Aunt killer loses second appeal to clear her name

By Ian Herbert,North
Saturday 08 December 2001 01:00

A woman was sent back to prison to resume a life sentence after losing a second appeal against a conviction for the murder of her 89-year-old aunt.

Susan May sat impassively amid uproar in court as scores of supporters wearing yellow ribbons chanted "shame, shame, shame" after a judge concluded that bloody handprints found at the murder scene formed the most damn-ing evidence of her guilt.

May, 55, has always denied battering and smothering Hilda Marchbank in May 1992 at the pensioner's home in the Oldham suburb of Royton. She had set great store by her unusual second appeal, accept-ing a four-month delay to proceedings so she could secure the services of Britain's most celebrated defence advocate, Michael Mansfield QC.

At the Court of Appeal hearing in London five weeks ago, Mr Mansfield suggested that bloody traces of a handprint on her aunt's bedroom wall could have been left by a pathology team. He also challenged chemical tests, presented to May's 1993 trial, that suggested one handprint was either animal or human blood. Tests on a further handprint also meant it could not now be linked to May, he said.

However, Detective Superintendent Bill Kerr, who headed the investigation, and another witness were adamant that they had seen the handprints shortly after Mrs Marchbank was found and before her body was moved.

Lord Justice Kennedy, sitting with Mr Justice Buckley and Mr Justice Grigson, said there was no reason to doubt the evidence of a police officer and a forensic scientist. He said modern techniques now established that one of the handprints was formed by "human blood or that of a higher primate" and the marks "constitute more telling evidence against May than they did at the time of the trial".

He rejected as "fanciful" any suggestion that the third mark may have been put there by someone else at the scene.

The judgment confirms the Manchester trial jury's belief in prosecution assertions that May killed the partly-sighted old woman in cold blood to inherit a five-figure sum that would allow her to keep her "toy-boy" lover in luxury.

May was back inside New Hall prison, near Wakefield, West Yorkshire, last night.

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