges agreed that the evidence was irrelevant to any issue in the case and so inadmissible. But they rejected the submission that the conviction was also compromised by the trial judge's refusal to allow Mr Rees to cross-examine a man named Graham Burgess, who confessed to Mrs Greig's murder, before retracting. Lord Bingham said the trial judge was right to draw the line where he did. He questioned whether the circumstantial evidence against Mrs Bass was sufficient to establish her guilt. It was, at best for the Crown, a "marginal" case.
The court would have hesitated to disturb the majority verdict of the jury but for its concern that they might have been unfairly prejudiced by the evidence relating to Mrs Bass's receipt of the pounds 16,000 on which much of her appeal was founded, Lord Bingham said.
It was the receipt of that sum which established the suggestion of greed, which was the only motive advanced by the Crown. "In a finely balanced case this could, we fear, have led to an unjust result."Reuse content