Two men sentenced for life 10 years ago for murdering a man in a Manchester nightclub have had their convictions quashed. Three Court of Appeal judges overturned the convictions of John Brannan and Bernard Murphy on 25 January 2002.
Mr Brannan committed suicide at Blundeston prison, Suffolk, in 1998, while serving his sentence. Mr Murphy was freed after it was ruled the conviction for killing Michael Pollitt was unsafe.
Mr Pollitt died from a single knife thrust to the stomach at the Express nightclub in Manchester on 24 June 1991. Their cases were referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission as a possible miscarriage of justice.
Lord Justice Keene, Mr Justice Forbes and Mr Justice Gross, overturned the convictions in London on Friday. The appeal on behalf of Mr Brannan was continued after his death through his brother Lee. The two men had previously challenged their convictions in 1993, but their appeals were dismissed.
At their trial the Crown’s case was that Mr Brannan struck the fatal blow and that he was acting jointly with Mr Murphy, who was armed with an axe and uttering threats against Mr Pollitt’s life.
But during the appeal, lawyers for Mr Brannan and Mr Murphy said fresh evidence showed Mr Pollitt had a gun or might well have had a gun with him at the time of his death, giving rise to a defence of self-defence.
At the orginal trial the Crown failed to disclose four police documents recording information received that Mr Pollitt had had a gun. Even under the disclosure rules at that time, the defence should have been told about these matters.
Lord Justice Keene said if the jury had known about a possible gun they might not have convicted the two men. He said: “In those circumstances these convictions must be regarded as unsafe and therefore both appeals are allowed.”
Campbell Malone, of Stephensons solicitors in Bolton, said after the ruling: “On behalf of the family of John Brannan I obviously welcome the decision of the Court of Appeal.
“Clearly as John committed suicide in prison in December 1998 it cannot be a totally joyous occasion particularly when the truth about what happened could have been told earlier. His family have been glad to be able to fight on to clear his name for the sake of his memory and for his two children.
“After every miscarriage of justice it is said that such miscarriages could not occur nowadays because of the safeguards said to be in place. In fact the rules regarding disclosure are now more favourable to the Crown than those in force at the time of this trial in 1992. The prospect is for more wrongfully convicted prisoners, not less.”
R. v. Murphy and John Brannan  EWCA Crim 120: http://netk.net.au/UK/BrannanMurphy.asp
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“After every miscarriage of justice, it is said that such miscarriages could not occur today because of the safeguards in place. Rules regarding disclosure are now more favourable to the crown than those in force at the time of this trial in 1992.”