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Prisoner served 23 years before murder death ruled to be natural causes

Patrick Nicholls was convicted at Lewes Crown Court on 24 November 1975 of the murder of Mrs Gladys Heath at her home in Worthing on 2 April 1975, and robbery. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. An appeal was refused on 7 July 1977.The case was referred to the Court of Appeal by the CCRC in November 1997. The conviction was quashed on 12 June 1998 on the basis of new pathological evidence which indicated that Mrs Heath had died from natural causes.

12 June 1998

A 70-year-old man who has served 23 years in jail for murder is expected to have his conviction quashed after the worst miscarriage of justice in British history.

Patrick Nicholls will be released if the Court of Appeal accepts new evidence in his case. Mr Nicholls received a life sentence in 1975 for the murder of Gladys Heath, a 74-year-old family friend found dead at her home in Worthing, West Sussex. He has always insisted he found the body at the foot of the stairs.

He has been on bail since March following the emergence of fresh evidence. At the time two pathologists concluded that she had died of a heart attack after being suffocated and severely beaten about the face.

But a review of the case by Professor John Crane, an Irish state pathologist, found the facial injuries were trivial and probably caused by the fall, itself prompted by the heart attack. In a report to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, Professor Crane said the earlier findings were meaningless and ambiguous.

Mr Nicholls is a stroke victim who suffers from arthritis. His common-law wife at the time he was arrested is now dead, as are other members of his family, although Mr Nicholls has a number of children.

It is understood that the Crown Prosecution Service also commissioned its own pathologist’s report which accepted there were reasonable doubts. Mr Nicholls has been staying with one of the freed Birmingham Six, Paddy Hill. He is now hoping to clear his name.

12 June 1998 – ‘They’ve stolen a third of my life’

The man whose murder conviction has been quashed after spending 23 years in jail has said he still has some faith in the system.

Patrick Nicholls, 70, was cleared on Friday by the Court of Appeal.

Mr Nicholls was jailed in 1975 for the murder of Gladys Heath, a 74-year-old family friend found dead at her home in Worthing, West Sussex.

Mr Nicholls, who has been on bail since March following the emergence of fresh evidence, always insisted he found her at the foot of the stairs.

Speaking after the court quashed his conviction, he said: “They have stolen a third of my life, haven’t they? I always knew I would get out sometime or the other, always.

“Somehow or the other, I still retain a little faith in the system. I have lost it many, many times of course but lurking in the back of my mind there’s always been that feeling I would get out sometime sooner or later.”

At the time of his conviction, two pathologists concluded that she Mrs Heath died of a heart attack after being suffocated and severely beaten about the face.

The Court of Appeal was given a new report by John Crane, an Irish state pathologist.

He found that the facial injuries were trivial and probably caused by the fall, which was prompted by the heart attack.

In a report to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, Professor Crane said the earlier findings were meaningless and ambiguous.

It is understood that the Crown Prosecution Service also commissioned its own pathologist’s report which accepted that there were reasonable doubts.
After so many years behind bars, Mr Nicholls, who suffers from arthritis, wants compensation.

His common-law wife at the time he was arrested is now dead, as are other members of his family, although he has a number of children.

After the case he thanked his legal team and his deceased mother Ida “for all the help she gave me over the years”.

Paddy Hill, one of the freed Birmingham Six, who has supported Mr Nicholls since his own release, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “He is more sad, very sad about what has happened to him.

“He cannot afford to get angry. He has just had a stroke and the man’s on so much medication. He could not walk more than 40 or 50 yards.

“He will be taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights because nobody coming out of prison will get anything like justice or fair play in respect of justice or compensation in this country.

“I think Patrick will get a lot more (than I did). He deserved it. The man was plainly fitted up for a crime that never even happened.”

12 June 1998 – Why murder evidence was flawed

The pathologist whose report led to the freeing of Patrick Nicholls – wrongly convicted of murdering a pensioner – has spoken of flaws in the original evidence. Mr Nicholls was freed on Friday after the conviction for murdering 74-year-old Gladys Heath was quashed by the Court of Appeal.

At the time of the conviction in 1975, two pathologists concluded that she had died of a heart attack after being suffocated and severely beaten about the face.

But a review of the case by John Crane, an Irish state pathologist, found that the facial injuries were trivial and probably caused by the fall, which was prompted by the heart attack.

In a report to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, Professor Crane said the earlier findings were meaningless and ambiguous.

He told the BBC: “The original evidence indicated that Mrs Heath had died or a heart attack brought on by a serious assault.

“I was brought in by the Criminal Case Review Commission and they provided me with the autopsy report and photographs taken during the original investigation.

“As a result of my examination of the case I felt that the injuries that the deceased woman sustained were essentially very trivial and in my view were possibly not as a result of an assault.”

‘She could have collapsed’

He added: “Furthermore there was evidence that she suffered from very serious heart disease and it was my opinion that she could have collapsed and died from a heart attack at any time.

“I took the view that she could have collapsed from a heart attack and sustained those injuries in the fall.

“There was also some suggestion at the original postmortem examination that she may have been suffocated. Again, I found no evidence of this.”

He admitted that using evidence from so long ago was difficult.

“Obviously one was relying on the written evidence of the time and the post-mortem report and the photographs.

“It is a lot easier if one has access to the body so that one can conduct a re-examination of that. But nevertheless I felt that there was sufficient material there for me to review and come up with the conclusions that I drew from that material.”

About INNOCENT (134 Articles)
Challenging miscarriages of justice since 1993.

1 Comment on Prisoner served 23 years before murder death ruled to be natural causes

  1. Lets hope CCRC & CPS do not make same mistakes for James Thompson waited/wasted almost 7 years to date

    Like

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