Unsafe convictions, p.1

Unsafe Convictions, page 1

 

Unsafe Convictions
 



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Unsafe Convictions


  Unsafe Convictions

  Alison Taylor

  © Alison Taylor 2014

  Alison Taylor has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

  First published in Great Britain in 1999 by William Heinemann

  This edition published in 2014 by Endeavour Press Ltd.

  For Rachel

  Table of Contents

  Part One

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Part Two

  Chapter One

  Part Three

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Part Four

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Part Five

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Part Six

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Part Seven

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Part Eight

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Part Nine

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Part Ten

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Part Eleven

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Part Twelve

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Part Thirteen

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Part Fourteen

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Part Fifteen

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Part Sixteen

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Part Seventeen

  Chapter One

  Extract from The House of Women by Alison Taylor

  Part One

  Monday, 1st February

  Morning

  Chapter One

  ASPECTS OF GUILT

  Two years after Piers Stanton Smith received a life sentence for murdering his ex-wife, the Court of Appeal judged his conviction ‘unsafe’. Accused of corruption, the police officers who sent him to prison are now themselves under investigation. In the first of three major articles, our chief reporter Gaynor Holbrook looks into the tragic background of this miscarriage of justice.

  On a chilly April after-noon, someone in Haughton battered thirty-six-year-old Trisha Stanton Smith into oblivion, drenched her home in petrol, and dropped a match. The autopsy on her charred remains proved that the cause of death was smoke inhalation. Ten days later, her thirty-one-year-old ex-husband was arrested for murder.

  Haughton, where Trisha spent all her life, is a bleak, wind-swept town in the Pennine hills. Manchester and Sheffield are twenty-odd miles away, over snaking moorland roads that are often blocked by winter blizzards. At one time, the town’s monumental mills reverberated to the thump and roar of King Cotton’s massive machinery. Now, the vast empty walls echo to the drip of water through ruined roofs, the whine of bitter winds off the moors, and the scuttle of vermin.

  Shortly before she died, Trisha lodged an alimony claim against Smith. By then, he was married to Beryl Kay. She inherited one fortune from her grandfather, the owner of the town’s largest clothes shop. She later made another one by selling the shop site to a supermarket chain.

  Smith’s trial began at Manchester Crown Court on a raw November day, and the public gallery was packed. Trisha’s widowed father, Fred Jarvis, never saw his former son-in-law in the dock — he was still too distraught over the murder. But her sister, Linda Newton, was a key prosecution witness. Oddly, Beryl was never called, but she sat through every harrowing second of testimony.

  The prosecution argued that Trisha had to die to stop the squalid secrets of her marriage reaching Beryl’s ears. In her divorce petition, Trisha described eight years of terror as Smith’s wife. She was beaten, humiliated, sexually debased, and dragged into debt. Ravaged by stress, she became too ill to work. As their income went from bad to worse, so did Smith’s behaviour. Then, she had to go into hospital for a gynaecological operation.

  ‘I was still in dreadful pain when they sent me home,’ she had written. ‘I was crawling on the floor I hurt so much. He screamed at me to get up, but I couldn’t, so he kicked me between my legs as hard as he could.’

  One by one, the prosecution witnesses slashed Smith’s reputation to shreds. He was not ‘Piers Stanton Smith’ from a small village in South Yorkshire, but plain Peter Smith from a corporation housing block in Sheffield. Then frail, elderly Henry Colclough spoke of the ‘wickedly cruel’ death his wife Joyce suffered in her blazing car, while ten-year-old Smith calmly watched.

  ‘Joyce was his teacher. She was giving him a lift home from school, but something happened. She drove straight into a tree, and her legs were trapped under the dashboard. He got out, but when he saw the flames licking around the car, he stood and watched instead of running for help. He kept on watching, until she was dead.’ Looking steadily at the blue-eyed man in the dock, Colclough added: ‘I’ll never forget that look in his eyes. Never! And it’s still there. It makes my blood run cold.’


  Linda Newton claimed her former brother-in-law was a closet homosexual as well as a violent monster. Relentlessly cross-examined by Smith’s barrister, she had to admit that Trisha had her own flaws. But she was outraged by the suggestion that Trisha connived masochistically in her own pain. When it came to the advertisements Trisha placed in several lonely hearts columns while she was still married, Linda hung her head and refused to reply.

  ‘According to your testimony, Mrs Newton,’ the barrister said, ‘your sister was completely demoralised by the violence and sexual humiliation she allegedly suffered at my client’s hands. That picture of her sits very uneasily with that of a woman confident enough to solicit approaches from total strangers, and a woman who, for all we know, engaged sexually with one or more of them.’ He then denounced the police investigation for not finding these men. ‘Not one iota of forensic evidence links my client to the murder, whereas any one of these mystery lovers could have killed Trisha Stanton Smith.’

  The climax of the trial was Smith’s testimony on his own behalf. He talked about his deprived childhood, and his mother, who died many years ago. Then he described life with the unstable, neurotic Trisha, who devised her own ways of violence. He was asked why he did not defend her divorce petition. ‘I had to get free of her. She was destroying my personality, like water dripping on stone. She often threatened to ruin me, and now she is doing, even from beyond the grave. How can I defend myself against that?’

  Of course, he could not. Despite his lawyers’ best efforts and even the claim of an alibi for the murder, the jury took less than an hour to find him guilty. As he was led down to begin a life sentence, Beryl collapsed. Linda, gloatingly, hissed: ‘Rot in hell, you bastard!’

  Smith’s appeal was refused. He was forgotten by everyone except Beryl and Trisha’s family. Then a young Roman Catholic priest called Father John Barclay returned to England.

  Father Barclay had been assistant priest at St Michael’s church in Haughton. Two days after Trisha died, he left to do missionary work in South America. He learned about Smith’s arrest when an old newspaper came his way months later. But he knew that Smith was in church throughout the fatal afternoon, and therefore over five miles away from the blazing house. He immediately wrote a letter to the police. Not knowing who was in charge of the investigation, he sent the letter to Father Brett Fauvel, St Michael’s parish priest, asking him to pass it on unopened.

  He heard nothing more. The police did not contact him, and Father Fauvel did not reply. So Father Barclay assumed someone else had been arrested for Trisha’s murder. Then he caught meningitis and hovered between life and death for many weeks. He was sent back to England to recuperate. When he found out Smith had been convicted,he approached the authorities. His evidence confirmed Smith’s own alibi defence and secured his release. But for the police it opened up a can of worms. At the appeal hearing, Father Fauvel stated under oath that he personally handed Father Barclay’s letter to Detective Inspector Barry Dugdale the day it arrived.

  Dugdale, thirty-five, was in charge of probing Trisha’s horrible death. He stolidly maintains that he did not receive Father Barclay’s letter. He has been suspended from duty. His two assistants, Detective Sergeants Wendy Lewis, forty-two, and Colin Bowden, twenty-seven, are also under suspension.

  Superintendent Neville Ryman, fifty-one, supervised the murder investigation from police headquarters in the county town of Ravensdale, an elegant spa on the edge of the Peak District. He is a prominent Mason, and his wife Estelle works tirelessly for charity. Their daughter Shelley is a student. Ryman was an inspector in Haughton until his promotion.

  The Home Office has now called in officers from North Wales to investigate what looks like blatant corruption among Haughton police. The North Wales team is headed by recently divorced Super-intendent Michael McKenna, who is forty-five. Also on board are Detective Inspector Jack Tuttle, forty, Detective Constable Janet Evans, and Ellen Turner, their top administrator. They have a nasty job to do and, as things look at the moment, will probably recommend criminal prosecution of Dugdale and the others.

  The authorities appeared to respond quickly to Smith’s wrongful conviction. But the Haughton community has new worries. Trisha’s murder file remains closed, despite clear evidence that her killer is still at large. And people are suspicious about Haughton police being investigated by brother officers.

  Wanting to appear independent, McKenna refused to base his inquiry at the town’s police station. He has been allocated a former police house in the village of Old Haughton. But his strings are already being jerked by the Police Federation, police lawyers and insurers, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Police Complaints Authority, and the Home Office. And he is an odd choice to head this kind of investigation. His own background is very murky. He was brought up in Holyhead, and went to Aberystwyth University, but he comes from an Irish Republican family. A relative was hanged by the British after the 1916 rebellion.

  McKenna is now head of a divisional criminal investigation unit in North Wales. But his last promotion was mysteriously delayed. He has also been absent from his usual duties at times. I queried these absences with the Home Office. Very brusquely, I was told they concerned ‘appropriate and legitimate police business’. But, as everyone knows, police business often gets very dirty.

  Chapter Two

  Gaynor Holbrook’s feature article in a mass-circulation newspaper was read with varying degrees of interest over many breakfast tables on Monday morning, not least by Jack Tuttle and Michael McKenna in their cramped billet on Old Haughton’s Church Street.

  The village of Old Haughton was a mile and a half from the town, by either of the two roads which began at the town centre traffic lights and, diverging to embrace a huge public park, met again on Church Street. One way took in rows of mean Victorian terraces and gaunt-faced mills, turned sharp left at the Junction Inn, and entered the village by an old stone cross. The other way left the town via a steep hill, then levelled out along the park’s western boundary. Overlooked by St Michael’s Roman Catholic church and the gleaming golden cross on its roof, the road swept downhill past the presbytery, the Roman Catholic primary school, and the high walls of the convent.

  Narrow and meandering, Church Street was bounded on one side by tall iron railings, much in need of a coat of paint, that topped the deep retaining wall around the yard of All Saints Anglican parish church. Opposite was an uneven terrace of millstone grit dwellings, broken here and there by cobble-stoned alleyways. Some of the houses were ancient, with low, recessed doors and mullioned windows, the rest two-up and two-downs with back extensions and aspiring sash windows. At the end of the terrace, the weathered masonry of the sixteenth-century Bull Inn sagged against its neighbours.

  With the apex of its tall steeple symbolically further from heaven than the footings of the Roman Catholic church, All Saints church lay in a deep depression. Dense-growing trees filled the yard, their roots now breaching old graves and toppling angels, and bramble, nettle and ivy climbed unchecked around tombs and monuments and tree boles. The ground was ankle deep in mouldering fallen leaves, while more had blown in drifts against graves and the church’s dank north wall.

  The two-up and two-down dwelling that once housed the village policeman had been transformed, inside and out. Steel grilles covered the windows, surveillance cameras were bolted to roof and back extension, and each stout outer door had its own staunch defences. In the front parlour were four desks, four black leather swivel chairs, two grey steel filing cabinets, a safe, four computers, various telephones, fax, tape and telex machines, and the video-recorders and monitors for the surveillance system. Freezing air wormed through holes newly drilled in the window frame to accommodate cables, and raw wood showed on the door frame where a security lock was fitted. The room was quiet, save for the rustle of paper, the occasional click of a cigarette lighter, and the hiss of a large gas fire which, turned up high, still left voids of bone-numbing cold in the corners. Outside,
in the bleak monochrome of a winter morning, swags of cloud, bellied with snow, threatened the steeple, and rooks clawed their way like paper silhouettes through the bare dark trees, flapping, as a wind rising from the north-east snatched at their feathers.

  Rubbing tired eyes, Jack reached the final page of the two-inch-thick transcript of McKenna’s meeting in Ravensdale the previous week with the force’s senior officers and the many other organisations with an interest in their activities. ‘Must have been a very boring afternoon,’ he commented. ‘The lawyers did most of the talking. Still, I suppose they always do.’ Suddenly, he shivered quite violently. ‘Couldn’t we take ourselves to the Bull as soon as it opens? They’ve got real fires, not to mention the food.’

  ‘Maybe so, but there’s no privacy,’ McKenna replied. He selected another wad of paper from the many stacked on his desk, and handed it across. ‘And that’s the transcript of my interview last Friday with Superintendent Ryman.’ While Jack grumbled to himself about ‘bloody awful English weather’, and even ‘slave-drivers’, McKenna returned to the towering pile of police statements before him, turning pages slowly, making notes, flagging pages and paragraphs here and there with small yellow stick-on labels. Shortly after eight thirty, he heard keys assault the deadbolts on the back door, and a woman’s voice calling.

  ‘Yoo-hoo! Anybody up?’ Without waiting for a response, Rene Minshull barged into the office. ‘There you are! Aren’t you early birds! Have you had breakfast yet?’

  ‘We have, thank you,’ McKenna said.

  ‘I’ll make a pot of tea, then. Or would you rather have coffee? And I’ve got some nice currant teacakes for later.’ Eyes darting around the room, she added: ‘I won’t bother cleaning in here today. You only got here last night, anyway. I’ll do the beds and dust upstairs, and I was thinking of making shepherd’s pie for your evening meal, if that’s all right. A body needs something solid when the weather’s like this. It’s bitter outside.’

  ‘Shepherd’s pie will be fine.’ McKenna smiled.

  ‘And veg, of course,’ Rene said. Pulling off thick woollen gloves, and stuffing them into her coat pocket, she added: ‘The two ladies will be staying at the Bull, won’t they? That’s if they get here at all. There’s snow on the way, and we could be cut off for days.’ She smiled, exposing a fine set of false teeth. ‘Never mind, eh? Happens most winters, and there’s plenty of food in the shops, although what you’ll do with all these fancy machines when the power’s off I can’t imagine.’

 
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