Crime & History

5 Most Tragic Wrongful Convictions in British History

18 Jan 2016

Its hard to imagine the pain when someone you love is murdered or dies in suspicious circumstances. However, just as hard to imagine is when someone is tried and convicted for a crime they did not commit.

Here we look at five cases of British miscarriages of justice when one of the best Judicial Systems in the world gets it tragically wrong.

5 Timothy Evans

Timothy Evans

Timothy Evans was born in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales in 1924 and during the 1930's moved to London with his family. In 1947 he married Beryl Thorley, and the couple moved into the top floor flat of 10 Rillington Place. They later befriended John Christie and his wife who lived in the ground floor flat, but unbeknown to them Christie had already killed two women and buried them in the garden.

Timothy and Beryl had a child called Geraldine, born in October 1948. Just over a year after her birth, Beryl fell pregnant again. Due to financial problems she suggested an illegal abortion. Timothy reluctantly agreed, and Christie offered to perform it. Tragically by the end of that day, both Beryl and Geraldine were dead.

Timothy known to be of low intelligence was told by Christie that Beryl had died during the illegal abortion that he had tried to perform and that he had arranged for baby Geraldine to be adopted. In November 1948 a distraught and confused Evans returned to Merthyr and due to his guilt over agreeing the abortion, he confessed to murdering his wife. As a result of his confession, the police never investigated the possibility anyone else was responsible for their deaths.

After a second search of Rillington Place, the bodies of Beryl and baby Geraldine were found strangled in the outhouse, but unbelievably the other two women Christie Killed were not found during this search.

Under intense and aggressive questioning by police, Evans changed his story several times with police seeing this as a sign of dishonesty.

Evans was known to have a wild imagination and often made things up. Often pretending he was something he was not. This ultimately sealed his fate. The police made the evidence fit his outlandish stories even though they couldn't possibly be true. Timothy Evans was Hanged on 9th March 1950, protesting his innocence to the end. At the time the case had little impact, as the evidence given against Timothy in court, especially the damming accounts Christie and his wife gave about his volatile relationship with his wife, led people to think it was an open and shut case.

In 1953 John Christie moved out of 10 Rillington Place, and when the new tenants peeled back the wallpaper in the flat it revealed three bodies. Christie later confessed to 7 murders in total, including Beryl and his own wife, although he never admitted killing Baby Geraldine. He was hanged in 1953 by the same hangman who hanged poor innocent Timothy Evans.

4 Stefan Kiszko

Stefan Kiszko

The tragic case of Stefan Kiszko is often referred to as Britain's worst ever miscarriage of justice. It highlights how there is sometimes more than one victim in a murder case.

Stefan worked as a Tax Clerk in Rochdale, England; he suffered from a condition called XYY syndrome, an ailment that causes growth abnormalities and minor behaviour problems. Described as a gentle giant with a childlike mind, Stefan was a social misfit who spent most of his time with his mother.

He had an unusual hobby of writing down car registration numbers if he felt the driver had annoyed him. This in part led to his wrongful conviction, as he had unwittingly jotted down the car registration number of the killer of 11-year-old Lesley Molseed. The little girl was stabbed 12 times and sexually assaulted before being dumped on moors in West Yorkshire, England.

In December 1975 police arrested and charged Stefan Kiszko with her murder. Stefan had never been in trouble before and frightened and confused Stefan confessed to the murder believing he would then be allowed to go home to his mother. He later said police had bullied him into a confession.

In court, several witnesses testified against him in particular four young girls who convinced the jury that Stefan had exposed himself to them on several occasions. This they later confessed was totally untrue, but they said it for a "laugh". On 21 July 1976 Stefan was found guilty of Lesley's murder, and jailed for life.

His mother campaigned tirelessly for his release, and after 14 years his lawyer managed to get the case reopened. With advances in forensics and new evidence being examined, it was proved beyond doubt that Stefan could not have been the murderer. Stefan was finally released in 1992, but the ordeal of prison had taken its toll, Stefan had been mercilessly attacked several times by other inmates, and the years of incarceration had physically and mentally destroyed him.

A year after his release at the age of just 41, Stefan died of a massive heart attack. Sadly six months later his mother, who had fought so hard to get him home, also passed away.

In 2007 the real Killer of Lesley Molseed, taxi driver Ronald Castree was jailed for life.

3 Sally Clark

Sally Clark

Sally Clark was a British solicitor who in November 1999 was given two life sentences for killing her sons; Christopher aged 11 weeks, and eight week old Harry. Sally's conviction was secured on the evidence of one man, Professor Sir Roy Meadow. In court, he stated that the chances of two babies dying of cot death in such an affluent family was 73 million to one.

Sally's first son died suddenly a few weeks after birth in 1996. This death was recorded as a tragic cot death. In December 1998 her second son died in a similar manner. This death led to Sally being arrested for murder and subsequently jailed.

Sally's first appeal in October 2000 upheld her conviction, but in January 2003 a second appeal overturned her conviction after it emerged key evidence about one of her sons revealed he had died of Natural causes.

Sally was released from prison in 2003. The three years she was locked up had been traumatic. Sally had been a target for other prisoners, due to the nature of her alleged crime. On the day Mrs Clarke was released it was clear to see the toll it had taken, her appearance had changed dramatically, her eyes looked deadened and her weight loss was very evident. It was clear just from these physical signs that Sally Clark would never be the same again. Sally was no longer the loving devoted mother, wife and daughter, her life had been irrevocably destroyed.

After her release sadly Sally was unable to come to terms with her ordeal, suffering from mental illness and relying heavily on Alcohol, she was never able to return to the happy, generous person everybody loved and on March 16th, 2007 Sally was found dead in bed by her cleaner. Sally had consumed the equivalent of five times the drink drive limit. Her cause of death was reported as acute alcohol intoxication.

At the time her husband, who had stood by her throughout, said it was hardly surprising her life had ended in such a tragic way. Sally was just 42.

2 Derek Bentley

Derek Bentley

Derek Bentley was born in Bristol, England in 1933. On January 1953, at the age of 19, Derek was hanged for the murder of a police officer.

The murder was actually committed by Derek's accomplish 16-year-old Christopher Craig. However the law of the land at this time was able to convict Derek as a "party to the murder". This was based on the judge's interpretation of the phrase "let him have it" Bentleys alleged instruction to Craig, was seen as mentally aiding the murder of PC Sidney Miles.

On 2nd November Bentley and his sixteen-year-old companion, Christopher Craig attempted to burgle a warehouse in Croydon. Craig was armed with a revolver, and Bentley carried a knife and a knuckle duster. Both of these items were given to him by Craig. When the Police arrived Craig started taunting them, one of the officers grabbed Bentley, but he broke free.

What happened next is open to debate. One of the officers asked Craig to hand over his gun, at this point, Bentley shouted the phrase "let him have it" Chris! Craig then fired his revolver hitting one police officer in the shoulder. Another group of officers then arrived, one of these officers was PC Sidney Miles. Craig then fired a shot at Sydney's head killing him instantly.

Both men were charged with murder, even though Bentley didn't even take his weapons out of his pocket. Because Craig was under 18, it was the mentally challenged Bentley that was hanged.

Bentley's death led to a 45-year campaign to get his conviction overturned; he was eventually given a posthumous pardon in 1998.

1 Stephen Downing

Stephen Downing

Wendy Sewell was attacked in Bakewell Cemetery in broad daylight on 12 Sept 1973, she was beaten with a pick axe handle and sexually assaulted. Wendy died two days later from her terrible injuries.

17-year-old Stephen Downing worked at the Cemetery and had found Wendy lying on the ground. As he tried to wake her, blood got on his clothes. Stephen soon became the prime suspect for her murder. He was taken to the police station and questioned for nine hours, and at no time was a solicitor present. Stephen then signed a confession even though he only had a reading age of 11.

Downing pleaded not guilty at his trial. Despite this, Downing was found guilty by all members of the jury and was sentenced to be detained indefinitely. Downing never became eligible for parole as he refused to admit he had killed Wendy, he spent 27 years in jail, and lost several appeals, throughout this period he protested his innocence.

Finally in 2001 Downing was released on appeal, and in 2002 the court of appeal overturned his conviction, finding it to be unsafe.

The case is thought to be the longest miscarriage of justice in British History. No one has ever been convicted of Wendy Sewell's murder, although recent investigations have linked the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe to the killing. There are those who believe there has been a cover up and someone knows who the killer is but is protecting them.

As for Stephen, he has found life hard since his release. Despite being compensated for the years he spent in prison, Stephen spends his day watching TV, gardening and looking after his 82-year-old Mother.

Stephen has been quoted as saying "I don't really have much of life, yes I am free... but I am still paying for a crime I didn't commit."

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