Appeal over 1978 murder rejected

Andrew Buncombe
Thursday 08 October 1998 23:02

THE MOTHER of a teenage girl stabbed to death 20 years ago watched yesterday as a court upheld the conviction of the man who murdered her.

Gail Halford said justice had been done after the Court of Appeal decided that the conviction of Michael Brookes was safe.

"Having considered this whole case with great care we don't find ourselves in doubt about the safety of this conviction and it therefore follows that we have to dismiss this appeal," said the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham.

The court ws told that Lynn Siddons, 16, had been found dead on a towpath on the Trent and Mersey canal near her home in Derby in 1978. She had been strangled and stabbed, in a manner described as "frantic".

Police originally charged Brookes's stepson Fitzroy, 15, with the killing but he was acquitted in November 1978 after he withdrew his confession. The court was yesterday reminded how he said he confessed because he was scared of Brookes. "I was told to say that by my stepfather," the boy said.

The case against Brookes, 53, developed after a civil action in 1991 awarded damages and named him as the girl's killer. As a result, many witnesses came forward and told police that Brookes had confessed to them that he had killed the teenager.

Brookes, his wife, Dorothy, and their daughter, Tracey, left their home in Derby to avoid what they considered was persecution. They moved to Peterborough and then to Carlisle. Brookes was arrested by police in 1992, with his stepson acting as the main prosecution witness in his trial. In 1996, after being convicted at the Old Bailey on a majority verdict, he was sentenced to a minimum of 26 years.

In his appeal, Brookes's lawyers argued that he had not received a fair trial. One of the reasons for this was the intense media coverage. They said that if police had charged Brookes within a reasonable time there would have been no adverse publicity. They argued that the civil proceedings would have been placed under reporting restrictions pending the result of the criminal trial.

Lord Bingham, sitting with Mr Justice Tucker and Mr Justice Richards, said it might appear that "this is the archetypal case in which the courts should entertain a lurking doubt about the safety of the conviction". He went on to say, however, that he and his colleagues had no such doubts.

After the ruling Mrs Halford said the case had hung over her for 20 years. She added: "We are really pleased because he would have been a free man if he had won the appeal. Now he must serve his sentence. He deserved what he got."

The teenager's grandmother, Florence Siddons, 83, who was central to the family campaign to find the killer, said she was delighted. "We've been going for 20 years now and I am very pleased with the result."

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