Kevin Callan became nationally famous when his conviction for murder was overturned on 6 April 1995. A former truck driver who had left school without qualifications, he had been convicted of shaking to death Amanda Allman, a helpless four-year-old child who suffered from cerebral palsy and spastic diplegia.
His case caught the public imagination. At his trial, overwhelming evidence had been given by two experienced pathologists, Jeffrey Freeman and Geoffrey Garratt, who agreed that Amanda had been shaken to death while she was in Kevin’s sole care. Kevin’s own lawyers failed to produce any evidence to the contrary. Kevin collapsed in court, senseless with shock at the guilty verdict.
Incarcerated in Wakefield prison, he badgered library staff to provide him with the books that enabled him to become an expert in child neuropathology, and to correspond with other acknowledged experts, Philip Wrightson and Helen Whitwell. They agreed that Amanda could not have been shaken to death.
On the basis of their reports, Salford solicitor Campbell Malone applied for leave to appeal. But leave was refused by Lord Justice Tucker. The application was renewed, and in response the Crown Prosecution Service commissioned two counter-reports from Professor Michael Green and Mr Myles Gibson. But the Crown’s own experts only confirmed what Kevin’s experts said, and in addition heavily criticised the work of Dr Garratt. The CPS announced they would not contest the appeal.
Kevin walked free down the steps of the courts of justice, surrounded by his family, who had always supported him. Michael Mansfield QC, Kevin’s senior counsel, told the appeal court that it was ‘a sad reflection on the system that this injustice had only come to light because of Kevin Callan’s persistence.’ After the intense media interest died down, Kevin published his own readable and fascinating account (Kevin Callan’s Story, Little, Brown & Co., 1997). In a foreword to the book, Michael Mansfield wrote: ‘Kevin’s testament is also a monument. Before it is too late, let there be no more names inscribed in the hall of judicial infamy’, and he looked forward to the establishment of a national Forensic Science Institute, a properly financed and provisioned independent scientific facility. Of course, nothing has changed.
Amanda died on 15 April 1991, and Kevin was arrested the next day. Ignoring his protestations that he could not have harmed Amanda, the police constructed a case against him, even finding someone who claimed he had overheard Kevin in a police cell admit to shaking her. Amanda’s mother, Lesley Bridgewood, constantly assured them that Kevin loved her children and was infinitely patient with Amanda, teaching her to walk and speak despite her severe disabilities. But since the experts were convinced Kevin was guilty, they ignored the other possible causes of Amanda’s death (accidental falls and neglect by medical authorities) and so Kevin and Les were left without time to grieve, and they are left forever with no adequate explanation of why Amanda died.
Before he was released, Kevin’s sister Janice Davies, the most indefatigable of his supporters, helped to set up the organisation INNOCENT, to support Kevin and other wrongly convicted prisoners and their families. INNOCENT continues to flourish. For a while after his release, Kevin attended meetings and helped others suffering as he had done. But without the impetus of his personal fight to gain recognition of the terrible things that had been done to him, Kevin seemed to lose direction.
Those of us who came to know him during his fight against injustice, to regard him as a friend and to respect his impressive intelligence, determination and wit, later lost touch and were unable to offer him our support. We heard occasional reports of how troubled his life had become, and that he died of liver failure on 5 August 2003.
It is difficult to imagine what it must be like to suffer the oppressive weight of a conviction for a terrible crime and a life sentence, when you know you are innocent, yet every part of this immensely powerful system regards you as guilty. Such an experience can damage even the strongest people beyond repair. Kevin’s many fine qualities were wasted and lost as a consequence of what was done by so-called expert pathologists, the police, the criminal justice system and the prison system. We hold them responsible for our own sad loss.
INNOCENT, 20 August 2003