Imprisoned for crimes for which he still maintains his innocence, David (a.k.a. ‘G’ or ‘G Rok’) Ashberry found that one week in March 1997 changed his life. It started on the Sunday afternoon with no indication of what was to follow. David and his girlfriend made a hurried visit to the family home in Middleton (which is in Manchester, England) to give his Mum a gift for Mother’s day. David was involved in a rap group and felt that he was letting them down if he was late especially as they were currently preparing an important demo.
Next day, David called in at Middleton and talked with his Dad about the decoration of a flat he was planning to take. They discussed the progress on the demo and David said that he needed to do some more work because his late arrival the previous day had held things up. Later two of his friends confirmed that they had been preparing a demo at that time and had been working together on the Monday evening. However that evening as the young men rapped in a flat in Princess Road, South Manchester two black males were preparing for an armed robbery on an off licence at the Racecourse Estate in Sale. That robbery went horribly wrong with the killing of an innocent shopkeeper who tried to defend himself against the gunman with a machete.
On the following Saturday evening after leaving a friend’s house, David set off in his car to be surprised by a group of police cars blocking and surrounding him.
After interviewing him for hours after his arrest for the murder, the only evidence the police had was a statement from Natalie Collins, who lived near the off licence. David knew Natalie through an acquaintance Tony who temporarily unable to drive through injury appreciated getting lifts to Natalie’s flat. Despite the anomalies they encountered, police charged David with murder and later added an armed robbery at a post office.
Right from the beginning we have believed that the facts pointed to someone else having committed the murder. One fact is the certainty of the gunman having been wounded.
At the trial the prosecution claimed that the victim had previously lost the strength in his wrist and forearm and was unable to strike a telling blow with the machete. His father-in-law admitted under cross examination that the murdered man had recovered his grip and that they both used the sharp machete to open boxes at the shop. There were fibres on the machete, which would indicate that it had cut through material, drops of blood outside the shop, and an eye witness outside the shop described how the gunman held his arm to his side and stumbled as he tried to leave the scene of the crime. Naturally police made extensive enquiries at hospitals through Greater Manchester for a black male with wounds to his forearm and abdomen.
As they searched and arrested David on the Saturday, one jubilant officer lifting David’s sweater said, “Let’s see your new appendix scars”.
The police were surprised that there were no cuts, wounds, scars or even bruising.
Four days after the murder the police had raided Natalie Collins’s flat for firearms and she subsequently made several statements including the allegation that Tony, her ex-boyfriend, had told her that he and David had attempted to rob the off licence and that David had done the shooting and left her flat in his silver grey car.
It was also claimed that Collins alleged David, Tony and his brother Lee were responsible for a post office robbery in Sale a few weeks earlier.
This was only circumstantial evidence but there was so much potential for forensic evidence.
Lack of physical evidence
Forensic tests were carried out on:-
- The post office and off licence premises
- a stolen car and a pickaxe handle supposedly used in the PO robbery
- the silver grey car driven by David
- David’s hair, skin and clothing which would have been showered with gunpowder if he had fired a gun
- the machete used by the victim and spots of blood outside the off licence
The sum of the findings was a nano gramme (one thousandth part of a gramme) of nitro glycerine in the passenger footwell of David’s car. That microscopic speck is borderline to even being recognised; it can come from a number of sources; is not consistent with the presence of a gun and in that quantity is likely to be from contamination when the car was searched.
There was also Natalie’s flat where David allegedly spent the night prior to the post office robbery and was supposed to have visited twice on the evening of the murder.
An exhaustive police search failed to produce any forensic evidence that either David Ashberry or Lee Watt had ever been in the flat: Lee’s brother Tony said that he never asked any of his friends into the flat because it was never cleaned. Forensic analysis had failed to identify either a finger or palm print, hair or fibre or anything linking David to that flat at any time.
Police must also have noticed that David didn’t match the facial and description given by eye witnesses at either of the offences for which they had been hunting for him.
The eye witnesses from outside the off licence provided facial and height details which clearly described a different person and naturally they did not pick David out from the identification parade for which he readily volunteered.
Seven eye-witnesses at the scene of the post office robbery described the tallest of the three masked robbers to be under 6′ – very similar to the taller robber involved in the murder. David is 6’4″.
At the trial the only evidence submitted for the post office charge was the claim by Collins that David and the two others she named had stayed at her flat on the night prior to the crime. Collins claimed that the three suspects had been in her flat when she left before 9 am on the morning of the robbery. During the course of her short trip she passed the post office. She found that it had been robbed and returned to her flat to find the three were there. No evidence was offered to suggest that any of the three had left the flat while Collins was out. There was no person nor no evidence collaborating Collins’ story.
Under cross examination, Natalie Collins admitted that she had included Lee’s name in her statement at the suggestion of the police.
When questioned about the off licence and her relations with Tony Watt, Collins admitted to benefiting as a result of her statements, made ten contradictions with her own statements; further contradictions of her evidence were made by other prosecution witnesses; she showed disrespectful behaviour – admitted that she was being sarcastic to the court; swore at the judge and barristers – stormed out of court four times; she refused to answer some questions from defence barristers. By the judge’s refusal to hold her in contempt, Collins was effectively allowed to select which questions she answered and which she chose to avoid. The questions she avoided were significantly related to her dealings with the police.
In his summing up Judge Sachs excused Collins’ behaviour and invited the jury to consider whether Collins’ story was too incredible to be untrue. Strange logic – does it mean that the bigger the lie, the more likely he feels it is believable? Or was the story simply created after David’s arrest with the help of other people?
Role of Police
There was intense pressure on the police to produce a result following criticism of their lack of response to previous problems on the estate.
However police didn’t follow up evidence of Collins’ neighbour who saw a dark blue car being driven away when Collins claimed that the only car driven away from her flat shortly after the murder was David’s silver grey car.
Why did the police ignore other leads? Informants on the Racecourse Estate were attributing both crimes to another pair but the police, without investigation, dismissed that as “rumour”. Thanks to their deal with Natalie Collins, a murderer escaped punishment and could still be at large.
The machete used by the dead man was covered in blood yet only a swab was taken and the machete was wiped clean without the defence having an opportunity to arrange tests. On the basis of that small sample it was represented to the jury that all of the blood on the machete was the blood of the dead man.
The jury may have drawn incorrect conclusions from David’s attitude after being arrested. However his previous experience of the racist attitude of many police made him wary of answering their questions.
Contrary to a police briefing to the press, David was not estranged from his adoptive family. Why did they feel the need to lie about this? One investigative journalist feels that the more dodgy the conviction, the greater the smokescreen of lies the police put out after the trial.
His bedroom has been described by the police as a shrine to guns – another police lie. After searching the room, police found no firearms, no replica guns, no books on guns nor magazines on guns or even on shooting as a sport. The walls, covered in posters, mainly Bob Marley plus other black icons.
The police even tried to claim that David’s rapping name “G Rok” was really glox which is apparently slang for a kind of gun. That sort of imagination could have been of great help developing Natalie Collins’ story.
Unbelievably the jury returned guilty verdicts for the post office robbery and murder on David and Tony. They were given life sentences. What does it say for our system of justice when, despite Natalie’s lies and contradictions, her sarcasm and undisguised contempt for the court, and her refusal to answer critical defence questions, the jury then decided that a 6’4″ youth, with no wounds, scars, bruises or any significant forensic evidence against him, was responsible for a murder committed by a male less than 6′ tall who was wounded in the process.
David’s family and friends, are united in their belief in his innocence. With a new legal team we are gathering new evidence and reviewing the procedures followed in the trial and case preparation. We are committed to overturning this miscarriage of justice, and hope that in the process the people who, through dishonesty, negligence or corruption have robbed David (G) of his liberty are exposed and punished.
David’s appeal was turned down on 3 December 1998. He applied to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, asking it to refer his case back to the Court of Appeal. The CCRC refused to make a referral, and their decision was challenged at a judicial review on 3 December 2004 by M. Birnbaum QC, instructed by Robert Lizar Solicitors.
You may not have realised that you can help correct this miscarriage of justice but we are asking for your support.