Teenager's murder conviction may be miscarriage of justice

Seven new witnesses say Sam Hallam was not at the scene when an Ethiopian chef was killed by gang

By Mark Hughes,Crime Correspondent
Thursday 26 December 2013 04:33

A teenage boy sentenced to life in prison for a murder he says he did not commit could have his conviction quashed after the emergence of new evidence seen by The Independent.

Sam Hallam, from Hoxton in east London, was 17 when he was jailed in 2005 for being part of a gang that beat to death Essayas Kassahun, an Ethiopian chef. But now seven new witnesses have come forward with statements to the Criminal Cases Review Commission suggesting Mr Hallam was not at the scene of the crime, and was instead playing football half a mile away.

An eighth testimony, from a youth worker who sat in on police interviews with teenagers arrested after Mr Kassahun was killed, alleges that three witnesses told police during interviews that Mr Hallam was not at the scene – but that this information was never disclosed to Mr Hallam's defence team.

Neither the police nor Mr Hallam's defence team requested mobile phone evidence which could have helped prove his exact location.

If the CCRC decides the new evidence renders Mr Hallam's conviction unsafe, it can recommend the conviction is quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Yesterday, in his first interview since conviction, Mr Hallam said: "I am confident the CCRC will realise there has been a mistake because I will not admit to something I did not do."

Essayas Kassahun, 22, was murdered on 11 October 2004, when he intervened as a gang of 15 youths attacked his friend, Louis Colley. He suffered serious head injuries and died two days later. Mr Hallam insisted he was half a mile away, playing football with a friend. But the friend was said to be reluctant to become involved in a police investigation, and did not confirm his alibi. Mr Hallam was later named in a police witness statement by a girl who it is claimed – after hearing rumours that a man called Sam was involved in the attack – changed her original statement to say that Sam Hallam was one of the attackers.

This female witness also passed these rumours to a male witness, a friend of Mr Kassahun's, who subsequently changed his statement, naming Mr Hallam as one of the killers. But, at trial, the girl said she could not be sure Mr Hallam was there, and said: "I was just looking for someone on the spot to blame, really." The male witness said Mr Hallam was "the only white boy I know from Hoxton, so I said it was Sam".

Mr Hallam was sentenced, at the age of 18, to life in prison, and told he must serve a minimum of 12 years. Of his eight co-defendants, two were convicted. Bullabek Ring-Biong, 20, was found guilty of murder, while a 17-year-old was convicted of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm, and violent disorder. After Mr Hallam's conviction, an appeal was launched, but with no new evidence, it failed.

Now a campaign group, led by Paul May – the man who helped free the Birmingham Six and the Bridgewater Four, has contacted witnesses who were not approached for the original trial. Most say they were at the scene, but that Mr Hallam was not there. Two of these also cast doubt on the account of the female witness who named Mr Hallam, saying she was not at the scene.

The CCRC has seen the evidence and has, as well as interviewing Mr Hallam, interviewed the subject of his original alibi, as well as his original solicitor, to find out why he did not call these witnesses. It is possible investigators could also access police notebooks which may provide three other accounts which place Mr Hallam away from the scene.

The CCRC will also seek to access mobile phone records which, if available, could prove Mr Hallam was not at the scene – though these are routinely kept by mobile phone service providers for only one year. Mr Hallam's campaign is confident that, even without these, the witness statements should be enough for the CCRC to refer the case to the Court of Appeal.