Hanged on 4 April 1962
James Hanratty was convicted of murdering scientist Michael Gregsten on the A6 in Bedfordshire in 1962, by shooting him twice in the head. Mr Gregsten's girlfriend Valerie Storie was raped, shot five times and left for dead - she survived but was paralysed from the waist down. Hanratty's family insist he was the victim of a "distorted and fatally flawed trial".
Hanratty's guilt is still disputed. Below are some of the articles published on this case.
The Hanratty case was referred back to the court of appeal by the CCRC at the end of March 1999 - see article from the Guardian below.
In July 2000 it was extensively reported that there was DNA evidence linking Hanratty to the crime (see Daily Express article below). Evidence which the CCRC was aware of at the time it referred the case back to the court of appeal. Paul Foot, author of the book "Who Killed Hanratty?", responded to some of the more trenchant reporting with an article in the Guardian (see below).
The appeal was heard by the Court of Appeal in April/May 2002 - The Independent reports.
The appeal was rejected on the basis that the DNA evidence was 'conclusive proof' of Hanratty's guilt (see BBC report) - which flies in the face of clear evidence of his innocence. This aspect is examined by Paul Foot in an article in the Guardian.
30 March 1999
Appeal Court to review Hanratty murder case
Nearly 37 years after the hanging, new evidence reveals that vital details were kept from lawyers, reports Duncan Campbell
Vital evidence which could have led to the acquittal of James Hanratty, executed for the A6 murder in 1962, was suppressed at the time of his trial, it emerged yesterday.
One of the most celebrated alleged miscarriage of justice cases was yesterday referred back to the Court of Appeal as the dead man's lawyers, family and campaign supporters expressed astonishment at the extent of evidence which has only now been disclosed.
The dead man's brother, Michael Hanratty, described as disgraceful the suppression of material which would have saved his brother's life. His wife, Maureen Hanratty, said the family had been 'put through hell' because of the behaviour of the authorities.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission announced yesterday that the case of Hanratty, who was hanged for the murder of Michael Gregsten, has been referred back to the Court of Appeal.
The suppression of vital information by senior police officers, a lack of disclosure of information to the defence and a flawed process of identification were given as the reasons for the decision.
'The amount of information not disclosed by the prosecution at the trial is very substantial,' said Geoffrey Bindman, solicitor for the family since 1974. 'If that material had been disclosed, James Hanratty would not have been convicted.'
Michael Gregsten and Valerie Storie, two civil servants employed at the Road Research Laboratory in Slough, Berkshire, were confronted by a gunman while sitting in their Morris Minor in a cornfield in Dorney Reach, Buckinghamshire, on the night of August 22, 1961. They were forced at gunpoint to drive along the A6 to a lay-by on Deadman's HIll in Bedfordshire, where Gregsten was fatally shot and his lover was raped and left for dead.
Hanratty, a 25-year-old petty criminal who had spent most of the previous seven years in prison, was arrested in Blackpool in October. His appearance was similar to that of an identikit portrait produced at the time of the killing and he was identified by Valerie Storie although she had also previously identified another man. She also made a voice identification of him. But it later emerged that Hanratty was the only person with a London accent asked to speak in front of her.
Alibi evidence which placed Hanratty in Rhyl in north Wales at the time of the murder was discounted. He was convicted at Bedford Assizes on February 17, 1962. His appeal was dismissed on March 13, and, despite a petition signed by 28,000, he was hanged at Bedford prison on April 4.
A campaign to clear Hanratty's name was immediately started by his late father. A series of books, from Paul Foot's "Who Killed Hanratty?" in 1971 to Bob Woffinden's "Hanratty: The Final Verdict" in 1997, have cast doubts on the conviction and suggested that public horror at the nature of the crime drove the authorities to seek a conviction at any cost.
Few cases have generated such public debate and the execution has often been used as an example of the dangers of capital punishment. In 1974, the then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, asked Lewis Hawser QC to review the case. His report in April 1975 concluded that the convictions were safe and it was said at the time that access to all the relevant paperwork had been made available.
Further representations were made to the Home Office in the early 1990s and when the CCRC was formed in 1997, the case was passed to them. Leaks have suggested that the case would be referred back but campaigners were cautious as to whether or when it would finally happen.
Part of the case against Hanratty was that he had been identified by two men in the supposedly stolen Morris Minor in Redbridge, east London, on the morning after the murder. What has only now emerged through undisclosed material examined by the CCRC is that the stolen car had been sighted far away in Derbyshire by up to 11 different people at the same time. The existence of the car in that area had even been reported to a police station. This information was never passed to the defence.
Yesterday, Mr Bindman and journalists Paul Foot and Bob Woffinden said they were astonished at the new material which had now been made available.
The CCRC inquiry, led by the former assistant chief constable of the Metropolitan police, Baden Skitt, had been allowed access to material stored by the Metropolitan police but not released to the defence team. Some of the information was not even shown to the prosecution.
'It's quite clear that the CCRC is shocked by the non-disclosure,' said Mr Foot. He said that even people who had been working on the case for more that a quarter of century were amazed at the depth of material suppressed.
'The commission has expressed very serious concerns that vital evidence has been suppressed,' said Mr Bindman. 'There was information which, had it been disclosed, would have led to the acquittal of James Hanratty.'
Mr Bindman said DNA testing had also been carried out using recently improved techniques but he said that the tests were inconclusive and that there was always a risk with such old DNA material that the evidence would be contaminated.
'All this evidence has been locked away in Scotland Yard,' said Michael Hanratty , aged 60. 'They told us to come back for it in 100 years. We always knew there was something wrong. It is a disgrace, we're worse than South Africa.'
He said that yesterday was both a very happy day for the family as the case was finally going to be heard in the Court of Appeal and very sad as it had taken so long. 'My father couldn't understand why they kept covering it up,' he added.
20 July 2000
By Greg Swift
The family of James Hanratty - controversially hanged for the A6 murder 38 years ago - last night dismissed reports that new DNA evidence proved he was guilty.
Hanratty's brother Michael, 61, said his family were unconcerned about the latest forensic results and added: "The new evidence stinks."
Hanratty, 25, was found guilty in 1962 of shooting dead scientist Michael Gregsten in a layby on the A6 in Bedford.
He was then said to have raped Mr Gregsten's mistress Valerie Storie and shot her five times, leaving her for dead.
She miraculously survived and Hanratty was hanged largely on the basis of her evidence. But his death has become one of Britain's most notorious alleged miscarriages of justice.
Prominent lawyers and writers have campaigned for Hanratty to be given a posthumous pardon after serious doubts were raised about the evidence presented to the jury.
Following a lengthy battle by Hanratty's family to clear the petty crook's name, a hearing at which he may possibly be pardoned will take place in the Appeal Court in October.
As part of its evidence for that appeal, the prosecution took advantage of the latest breakthroughs in DNA profiling to re-test exhibits which have been stored in Home Office vaults since Hanratty's trial.
It was reported yesterday that the DNA profiles obtained earlier this year from fluid samples on a handkerchief wrapped around the murder weapon and on Miss Storie's underwear match a sample taken from Michael Hanratty.
According to one report, a source close to the forensic tests said: "The DNA system narrows it to a one-in-a-billion match. In other words, there is now a one-in-a-billion chance that Hanratty was not the A6 killer."
Similar tests carried out on samples taken from Peter Alphon - another suspect in the inquiry - were said to be negative.
Geoffrey Bindman, the Hanratty family lawyer, said earlier comparisons between DNA samples taken from exhibits used in the trial and samples taken from Hanratty's mother and brother had proved inconclusive.
Michael Hanratty, speaking from his south London home, said he had seen the latest forensic report and believed the exhibits now being used to confirm his brother's guilt had been contaminated.
He said: "When the original tests on the sample were carried out the piece of cloth was dropped on a bench and contaminated, but it was kept as the only sample. This was used for the new tests and the report on the new evidence does acknowledge it is contaminated.
"We are not at all worried by this report. Our case for overturning the conviction is so strong."
Ms Storie, who as a 22-year-old was forced to watch as her attacker shot Mr Gregsten, 36, a married father-of-two, has always insisted Hanratty was the man who raped her and killed her lover. She said yesterday: "I have never once doubted Hanratty was the killer. I was there and know he did it."
The long crusade to clear Hanratty's name was launched by his father James the moment he was sent to the gallows. He handed out leaflets outside the Commons until he died in 1971 and attracted celebrity supporters including Beatle John Lennon.The case has been referred to the Court of Appeal because of concerns about flawed identification procedures in the original investigation and allegations that the defence were denied access to information.
25 July 2000
By Paul Foot
HANRATTY WAS GUILTY - OFFICIAL trumpeted the Sun newspaper last Wednesday. HANRATTY WAS GUILTY parroted the Daily Mail on Thursday.
The Sunday Telegraph followed up with a long piece by Simon Heffer, the Tory propagandist recently appointed as Jack Straw's adviser on sentencing policy. Heffer sensitively linked the Sun and Mail stories about James Hanratty, who was hanged in 1962 for the A6 murder, to last month's murder of Sarah Payne, and his own yearning for the return of capital punishment. The news about Hanratty, Heffer exulted, has disposed of the argument "that the criminal justice system has proved far too accident-prone to make execution a 'safe' punishment".
Let's start with that word from the Sun headline: OFFICIAL. The news about recent DNA tests in the Hanratty case was not official. It came from a leak to the Sun.
The criminal cases review commission referred the Hanratty case to the court of appeal last year with staggering new evidence that the case against Hanratty had been rigged. The commission was well aware of DNA evidence linking Hanratty to the crime and did not discount it. Nor did it rule out the possibility that exhibits on which the DNA tests were based - fragments of knickers and a handkerchief - could have been stored with material taken from Hanratty, and could have been contaminated. The commission concluded: "It is impossible to draw any firm conclusion as to the current evidential integrity of the exhibits of the cloth examples in this case. The known (and unknown) aspects of the history of those items must be weighed in the balance."
The new evidence brought to us by the Sun - that the DNA odds are a billion to one that Hanratty was guilty - does not alter the basic point, that if the exhibits tested were contaminated with items connected with Hanratty, the results are meaningless. Indeed, the greater the sensitivity of the tests, the greater the likelihood of their picking up a contaminant.
I think I can detect myself in Simon Heffer's diatribe against "liberal campaigners who have spent a generation concocting and establishing 'evidence' of Hanratty's innocence". Thirty-four years ago, when working for, er, the Sunday Telegraph, I became convinced of Hanratty's innocence. The chief reason was the mountain of evidence which emerged after the execution that while the murder was being committed near Bedford, Hanratty was 200 miles away in Rhyl.
This had been his alibi evidence at trial, but it was tainted by the fact that he switched his original story - that he was in Liverpool. He could indeed produce powerful evidence that he gone to Liverpool - but during the trial suddenly asserted that he had gone on to Rhyl and stayed two nights in a boarding house. The late change damaged Hanratty's credibility, and the case became worse for him as the prosecution filled up the boarding house with other guests.
The coincidence remained that Hanratty's detailed description of the boarding house exactly fitted Ingledene, then at 19 Kinmel Street, Rhyl. There was a green bath in the attic, as he alleged, and the landlady confirmed that a young Londoner looking like Hanratty had stayed two nights there. The guests produced by the prosecution did not exclude the possibility that Hanratty stayed one night in the attic with the green bath, another in a regular guest bedroom.
In the late 60s I interviewed 14 witnesses who, with varying degrees of certainty, supported Hanratty's story, including Margaret Walker, a landlady in a neighbouring guest house, who was certain of the date a young man looking like Hanratty came to her house looking for lodgings. It was the night of the A6 murder. The more the inquiries went on, the firmer became Hanratty's alibi.
It was, in the light of all this, impossible to believe that Hanratty had not been to Ingledene. Did he go there at some other time? I went through his known movements for every week after his first visit to Rhyl in July 1961. All the subsequent weeks could be accounted for. None of the various (secret) police inquiries since, nor the (secret) Hawser inquiry in 1974, nor the criminal cases review commission has come up with a single substantial piece of evidence to refute the Rhyl alibi.
Unless I see such evidence, I prefer to stick with the view that if there is DNA to show that a man staying in Rhyl committed a murder 200 miles away, there is something seriously wrong with the DNA. That will be the approach of the Hanratty family lawyers at the court of appeal where the matter will be argued out, I imagine, at a higher level than that reached by the crime reporters of the Sun and the Mail or by Jack Straw's new noose-happy Tory sentencing adviser.
16 April 2002
Finally, the Hanratty case will be laid to rest
By Cahal Milmo
When James Hanratty said his farewells to his family in his cell in Bedford Prison on 3 April 1962, he left them with one last wish: "I'm dying tomorrow, but I'm innocent. Clear my name."
Some 40 years and 12 days later, one of Britain's longest campaigns to right an alleged miscarriage of justice has reached the Court of Appeal in its attempt to clear the man hanged for the notorious A6 murder.
The killing of the scientist Michael Gregsten, 36, along with the rape of his mistress, Valerie Storie, 22, in a Bedfordshire lay-by was one of the most shocking of its era.
Mr Gregsten, a married civil servant, was shot twice at point-blank range in front of his lover. After she was sexually assaulted, she was shot five times and left for dead.
The image of Ms Storie being borne on a stretcher into Bedford Crown Court to give evidence against her "attacker" is often upheld as the epitome of a victim fighting for justice.
But Court 4 of the Royal Courts of Justice in central London heard yesterday that Hanratty, one of the last people to be executed by order of a British court, was himself a victim of an injustice as gross as his alleged crime.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, was told that the 25-year-old petty thief from north London was sent to the gallows after a trial that was "fatally flawed" by the failings of British justice and its police.
Michael Mansfield QC, the leading civil rights lawyer, said that the officer who led the murder inquiry, Detective Superintendent Robert Acott, deliberately withheld evidence that would have proved the innocence of the man who said throughout his trial that he was 250 miles away in North Wales at the time of the killing.
In the words of his defence, Hanratty was the victim of a fit-up exposed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent watchdog set up to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice, which sent his case back to the Court of Appeal in 1999.
But this is not a straightforward miscarriage of justice that will go uncontested by prosecutors.
If the Crown is given permission, it will present evidence that Hanratty's DNA was found on Ms Storie's undergarments after samples were taken from his grave during the CCRC investigation.
Forensic experts for the prosecution will say that they believe the chances of such findings being the result of contamination, as claimed by Hanratty's supporters, are remote.
On the other side, lawyers for Hanratty's family believe they have uncovered 24 separate examples where police held back statements, concealed information or used faulty procedures during their investigation.
Mr Mansfield told the court: "The material that provided the foundation for the conviction and led to the execution was in fact fatally flawed ... in the sense that there was extensive and inexcusable non-disclosure. What happened was a distortion of the trial process, which was in large measure due to the actions of the senior police officer in the case.
"Detective Superintendent Acott personally failed to disclose highly relevant documentation in key areas and, in addition, he misled the court and jury in his evidence relating to these key areas. Finally ... he fabricated evidence relating to [Hanratty's] interviews."
In August 1961, police were under considerable pressure to track down the A6 killer amid public outcry at the crime.
The couple were surprised by their attacker at about 9.30pm on 22 August in a cornfield near Slough. The gunman ordered them to drive in Mr Gregsten's grey Morris Minor to the layby near Bedford, called Deadman's Hill, where he carried out the attack.
After Hanratty's hanging, the campaign to clear his name, led by his brother, Michael, rapidly became a cause célèbre. John Lennon was among those who offered support.
A petition protesting against the death sentence for murder that was put together in the wake of the case was signed by 90,000 people. The penalty was abolished in 1965.
Yesterday, it was alleged that during Hanratty's trial, Det Supt Acott, who has since died, retained evidence in several areas ranging from the positive identification of the confessed burglar to his movements in the hours before the murder.
Mr Mansfield told the court: "The Crown's principal submission in response to the ground for appeal has been that the case against the appellant was overwhelming.
"It is submitted that the reason for the continuing public anxiety about this case in the 40 years since conviction is that, far from being overwhelming, the evidence against [Hanratty] was fraught with problems."
The court heard one example was how Det Supt Acott failed to tell the defence how Ms Storie had originally described the gunman as having brown eyes. Ms Storie later switched to a description of "very large, pale blue, staring, icy eyes", which prosecutors said matched Hanratty.
Lord Woolf, sitting with two other judges, was told that Det Supt Acott also failed to disclose remarks made by Ms Storie that her memory of the gunman's face was "fading" less than a fortnight after the attack. Mr Mansfield told the court that this admission, made before she identified Hanratty at an identification parade, deprived his lawyers of vital information.
Campaigners have long alleged that Ms Storie's identification of Hanratty as the gunman, despite only seeing him for a few seconds, was vital in securing his conviction.
It was also alleged that when Ms Storie identified Hanratty, from north London, by asking all participants at the parade to repeat a phrase, "Be quiet, will you – I am just thinking," there were no safeguards to ensure that the process was fair.
The court heard that Det Supt Acott falsely told the trial that he had confiscated the register book from a hotel in west London, where Hanratty stayed before the murder on 23 August.
Prosecutors relied heavily on the fact that two spent cartridge cases from the .38 pistol used to shoot Mr Gregsten and his lover were found in Room 24 at the Vienna Hotel where Hanratty had stayed.
It was also alleged that, along with another officer, Det Supt Acott changed notes from an interview with Hanratty after his arrest to include the word "kip" – a phrase used by the gunman.
The CCRC referred Hanratty's case to the Court of Appeal in 1999 after conducting its own inquiry into the original investigation, including his alibi.
Hanratty, a convicted burglar, maintained at his trial that he had been at a guesthouse in the Welsh resort of Rhyl on the night of the killings – a fact confirmed at his trial by the guesthouse owner.
But he came up with the alibi only after changing his previous story that he had been in nearby Liverpool, which undermined his case.
The CCRC review led to the forensic testing of clothing belonging to Ms Storie, which found Hanratty's DNA on her underwear. Mr Mansfield will claim that the garments could have been contaminated over the years with DNA from Hanratty's clothing.
The court heard that the DNA testing proved once and for all that a second suspect, Peter Alphon, who had also stayed at the Vienna Hotel, was not involved in the murder.
Lord Woolf will be asked later this week to allow the Crown Prosecution Service to use the DNA evidence in its case to uphold the conviction.
The appeal, which is expected to last for 10 days, continues.
The campaigners: pop stars, lawyers and politicians
The campaign to rehear the case against James Hanratty has attracted pop stars, politicians and famous barristers.
For investigative journalists, such as Paul Foot and Bob Woffinden, reputations have been built upon the success in persuading the Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer the evidence to the Court of Appeal in 1999.
Others including John Lennon and Yoko Ono produced a 40-minute documentary and even lent the Hanratty family their Rolls-Royce to visit the scene of the crime.
Since Hanratty went to the gallows on 4 April 1962 for the A6 murder in Bedfordshire, there have been at least two television documentaries, a play and many, many books, re-examining the evidence in fine detail.
Politicians who have become convinced of Hanratty's innocence include Lord Steel of Aikwood and Sir Norman Fowler, who signed an all-party Commons motion for a public inquiry into the evidence.
But Mr Foot, who in 1971 wrote the book Who Killed Hanratty?, believes the impetus and inspiration behind the campaign was sustained by Hanratty's father, also James, a former foreman dustman at Wembley council. He died of cancer in 1978.
In 1971 the Conservative government refused to open a public inquiry despite a petition signed by 100 MPs. Three years later the Labour Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, commissioned a report from Lewis Hawser QC who sat in secret and concluded Hanratty was guilty.
But Mr Foot and Bob Woffinden refused to give up hope. The birth of the Criminal Cases Review Commission in the Nineties represented their best chance. It had been set up after high-profile miscarriages of justice, including the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four. Ironically, the main obstacle blocking a review of the Hanratty case was that he was dead, and there was a backlog of cases involving serving prisoners to be examined.
10 May 2002
Three judges at the Court of Appeal have dismissed the appeal on behalf of James Hanratty, who was hanged for the A6 murder in Bedfordshire 40 years ago. The court ruled that 25-year-old Hanratty was not wrongly convicted in 1962 of murdering scientist Michael Gregsten.
Hanratty, one of the last people to be executed before the abolition of capital punishment in the UK, had always claimed he was 250 miles away from the scene - in Rhyl, north Wales.
But on Friday, the three judges ruled that DNA evidence had established his guilt "beyond doubt". Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, said: "In our judgment ...the DNA evidence establishes beyond doubt that James Hanratty was the murderer." He added that the DNA evidence "made what was a strong case even stronger".
Reacting angrily to the judgement, Hanratty's brother Michael claimed it was "the last cover-up". "I waited 40 years to get here thinking I would get justice to have it thrown up in my face," he said. "This is not just a miscarriage of justice - this is murder."
But Detective Inspector Stewart Trail of the Metropolitan Police, who led the re-examination of evidence, said modern DNA techniques had supported the original verdict. "We hope that today's result will finally draw a line under the speculation which has surrounded this case for nearly 40 years," he said. "We have carried out a full and thorough investigation which has served only to reinforce the original trial verdict."
James Hanratty was convicted of murdering scientist Michael Gregsten on the A6 in Bedfordshire by shooting him twice in the head. Mr Gregsten's girlfriend Valerie Storie was raped, shot five times and left for dead - she survived but was paralysed from the waist down. Hanratty's family insisted he was the victim of a "distorted and fatally flawed trial". They claimed that DNA evidence linking him to the crime may have been contaminated at the time of the original trial.
In April, Lord Chief Justice Woolf, Lord Justice Mantell and Mr Justice Leveson began to re-examine the safety of the 1962 conviction.
At the Appeal Court, barrister Michael Mansfield QC for Hanratty said the "distortion" of the original trial process was "in large measure" due to the actions of the senior police officer, who has since died, in covering-up evidence in several key areas.
It was alleged at the time that Hanratty came across the 36-year-old victim, Mr Gregsten and his 22-year-old girlfriend, Valerie Storie, inside a parked Morris Minor in August 1961.
They were confronted by a man with a gun who ordered them to drive to a remote lay-by, where Mr Gregsten was shot dead and Ms Storey was raped. Hanratty was arrested, tried and convicted for murder.
The jury did not believe his story that he was in Rhyl at the time of the attack - despite the landlady of a B&B backing his claim. In the years after his execution, numerous witnesses have come forward to support that story. His conviction was based largely on Miss Storie's recollection of the voice of her attacker.
Mr Mansfield, however, argued over the course of the appeal that she saw him for only a few seconds during the six-hour ordeal.
In 1999, the case was referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent watchdog set up to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice. After carrying out its own investigation, it sent the case to the Court of Appeal.
But the case took another twist when DNA samples were taken from members of Hanratty's family.
They were checked against samples found on Miss Storie's underwear and a handkerchief wrapped around the murder weapon. The results showed there was a 2.5 million to one chance that the samples came from someone other than Hanratty. In March 2001, DNA sample extracted from Hanratty's exhumed body was matched by forensic experts to two samples from the crime scene. The family believed that the DNA sample could have been contaminated.
Hanratty protested his innocence until his death. On the eve of his execution, he told his family: "I'm dying tomorrow but I'm innocent. Clear my name."
13 May 2002
but justice is yet to be done
The hanged man's alibi is still solid, and vital questions remain unanswered
By Paul Foot
Even a lord justice of appeal can work out that if you are in Rhyl, you cannot commit a murder near Bedford. The essence of the case for the innocence of James Hanratty, who was hanged in 1962 for the A6 murder, is that on the day of the murder he travelled to Liverpool, and then on to Rhyl. Soon after his arrest in October 1961, he told his lawyers that in Liverpool he had called at a sweetshop in the Scotland Road to ask the way to Tarleton or Carlton Road. Mrs Olive Dinwoodie gave evidence to say a) that she recalled a man looking like Hanratty calling at her shop and asking the way to Tarleton or Carlton Road and b) that she was only serving in the shop for two days - on August 21 and 22, 1961 - the day of the murder.
Seven prosecution witnesses put him in London on the 21st. So if Hanratty did go to the shop, he must have gone on the 22nd and could not have climbed into Michael Gregsten's car at 9pm that evening and shot him dead five hours later. Stumped by this evidence, the prosecution suggested that Hanratty might have "bought" the alibi - a surprising notion since the man who sold him such an alibi needed to look and speak very like Hanratty.
At his Bedford trial in January and February 1962 Hanratty changed his original story about what he did next. He said he had gone on to Rhyl, and spent the night there. He described the guest house where he stayed which had a green bath in the attic. The landlady of a Rhyl guest house called Ingledene, which had a green bath in the attic, said a man looking like Hanratty had stayed at Ingledene for two nights in the third week of the previous August. Cross-examined, she admitted that the guesthouse was full for at least one of the nights, and broke down. Her evidence was discounted. Over the years that followed many more witnesses substantiated Hanratty's Rhyl alibi. The most impressive was Mrs Margaret Walker, who lived in the street behind Ingledene. She went to the police during the trial and told them of a young man who had come to her house on the night of August 22 1961, looking for lodgings. Two other women in the street told the same story.
After interviewing all these witnesses in the late 1960s, I was convinced that Hanratty was in Rhyl on the night of the 22nd. I wrote a book about the case. The case was referred to the criminal cases review commission in 1997. Their inquiries were led by Bill Skitt, former chief constable of Hertfordshire. All the initial inquiries pointed to Hanratty's innocence. Right at the end, the commission carried out DNA tests on fragments connected with the murder.
For years, those of us campaigning for Hanratty's innocence had been asking for these DNA tests, but were told that no DNA could be recovered from the exhibits. In November 1997 scientists took a swab from Michael Hanratty, the dead man's brother. To the astonishment of the commission, there was a match with his DNA and a handkerchief wrapped around the murder gun when it was found after the murder, and a small square of knickers worn by Valerie Storie on the night she was raped and she and her lover, Michael Gregsten, shot.
In April 1998, a further swab was taken from Hanratty's mother. Michael Hanratty, Jim's brother, and his wife Maureen remember going to the old lady's bedside with Mr Skitt to take the swab. She remembers Skitt saying: "Your brother was innocent - we just can't explain the DNA." Another match was found, and later confirmed when James Hanratty's body was dug up later that year. In spite of the findings, the case was still referred to the court of appeal, which heard the appeal over the past few weeks. The DNA findings conflicted grotesquely with the alibis. If Hanratty was guilty, as the DNA suggested, he could not have been in Liverpool and Rhyl. If he was in Liverpool and Rhyl, there must be something wrong with the DNA.
All of us who had followed the case over the years hoped that the appeal would solve this contradiction. As it became clear that the DNA evidence was likely to be accepted, I wondered what new evidence would damage the alibi. Had the authorities discovered, for instance, who sold Hanratty his sweetshop alibi, or whether Hanratty had stayed at Rhyl on some other week that summer of 1961?
In the hearing, absolutely nothing was produced to cast any doubt on the alibi witnesses in the Liverpool sweetshop or the Rhyl guesthouse. Apart from a few remarks about the speed of Hanratty's movements if he did go to the sweetshop that evening (based, I believe, on a wrong assumption about the train he got to Liverpool), the judges (Woolf, Mantell and Leveson) passed on the unlikely and unproved prosecution theory that the sweetshop alibi was bought. Neither they nor the prosecution could find anything to discredit the witnesses in Rhyl.
What meanwhile was the case against the DNA on the knickers? The appellants suggested that over 40 years in police custody the fragment of knickers could have been contaminated. No one could explain, for instance, what was in a vial which had been stored among the exhibits and broken. Could it have contained fluid from a wash of Hanratty's trousers, which were also kept as exhibits and which contained some of his semen? No, said the judges. They accepted the DNA evidence wholesale, and then turned to the 24 cases of police failure to disclose vital evidence.
What about the ESDA tests which showed that a crucial part of the police notes of an interview with Hanratty - the part which referred to him using the word "kip" as the murderer had done, and which he denied - had been rewritten after the original notes had been completed? "Of peripheral significance" said the judges. What about the failure to disclose the alibi statements from Rhyl before the trial? That didn't matter because they were disclosed after the conviction and before the original appeal (where they were not used).
What about the sightings on the morning of the murder of the murder car as far away as Matlock, which contradicted the evidence of identification witnesses, and were notified to the police at the time and not passed on to the defence? Though the judges described this as the "high watermark of non-disclosure", they concluded: "We do not consider that on its own it reveals such fatal unfairness as to render the conviction unsafe." Every one of the appellants' complaints about non-disclosure was similarly rejected.
After dismissing the appeal and patronising the Hanratty family, the judges had a warning for the criminal cases review commission. "There have to be exceptional circumstances," they concluded, "to justify incurring the expenditure of resources on this scale on a case of this age." This was an echo of a similar sulk by another lord chief justice, Lord Lane, in the first appeal of the Birmingham six in 1986, which was also dismissed mainly on grounds of scientific evidence. The Birmingham six went back to prison for another five years before their innocence was finally established. James Hanratty can never be released, but as the expertise in DNA grows, perhaps scientists in the future will apply their minds to the DNA evidence in this case and seek to solve the continuing riddle of how it proved that a man who was in Rhyl managed to commit a murder near Bedford.
by Bob Woffinden
This 1997 book has to be the definitive work on the Hanratty case in the meantime. Bob Woffinden discovered new evidence for his TV documentary, Hanratty - The Mystery of Deadman's Hill, and later made a sumbission to the Home Office that the case be referred to the court of appeal. Whilst researching this book he was allowed access to previously unavailable documents, allowing him to piece together all the evidence in the case. With an indispensable chronology and a detailed index!