New DNA tests show Hanratty may have been guilty after all

Jason Bennetto,Crime Correspondent
Thursday 20 July 2000 00:00

New DNA analysis has suggested that James Hanratty, whose controversial hanging 38 years ago for murder has been referred to the Court of Appeal, may have been guilty.

New DNA analysis has suggested that James Hanratty, whose controversial hanging 38 years ago for murder has been referred to the Court of Appeal, may have been guilty.

The Hanratty case is to be reconsidered by the appeal court after years of campaigning by his relatives and an investigation that concluded there were serious flaws in the trial.

But fresh DNA tests, using a more sensitive forensic technique, have confirmed a match between sperm and cells left at the murder scene on a handkerchief and underwear and DNA taken from Hanratty's family.

Lawyers representing the Hanratty family, however, believe the DNA is likely to be contaminated, may not be admissible in court, and does not prove any guilt.

The so-called "A6 murder" was one of the most infamous crimes of the 20th century and shocked the nation nearly 40 years ago. It has since become a celebrated alleged miscarriage of justice frequently quoted by opponents of the death penalty.

Hanratty, 25, was hanged in April 1962 for shooting Michael Gregsten, 36, a scientist. He was also accused of raping Gregsten's mistress, Valerie Storie, 22, who was shot five times and left for dead.

Hanratty, a petty burglar, was alleged to have surprised the lovers in a cornfield in Dorney Reach, Berkshire, and forced them to drive to Deadman's Hill on the A6 south of Bedford, where they were shot. Charges of rape and the attempted murder of Miss Storie, who was paralysed from the waist down by the bullets, were held in reserve.

The conviction was based largely on Miss Storie's recollection of her attacker's voice. She saw him for a few seconds and did not pick out Hanratty until a second identity parade was held. There was no scientific evidence. Hanratty said he was in Rhyl, North Wales - a claim backed up by many witnesses after his execution.

Miss Storie has always maintained that Hanratty was the killer. A former criminal, Peter Alphon, has been accused of the murder, but he has denied it.

In March 1999 the Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case to the Court of Appeal after a two-year inquiry that found flawed identification procedures and the suppression of information to the defence at the trial.

During the investigations DNA recovered from samples on Miss Storie's underwear and a handkerchief wrapped around the murder weapon were tested and found to match genetic material taken from Hanratty's brother, Michael. However, the results were inconclusive and the commission found that other evidence pointed towards a possible miscarriage of justice.

The new, more accurate tests done about a year ago on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed the match, suggesting that Hanratty was at the scene of the crime. The critical question remains whether the DNA recovered from the sample, which is now 38 years old, has been contaminated or inaccurately interpreted. The full appeal is due to be heard early next year in which forensic scientists will argue the case for each side.

Tamsin Allen, one of the lawyers representing the Hanratty family, said the results proved nothing.

"This is nothing earth-shattering. These are simply confirmation of test results that have been known about for a long time. They are not proof of guilt. Scientists will now have to examine the results to establish whether the samples, which are nearly 40 years old, were contaminated or if an error has been made."

Michael Hanratty, 61, of south London, added: "When the original tests on the sample were carried out the piece of cloth was dropped on a bench and contaminated, but it was kept as the only sample. This was used for the new tests and the report on the new evidence does acknowledge it is contaminated.

"We believe this evidence is nothing to worry about. Our case for overturning the conviction is so strong. This newevidence stinks."

The long crusade to clear Hanratty's name was spearheaded by his father, James senior, who handed out leaflets outside the House of Commons until he died in 1971.

The campaign was taken up by Michael Hanratty and was supported by a host of journalists and writers, film-makers, lawyers and celebrities, including John Lennon.

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