Last May the journalist and author Bob Woffinden died of mesothelioma. He will be remembered as a formidable campaigner against miscarriages of justice.
While judge after judge rejected the legal attempts of the Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4 to obtain justice – per Lord Denning MR“appalling vista …;” per Lord Lane LCJ “the longer this case has gone on the more convinced this court has become that the verdict of the jury was correct ….” – Woffinden and other journalists such as Ludovic Kennedy and Paul Foot, (and of course lawyers like Gareth Pierce, too) doggedly chipped away, until eventually the cases were revealed for what he had believed them to be from an early stage; grotesque miscarriages of justice, brought about by a combination of systemic disclosure failures, bungling by expert witnesses, police malpractice, prejudiced jurors and judicial complacency. His 1987 book on the cases, Miscarriages of Justice, remains a classic.
There is a somewhat distasteful expression that prosecuting barristers occasionally use after a jury has convicted: “I potted him,” they will say to anyone who happens to be listening, usually with a faintly repellent smugness.
There is more to prosecuting than potting a defendant as though he were a celluloid ball, important public service though that can often be. Prosecutors also have a critical role in protecting the innocent. A good prosecutor should never take an unfair point, should never try to adduce clearly inadmissible evidence and above all should always disclose evidence that undermines their own case or supports that of the defence. The police too are under a duty to follow all reasonable lines of inquiry and to reveal what they discover to the prosecutor even if it undermines a case they thought they were building against a guilty man. Continue reading “Wrongful convictions are a terrible risk in our frighteningly imperfect justicesystem.”
The case collapsed after three days when analysis of the complainant’s mobile phone was finally revealed to the persistent prosecution barrister, former Tory MP (and now incidentally the renowned legal blogger) Jerry Hayes. It showed that amongst the 50,000 or so messages sent by the complainant (or to use the official term approved by the College of Policing, “the victim”) were messages to Mr Allan pestering him for sex, and fantasising about “rough sex and being raped.” Mr Hayes, a member of the independent bar rather than an employee of the Crown Prosecution Service,