This is the second part of a two-part history of Andrew Adams’ case. If you haven’t read the first part yet, you should read that first. The first part covers the investigation and trial; this part looks at what happened after Adams went to prison.
Four years into his sentence, Adams launched an appeal against his conviction on five grounds:
- That the jury had been prejudiced
- Misdirection from the judge regarding the strength of Thompson’s evidence
- Failure of the police to disclose details of their interview with Mark Dixon
- The manner in which Thompson became an informer was irregular and unrecorded
- Adams’ conviction was inconsistent with the acquittal of Hands
The appeal was denied.
By this time Adams’ mother, who was seriously ill with cancer, was no longer strong enough to visit him in prison. After weeks of negotiating with prison authorities, they eventually relented and allowed him, under guard, to visit his mum in hospital. When Adams arrived she was in a coma, surrounded by family and friends. Suddenly armed police – ‘about twenty’, Adams thought – converged on him. They claimed that he’d used his mum’s illness as a pretext for an escape attempt, and immediately took him back to prison. She died that night.
In June of that year, Adams submitted his application form to the CCRC.
Established by Section 8 of the Criminal Appeal Act of 1995, it is the only body with the authority to send a case back to the Court of Appeals in its jurisdiction and currently refers around 30-40 cases a year back to them. The CCRC has been critically and perpetually underfunded since its inception and the waiting time to have a decision made about a review is months if not years; ‘8 months for an applicant in custody and 13 months for an applicant at liberty’ were the quoted statistics. At the time that these statistics were published, Eddie Gilfoyle had been waiting four and a half years for his investigation (contrast this with the speedy 10-month wait that Ched Evans experienced, leading to accusations that the CCRC were playing to the gallery and cherry-picking cases that were in the public eye).
Between 2009/10 and 2014/15 the CCRC’s funding was cut by 30%. The number of full time Case Review Managers fell to 34 by the end of the 2013/14 financial year, against a figure of 50 which was the number estimated they would need to be both timely and effective. Whilst the cuts in funding and fall in staff were happening, the amount of work that the CCRC ramped up spectacularly, seeing a 74% increase in cases between 2010/11 and 2012/13 alone.
In 2005 – September 27th 2005 to be exact, at which point Adams had been in prison for over thirteen years – the CCRC concluded their investigation and submitted their Statement of Reasons for a Reference to the Court of Appeal. This snappily-titled document set out all the reasons that the CCRC thought that the Court of Appeals should look anew at Adams’ case and ultimately Lord Justice Gage, Mr Justice Silber and Mr Justice Treacy considered the five grounds raised by the CCRC.
The first point was described as ‘Incompetent defence representation depriving the appellant of a fair trial’. Originally, it was alleged (and appears elsewhere on the Internet in articles written before the successful appeal) that the prosecution withheld various pieces of important evidence from the defence. We now know that this is not true.
In the aftermath of what can only be described as a pig’s ear of an investigation into the crimes carried out by Peter Sutcliffe, aka The Yorkshire Ripper, it was realised that when evidence was collected it needed to be properly catalogued and referenced in order to make it more easily searchable. The resultant database was known as HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System), since replaced by the more refined HOLMES 2. What we now know is that much of the paperwork previously thought hidden by the police and prosecution was actually uploaded to HOLMES, where the defence had full access. Crucially, the defence did not view all of the data relating to either the Adams case or the previous Hepple case.
In British law, simply having incompetent representation is not in itself grounds for an appeal. The test, established by R v Day, is to show that a) the incompetence led to identifiable errors or irregularities in the trial, and b) those errors or irregularities which made the verdict unsafe.
The incompetence argued for by Adams was that they did not present to the jury material which might have changed the outcome. In this sense, the unused evidence may be considered fresh evidence and as argued in R v Hakala:
“However the safety of the appellant’s conviction is examined, the essential question, and ultimately the only question for this court, is whether, in the light of fresh evidence, the convictions are unsafe.”
As the Court of Appeal ruling shows, the CCRC were extremely critical of the performance of Adams’ original defence team. They described seven areas in which their preparation was flawed, and where they failed to examine and use critical information available to them on HOLMES.
In the first instance was the decision to use the team who had previously defended Walter Hepple in the case of Jack Royal’s murder. While on the one hand it could be argued that they knew the material better than someone coming to the case cold, arguing that the previous trial outcome was wrong was an obvious course of action to Hands’ team, and one they chose to take. This strategy would have taken Adams and Hands into the trial, represented separately, with Hands’ team arguing that Adams’ team had previously been incompetent (an option obviously not open to Adams) and Adams’ team having no such alternative strategy.
In terms of material not viewed/used at trial, the CCRC prepared a list of significant documents which included: a meeting on 9/4/92 between Durham Police (investigating the Consett robbery) and Northumberland Police (investigating the Royal murder); a supposedly ‘missing’ interview of Kevin Thompson by Durham Police on the same day; and a 26/4/92 interview with Kevin Thompson by the same force, which had not been mentioned in witness statements.
There was also a document discussing an (unrecorded) interview with Kevin Thompson and Northumberland Police which took place on 14th April 1992. It was the following day that Kevin Thompson gave a witness statement saying that Adams had murdered Royal, omitting any detail stating that he personally might have been involved. As the Court of Appeal makes clear, given that Thompson in that statement testified to being an accomplice to the Royal murder it is strange that DI Sharp and DC Mackle make no effort to record any detail about their discussion with Thompson in their notebooks.
Much was made of the failure to properly interrogate the police about the timings of their stops and PNC checks on Adams’ car. Thompson claimed that while he was using the £5 that Adams had given him to put petrol in his car, Adams was “trolling up and down West Road” in order to get stopped by the Police and thus give him an alibi. That anyone found this believable is simply astonishing: the idea that Adams would drive up and down the same road, on the off-chance that there would be police present, and that they would notice him, and that they would decide to pull him over, and that they would decide to do something that involved an external timestamp (like the PNC check), just to prove that he was there at that time is simply unbelievable and hardly precludes him from being elsewhere at some other point in the evening. Surely Adams would not want to be a suspect at all? Why would he automatically think that he needed an alibi?
HOLMES had this to say about the evening:
“190390 stopped by PC Robothom (Traffic) on behalf of DC Perkins, Newcastle West CID. No offences were disclosed. Vehicle had been seen in vicinity of Bobby Shaftoe [a nearby pub] when two stolen vehicles were sighted.”
This would actually appear to support Adams’s case, because being the the vicinity of the Bobby Shaftoe would suggest that they were on their way back to Duffy’s house. And when interviewed by the CCRC, DC Perkins said that he had “shouted up” for Hands’ car to be stopped, whereas previously Robothom had claimed that he pulled the car over for speeding. If Adams had been speeding, it might seriously puncture his alibi-building, as he couldn’t predict how long he’d be held responding to a speeding ticket.
Adams’ defence team highlighted what they considered to be an inconsistency between Thompson’s evidence and the police checks. Thompson claimed he saw Adams and the police Astra, driving along West Road. After he had finished filling up with petrol and was pulling out of the garage, he saw Adams coming back again after the police checks had taken. While that’s perfectly possible, it would mean that it had taken Thompson 13 minutes to put £5 worth of petrol in his car.
In his evidence to the Court of Appeal, PC Howstan said he had pulled Adams over because they were on the lookout for a stolen car. However, there was no mention of this in the evidence he gave in 1992, and in fact it was two years after the incident that Howstan and Robothom recorded their statements about the evening’s events. Neither constable was questioned under cross-examination, but if the original trial team had been aware of the conflict between Thompson’s evidence, Howstan’s witness statement and Robothom’s evidence, they would have understood the need to investigate the potential inconsistency further – or at the very least, demonstrate it to a jury.
On the night of Royal’s murder John O’Brien was working as a security guard at the Gibside Arms in Whickham. From his office, he could see the solitary entrance/exit to the St Mary’s Green car park. His evidence was that on that night he saw the white Montego enter, leave, and enter again the car park, within a couple of minutes and at some speed. Within seconds of the second entrance, he heard two loud bangs from the direction that the Montego had been travelling, with the inference being that those noises were the Montego in the act of being set on fire.
O’Brien was never called as a witness, but his statement was read out. The CCRC criticised this decision because O’Brien’s testimony states that he saw no cars leave the car pak, whereas Thompson states that they drove out together after setting fire to the Montego.
Although the St Mary’s Green car park officially has only one entrance and exit, locally it’s known that two exist. The footpath from Coalway Drive to South View Terrace is wide enough to accommodate a vehicle – it’s wide enough for two or three vehicles if the grass verge is taken into account – and was said locally to be used as an escape route by those stealing cars from the car park. This footpath is closer to where the Montego was found than the official exit that Thompson said they drove out of.
Christopher Williams and Michael Hession both lived in houses overlooking the car park. Both, they said, saw the Montego just after it had been set ablaze. Neither of them saw anyone near the car, or saw anyone walking in the direction that Thompson’s evidence said they should have walked to get back to his car after setting fire to the Montego. That would suggest that whoever started the fire left by the alternative route, along the footpath in the direction of South View Terrace. Whilst Hession’s statement was read, Williams’ statement wasn’t and neither were called to give evidence.
Whilst Hession and Williams did not see anyone that night, others did. One witness, Paul Walton, reported seeing a large burgundy saloon near to where the Montego was burnt out, which was not there the next morning. Another, Yvonne Hogarth, said that she saw a very similar car travelling at high speed along South View Terrace at 23:50, as did Morris Birdsall who also lived on South View Terrace. Ten minutes prior to that Jean Hayden had seen three men acting suspiciously along the footpath getaway route.
When police put out an appeal for assistance in finding the burgundy car, an anonymous caller spoke to PC Tyrie in March 1990 to say that he had seen the car driving along the footpath on the night, at the time in question. He described it as “flying down the lane [the footpath] and onto South View Terrace”. He thought there were two men in it, not three as Jean Hayden had reported.
The footpath from the car park does not stop at South View Terrace. If you travel along the footpath until you get to the intersection you can turn left onto South View Terrace, or you can cross over the road where the footpath continues. A few metres further up, a branch of the footpath forks off to the left. After only a few steps it connects to a road called Mount View, which runs vaguely parallel to South View Terrace. In 1990 Walter Hepple lived on Mount View.
Whilst taken alone these points were hardly incontrovertible evidence, the Court of Appeal found that together they formed a coherent alternative narrative to that put forward by Thompson:
“Taking the evidence as a whole we see no reason why the evidence should not have been placed by the defence before the jury and every reason why it should have been. In our judgement the reason for it not being used was almost certainly that in addition to not examining the HOLMES database, in the time available to them for pre-trial preparation, Mr Fordham and Mr Menary simply failed to appreciate the significance of the evidence and the argument that could have been mounted in respect of it.”
The CCRC’s document made mention of other areas, which the Court of Appeal did not find compelling arguments. These included:
- The failure to even interview Beverley Yeadon, the eyewitness who identified Hepple as the Montego driver, before deciding against calling her as a witness.
- The failure to investigate the Catherine Thompson’s two brothers, George and Martin, who obviously had the same motive as their sister. Of the two George appeared a possible suspect, the CCRC argued; after Jack Royal’s acquittal at his second trial, George attacked (and was subsequently convicted of assaulting) Jack’s son Paul.
- Linked to that was an informant’s tip that Hepple had been the getaway driver for George Thompson. The informant, who had been used at Hepple’s trial, had said that Hepple’s father told him how George Thompson and his son were involved.
- A filling station cashier recalled, after seeing corroborative till receipts, that Martin Thompson had purchased a small amount of diesel which he put into a petrol can on the afternoon of Jack Royal’s murder. Martin Thompson did not deny the transaction, but claimed that he had borrowed the can from Hepple. There were no records of any subsequent investigations into either George or Martin Thompson.
- The judge made five factual errors in his summing up, which the CCRC argued could have affected the jury’s deliberations.
- Evidence that one of the jurors thought that another juror had personal knowledge of the defendants, especially Adams, and thought him connected to drugs in some way.
The Court of Appeal made little of these points, but did find that the points discussed above when taken together made for a compelling case. However, their judgement was phrased in a significant way:
“We are not to be taken as finding that if there had been no such failures [in the defence’s conduct] the appellant would inevitably have been found acquitted. We are however satisfied for the reasons given that the verdict is unsafe. The appeal will be allowed and the conviction quashed.”
Despite Adams being cleared, Justice Secretary Jack Straw refuses Adams’ claims for compensation for the years he’d spent in jail, arguing that there had been no miscarriage of justice. He refused Adams’s claim on two counts:
- Unused material held by the prosecution and available to the defence to view cannot be ‘new or newly discovered
- A ‘miscarriage of justice’ occurs only where someone is eventually found to be ‘clearly innocent’.
Because the appeal ruling merely found him ‘not guilty’ as opposed to ‘innocent’, the Justice Secretary was able to say that Andrew Adams was not a victim of a ‘miscarriage of justice’ within the meaning of section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which entitles victims to state compensation.
“Today, three Court of Appeal judges dismissed Mr Adams’s challenge to Jack Straw’s decision that he was not entitled to compensation for a miscarriage of justice. Giving the main ruling, Lord Justice Dyson, sitting in London with Lord Justices Waller and Lloyd
(a) did agree that the murder conviction of Andrew Adams was quashed because of ‘new or newly discovered facts’, namely three pieces of evidence that came from the unused material in the possession of the prosecution but which his original defence team failed to discover and deploy at his trial; but
(b) did not agree that it was beyond a reasonable doubt that Andrew Adams suffered a ‘miscarriage of justice’, because (a) the new or newly discovered facts do not show that he was innocent (para 43); and (b) the errors of the barristers in his 1993 trial did not cause something to go seriously wrong with the trial process (para 62)
Andrew Adams is asking the Court of Appeal to give him permission to appeal their ruling to the Supreme Court. He is bitterly disappointed at a ruling which seems to him to defy common sense.”
– Press release from Hickman & Rose, Adams’ solicitors
“I am shocked and angry that the judges have agreed with Jack Straw that things didn’t go ‘seriously wrong’ in my original trial and first appeal.
This ruling defies common sense, because if what happened to me is not a ‘miscarriage of justice’ then it means the Justice Secretary can refuse compensation to almost everyone whose conviction is overturned on a second appeal.
I do hope that I get the chance to convince the Supreme Court that I have in fact been the victim of a miscarriage of justice.”
– Statement from Andrew Adams
On 28th May 2010 the Supreme Court agreed to hear Adams’ case, “later this year”.
On 15th February 2011, Adams’s solicitors Hickman & Rose took his case to the Supreme Court.
In total the court heard three cases. In 1979 Raymond McCartney and Eammon McDermott were convicted of the murder of an RUC officer and a businessman two years earlier. The evidence against them were their own confessions, which they always maintained were obtained ‘under duress’. Like Adams they had been repeatedly denied compensation, with the Ministry of Justice also claiming that they had not proven themselves to be innocent.
By a majority of five to four, the Supreme Court held that a miscarriage of justice had occurred “when a new or newly discovered fact shows conclusively that the evidence against a defendant has been so undermined that no conviction could possibly be based upon it”. Upon this definition, they ruled that McCartney and McDermott had suffered a miscarriage of justice and that they should be awarded compensation. Given that they had been beaten until they confessed, it seems unbelievable that they had been convicted in the first instance, let alone denied compensation.
However, the Supreme Court said that in Adams’ case, a “reasonable jury might or might not have convicted the defendant”. In a statement, Adams said, “I am particularly disappointed by the rejection of my arguments on the presumption of innocence. I will now pursue those arguments in the European Court of Human Rights, because I believe that all decisions by the state based on my acquittal must respect the presumption of innocence, which this new test does not do.” On November 4th, Adams submitted his application to the ECHR.
On 12th November 2013, twenty-one years and seven months after being arrested, the Fourth Section of the European Court of Human Rights found against Adams. In their ruling they stated that they were “satisfied that the refusal of compensation did not demonstrate a lack of respect for the presumption of innocence which the applicant enjoys in respect of the criminal charge of which he was acquitted.”
With that ruling, Adams’ last hope was extinguished. Although the state had kept him in jail for 14 years, it had failed to prove that it had a good reason for doing so or that it had any evidence which suggested Adams was guilty. Their entire case was based on the word of Kevin Thompson, a man who had clearly profited from Adams being convicted, and who – as the judge said in his summing up – was as much as part of Jack Royal’s murder as whoever pulled the trigger. Thompson never faced any charges for the role that he freely admits he played in the murder.
For his part, Adams was conclusively unable to prove his innocence, but in this country that isn’t supposed to matter – the burden of proof lies with the state in proving Adams’ guilt. Beyond a retrial, there seems little prospect that Adams will get the chance to clear his name and there seems little appetite for that to happen.