Home Affairs Correspondent
After 16 years in prison protesting his innocence of the sex-killing of a 14-year-old boy, George Long was finally cleared of the murder and freed by the Court of Appeal yesterday.
A man with a history of mental instability and a reputation for telling fantastic tales, his "confessions" to the police - the only evidence against him - were unreliable, the court ruled yesterday. He is the latest in a long list of those wrongly convicted on the basis of false confessions, including Timothy Evans, the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and Stefan Kiszko. Mr Long had given up the chance of freedom on parole because that would have involved admitting to the crime - something he was not prepared to do.
Yesterday, with his long campaign for justice finally over, Mr Long, now 52, said his immediate thoughts were with the boy's family. "They have lost a son. That is a terrible loss. All their grief has been focused into hatred towards me. I could feel their hatred in the courtroom. These people are upset and hurt. I can imagine the mother crying. I know she is very upset and I do feel for her, but I never killed her son."
The body of Gary Wilson, partly hidden by an old sofa and tyres, had been discovered in the yard of a derelict shop in Deptford, south-east London, in November 1978. He had been strangled with a belt, stabbed in the neck and chest and had slash wounds on his legs. He had been sexually assaulted.
Two months after the killing, police had not found the killer and re- interviewed those originally questioned. One was Mr Long, then a 36-year- old hospital porter, with no police record, no history of violence, and with a regular girlfriend. After a lengthy interrogation, he confessed to the crime. But he told the police that he was confused and, after consulting his solicitor, said he had made it all up.
He explained his false admission by saying: "All my life it has been the same way. I am a coward and I want to be just locked up so that the world can't get at me.
"I never killed the boy. I never met him." He added: "I've prayed for death many times, but it never comes."
Yesterday Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, said that since the trial, psychiatric reports had described Mr Long as a "thoroughly depressing man who seldom seems to smile". Several times he had cut his arms and taken overdoses. A prison medical officer reported that he had a severe personality disorder and appeared to live in a world "where fact and fiction are inextricably mixed".
Lord Taylor said that at the time of the trial, the possibility of defendants making confessions they later retract because of mental disorder falling short of mental illness had not been recognised. Since then, the condition had been identified in a number of cases. Its effect, combined with being in a police station for the first time, was to render Mr Long vulnerable and incapable of giving a reliable account of himself.
The perpetrator of "this dreadful crime", if surely proved guilty, deserved to be imprisoned indefinitely by way of punishment and for the protection of the public, Lord Taylor said.
"But unless guilt is proved by reliable evidence so that the verdict can be regarded as safe and satisfactory, a conviction cannot stand."
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