The year that Tony Stock was convicted for his part in a brutal robbery of a Tesco store in the Merrion Centre at Leeds, Edward Heath became British Prime Minister and Prince Charles graduated with a 2ii from Cambridge. Since the day Stock was sent down in July 1970 he has vehemently protested his innocence. He became one of the first rooftop protesters and spent almost 100 days on a prison hunger strike.
Stock confidently assumed that his name would be cleared when a supergrass copped to his part in the attack, confessing to his own role and that of three others for their part in attack which involved setting upon supermarket employees with iron bars and stealing more than £4,000 pounds. That was 1979, and Margaret Thatcher had just become Prime Minister.
Stock is still proclaiming his innocence to a crime that has blighted most of his adult life. He was 30 years old when he was sent down with a nine-year-old daughter. When asked how the conviction affected his day-to-day life, Stock (now 73 years old) says: ‘I’ve always had to work for myself. I only once had a job which lasted for two years before the story came out again for an appeal [in 1994],’ he says. ‘I was promptly dismissed, sacked.’ But, as he says, he was ‘never going to let the case die’.
After 41 years, four appeals and growing disquiet about his conviction, Stock is still fighting to clear his name. In the last few weeks, the 73-year old pensioner has been spending his pension on a private detective to track down the original witnesses.
Three years ago his case earned itself a dubious place in legal history when it became the first ever to be referred back to the Court of Appeal for a second time by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the independent body created 10 years ago in the wake of a series of scandals that rocked the judicial system.
What did Stock make of the notorious miscarriages that have come to light over the intervening years? ‘I was never surprised when I read about cases like Birmingham Six, so much of the evidence was verbal,’ says Stock.
Samuel Benefield was the name of the supergrass that pleaded guilty to a number of robberies implicating himself and four other members of the Thursday Gang, a vicious collection of East London criminals in the Leeds case in 1979. ‘I would have been the first of the miscarriages of justice,’ he says. ‘When Benefield turned supergrass the newspapers reported the story as: “Man innocent after supergrass confesses” – but it wasn’t to be. There was this spate of cases – the Birmingham Six, the Bridgewater Four and the Cardiff Three – each one was another nail in my coffin.’
As Stock sees it, his ten year sentence (for which he served six years) never became a cause célèbre and the more high profile miscarriages eclipsed progress on his case. Stock was convicted of the robbery on July 17th 1970 at Leeds Assizes and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was pulled in by the police because of his resemblance to an identikit picture of the gang – only one of 20 witnesses identified him. Stock refused an identity parade but the police arranged a surprise visit with a witness. There are two distinct versions of events as to what happened during that encounter and in subsequent police interviews. For example, in the accounts of the interviewing police officer telling Stock that he was going to be charged and asking where the money was stashed. Stock’s response was recorded to have been: ‘You must be joking… Anyway, the wife will get my share if the worst happens.’ Stock insists that the exchange never took place. That officer stood trial for taking a £50 bribe two years after Stock was convicted. He was acquitted but admitted lying to senior officers. He also faced 90 disciplinary charges but retired before they were heard.
In February 1971 Stock’s first appeal was dismissed and an application for leave to appeal to the House of Lords was refused later in 1971. He went on hunger strike for 93 days during his time at Gartree maximum security prison in Leicestershire. He recalls being ‘force fed with a wooden block with a hole in the middle which was wedged into the mouth and then through the hole was threaded a rubber tube’ which was pushed into his stomach. Sometimes Vaseline was used to assist, other times not and if the apparatus was pulled out fast, which ‘depended on the mood’ of the prison officer, his throat was left bleeding.
His weight dropped to seven stone and he lost his teeth.
Stock abandoned the hunger strike in the hope that the European Court of Human Rights would look at his case but it rejected his application. In March 1979, following Benefield’s confession, the Home Office asked police to take a fresh look at the safety of his conviction. That report came in 1981 but the Home Secretary decided not to refer the case to the Court of Appeal. However, 10 years later, Mr Stock’s application to the Home Secretary was renewed and the case was referred back to the Court of Appeal. Stock’s second appeal against conviction was dismissed in July 1996. In 1998 he first applied to the newly-formed CCRC and his conviction was referred back to the Court of Appeal. This third appeal was dismissed in April 2004 and the fourth failed in 2008
The Stock case was Glyn Maddocks first miscarriage of justice case. ‘The evidence supporting his conviction has been shot to pieces. There is literally nothing left of the prosecution case. Yet he’s still fighting. The system has failed,’ he says.
Since Stock, Maddocks has acted in numerous cases of wrongful conviction including that of Paul Blackburn, whose conviction for the attempted murder and sexual assault of a nine-year-old boy was quashed after 25 years in 2005 and Johnny Kamara, whose conviction for murder was quashed in 2000 after 17 years.
What is the most persuasive aspect of the Stock case?
Unsurprisingly, Maddocks says the Benefield evidence. He was a member of the Thursday Gang, a group of London gangsters, who were wanted in connection with a series of armed robberies and reckoned to have stole at least £2.5 million. Hours after he was arrested, Benefield told all including the gang’s role in a number of violent pay roll snatches as well as a plan for a military raid to steal £3 million from the QE2. He also confessed to the Leeds case. In a transcript of an interview with the late Tom Sargant, the founding secretary of JUSTICE, Benefield insists that Stock was never there and claims not to know him. His recollection of the events as conveyed to the police is clear (‘There was a picture on next door at the cinema; it was the Russian version of War and Peace. I told them it was raining that night. I told them we dumped a case which they found containing coshes, anorak, plastic raincoats…’).
‘This was someone who was on a witness protection scheme and was prepared to put his life in threat,’ says Maddocks. ‘He came to court on the first appeal that I dealt with armed guards, through the back of the Royal Courts of Justice. He was prepared to do that to right a wrong that’s of no benefit other than allowing him to sleep easier at night. All of those identified served time on the strength of the evidence. They did 20–25 years on the strength of the Benefield evidence which means that his life will be under threat until the day he dies.’
That evidence was deemed not credible in the 1996 appeal because, it was argued, that the details provided by the supergrass could have been garnered from other witnesses. ‘The best brains in the country have tried to link me to Benefield but there’s just no way,’ says Stock. The 2004 application by the CCRC was made because two of Benefield’s accomplices might be willing to admit their involvement if given immunity. Stocks went to the East End and met with one of the gang members who declined the offer after having discussed it with the others. ‘He said: “You what the police are like. They let one out and they expect one in”.’