Welsh solicitor hopes client convicted of murder 33 years ago will finally be exonerated
A Welsh solicitor who specialises in miscarriage of justice cases is hopeful that what he sees as one of the most blatant wrongful convictions he has come across will be overturned this month.
Glyn Maddocks – who was made an honorary KC because of his decades-long involvement in such cases – believes that a 33-year fight for justice for Londoner Oliver Campbell will finally succeed at the Court of Appeal.
Campbell, a mentally challenged black youth, was convicted in 1991 of murder by shooting and conspiracy to rob. Mr Maddocks, of Cardiff solicitors Watkins and Gunn, and Michael Birnbaum KC have been working on his case for nearly 25 years because they and many others believe he is innocent.
The evidence against Campbell was that the shooter had worn his distinctive “British Knights” cap, a deeply flawed identification and a series of admissions made in the absence of a solicitor which were largely inconsistent with the known facts and / or ridiculous. The conduct of the Metropolitan Police officers who interviewed him is regarded by Campbell’s legal team as incompetent and / or dishonest and manipulative.
The jury never heard that, shortly after they were both charged, Oliver’s co-defendant Eric Samuel had exonerated him to police and had named another man as the gunman. It is now known that Samuels repeated the exoneration to at least five different people over many years. Hairs found inside the cap pointed to Campbell’s innocence, because they were neither his nor Samuels’.
An appeal in 1995 failed. As in the recent now celebrated case of Andrew Malkinson, who spent 17 years in prison after a wrongful conviction for rape, the Criminal Cases Review Commission first refused to refer the case to the Court of Appeal, in 2005, but then decided to do so in 2022.
The crime occurred at about 10.30pm on a Sunday evening in July 1990 when two young black men attempted to rob the G and H Supermarket at Hackney in east London. The proprietor, Baldev Hoondle, was shot dead. The pair ran away and the gunman dropped the cap in the street a few hundred yards from the shop.
The police subsequently charged Samuels and Campbell, with Campbell said to be the gunman. Campbell was nearly 20 at the time of the killing and suffered brain damage as a baby.
He was identified by a passer-by, Mark Purchase. The identification was of very poor quality: Campbell did not fit the descriptions of the gunman who was, according to eyewitness evidence, both shorter and older than him.
Campbell’s admissions to the police were the main evidence against him. In a taped interview in the absence of a solicitor or an appropriate adult he first denied involvement but then admitted that he had been the unarmed robber. However, the admissions were made in response to a quite misleading suggestion from the interviewing officer that he had dropped the hat in the shop – a suggestion to which he agreed.
After being examined by a doctor and found to be of limited intelligence, arrangements were made for him to have both a solicitor and an appropriate adult. He was interviewed at length in what his defence team say was a manipulative and unfair manner without any regard to his infirmities.
The detectives were plainly convinced that, since Campbell was the owner of the hat, he must have been the shooter and they were determined to get him to admit that fact. According to the defence, they deliberately and falsely exaggerated the strength of the case against him, suggesting at one point that the shooting could only have been deliberate and then insinuating that it might have been an accident.
In a further interview he admitted to being the gunman. He said that the gun had gone off accidentally. The admissions were, say the defence, in many respects inconsistent with one another and / or with the known facts and some were simply absurd. For example, he claimed to have hired the gun together with a number of bullets, although he did not remember where from.
He had practiced with it and had hidden it; but was unsure whether he had done so in a field or a forest.
Having first indicated that he had fired with his left hand, he then said he had fired with his right. He claimed to have carried the gun in a holster which he had made under his left arm using two bits of string, even though he was, as admitted at the trial, left handed.
Anyway, says the defence, the idea of a string holster was nonsensical and seemed totally impractical.
Police officers who arrested Samuels said that, in a car on the way to the police station, they “engaged him in conversation” and he implied that Campbell had been the gunman. During a number of interviews in the presence of a solicitor he made no reply to almost every question.
However, shortly after being charged and while in custody at Wandsworth Prison, he made it clear that he wanted to see police again. Then he had a long conversation with a detective in which he said that he had committed the offence with a man called Harvey who had earlier taken Campbell’s hat from him in the West End. Harvey, he said, had worn it on the robbery. After the murder they had gone to Lewisham, where Harvey had sold the gun. These admissions were not made under caution.
The trial jury never heard the Harvey admissions. The prosecution, which had been intending to use them as part of their case, decided shortly before opening the case to the jury not to rely on them. They appear to have accepted at a late stage an objection by Samuels’ counsel to their admissibility, because they were made after charge and without a full caution being administered.
Under the law as it then was Campbell’s trial counsel were not entitled to adduce them in evidence or even to refer to them, because they were treated as hearsay. So, says Campbell’s legal team, counsel could not bring out at the trial the main evidence of his innocence because of an absurd technicality.
Although formal admissions were made at trial about Campbell’s infirmities, no expert evidence was called on his behalf as to any reason why he might have confessed falsely.
When Campbell gave evidence, he was greatly hampered by his poor memory and difficulty in explaining how he had come to make untrue admissions. He said that some days before the offence his hat had been snatched in the West End when he had been with Samuels. He had not been involved in the robbery but could not say where he was at the time. He had tried to tell the police what had happened, but they had pressured him and called him a liar. Samuels did not give evidence.
When summing up, the defence say the judge made serious mistakes of law in regard to Campbell’s good character and the significance of lies he was alleged to have told. Although there were numerous instances of unfair questioning by police and absurdity and inconsistency in Campbell’s admissions; the judge pointed out very few of them. Both men were convicted.
Mr Maddocks said: “I got involved in miscarriage of justice cases in the 1980s and 1990s. I joined Liberty’s criminal justice network and they started sending me cases. In about 2000 I was asked to deal with the Oliver Campbell case, which was fascinating because Oliver is a very disabled person – someone who suffered brain injuries when he was a small child and as a result of that his thinking was impaired. He has the mental age of a seven, eight or nine year-old.
“The idea that he could have gone into a shop, pulled out a gun and shot the shopkeeper was just beyond my comprehension after I’d met him. In fact most people who have met Oliver think exactly the same – he couldn’t possibly have done it, and his co-accused certainly wouldn’t have wanted to take Oliver with him. It’s just not something you would do if you want a successful crime to be carried out.
“Oliver can remember things for a day or two. The incident took place in July and he wasn’t arrested until the end of November, by which time he’d seen various news reports and the Crimewatch programme about the programme. It was all filtering around in his head and he couldn’t remember anything really.”
For Mr Maddocks, it’s a further example of the need to have corroborative evidence when someone confesses to a crime.
The Crown Prosecution Service is contesting the appeal, but Mr Maddocks is cautiously optimistic that Campbell, who was released from prison on licence in 2002, will finally be exonerated.
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