Law and Order: Innocent man freed after 25 years in jail for murder

Michael Streeter
Thursday 04 December 1997 00:02 GMT
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A soldier who spent 25 years in jail for murder had his conviction quashed. It is thought to be the longest period served by someone wrongly convicted. Michael Streeter, Legal Affairs Correspondent, considers the problems of adjusting to freedom and modern society.

When Andrew Evans was convicted of murdering a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Ted Heath was prime minister and decimal currency was still a novelty.

Yesterday, Mr Evans - who was just 17 when he was supposed to have battered Judith Roberts to death - was thrust back into the late 20th century after the Court of Appeal ruled that his conviction was unsafe and unreliable.

Campaigners for Mr Evans have now arranged for him to go to special safe accommodation and undergo counselling to come to terms his freedom.

Taking his first steps as a free man for quarter of a century , he said : "For more than 25 years I have been held responsible for a crime I did not commit. Today is the first step to a life beyond injustice."

His solicitor Kate Akester, of the human rights campaign group Justice, criticised the Home Office for not offering immediate compensation for Mr Evans, whose rehabilitation is being funded through private donations. Describing the case as one of the most disturbing miscarriages of justice in recent times, where the legal process had exploited a vulnerable young man, she added: "We are calling for urgent changes to the arrangements for compensation in such cases."

Experts yesterday warned that Mr Evans' process of adapting from the regimented world of prison would be a long one. Dr James Thompson, a director of the Traumatic Stress Clinic, said people had to be convinced they could make decisions for themselves. Changes in society since 1973 would also need to be assimilated. "It is a very different world now, requiring different sorts of skills ... It's like an immigrant arriving in a new society."

At the time of Judith's murder in Tamworth, Staffordshire, in June 1972, Mr Evans - described as having had an unhappy childhood - was a soldier serving at Whittington Barracks just outside Lichfield. He was discharged on medical grounds and in October 1972 police called at his grandmother's house to ask him further questions over claims he had made about being in the barracks at the time of the killing.

He was later questioned at Tamworth police station and repeated that he did not know if he had killed the victim but kept seeing visions of her.

Later, as he waited for trial, experts became convinced he was suffering from amnesia - an unconscious mental mechanism by which painful events are obliterated from the memory - and a "truth drug" was administered before he made statements.

Lord Bingham said: "Judged by the rules and standards of today, the conduct of this investigation by the police left much to be desired.

"The appellant was not cautioned as and when he should have been, as is accepted by the Crown; he was not seen by a doctor when he first appeared at the police station, although it is clear that by current standards medical attention was urgently required; he was not offered the assistance of a solicitor."

A confession had been the sole reason for his conviction.

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