The miscarriage of justice watchdog has finally referred a 1991 murder conviction to the Court of Appeal some 17 years after it first rejected the case. Oliver Campbell, convicted of murder in 1991, served eleven years in prison for a crime he always insisted had nothing to do with him. In July 1990, an Asian shopkeeper was shot and killed in front of his son during a robbery of his off-licence on the Lower Clapton Road in Hackney, East London.
The case has been described as one of the most shocking and obvious examples of a miscarriage of justice in recent times and has featured a number of times on the Justice Gap. ‘I’ve been used as a scapegoat. The police and the CPS know who committed the crime. They turned a blind eye. I feel very angry,’ Oliver Campbell told Jon Robins for the Justice Gap podcast in 2021.
In 2002, Kirsty Wark presented a BBC Rough Justice investigation into the case which highlighted the vulnerability of suspects with severe learning difficulties in police interviews. Campbell has severe learning difficulties as a result of a brain damage when he was a baby. Following the Rough Justice investigation, an application was made to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and rejected two years later.
Three years ago Oliver Campbell and his legal team agreed to make public the CCRC’s statement of reasons on the Justice Gap after the commission suggested they do so so ‘people could then evaluate it for themselves’. A fresh application was made in 2020.
The debate can be watched in full here: https://t.co/hLrQTyAVoh
— APPG on Miscarriages of Justice (@APPGMJ) August 8, 2019
‘The injustice was so obvious that we felt we had to do something to fight back on Oliver’s behalf,’ comments his lawyer Glyn Maddocks KC. The solicitor, who is an adviser to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Miscarriages of Justice, has previously said that that this is ‘probably the strongest’ case he has seen. ‘Physically, Oliver couldn’t have done what he was supposed to have done. The CCRC were obviously wrong to reject the case; but they’ve done the decent thing. It’s down to the Court of Appeal now.’
Maddocks, who has been working on the case for 23 years, said that the CCRC should be ‘warmly congratulated for being open-minded about looking at this deeply troubling case again’. ‘We are all very pleased that the right decision has now been made and we hope the Court of Appeal will quash this conviction as soon as possible.’
Baldev Hoondle had been shot and killed during the course of a robbery at his off-licence in East London. A witness recalled seeing two men, one of whom was wearing a baseball cap bearing the logo ‘British Knights’, fleeing the scene. Campbell had recently bought such a cap and was arrested by the police, interviewed 14 times and confessed.
However his confession was littered with errors – for example, he couldn’t describe the gun he claimed to use – and it included a series of implausible details such as a bizarre claim that he had made a string holster to carry the weapon. He was convicted on the strength of his strikingly odd confession and because he owned the cap discovered at the murder scene. His co-accused was later secretly filmed recounting what happened on the night explaining how the incriminating cap had been snatched from Campbell by the man who pulled the trigger.
Last year, Campbell’s duty solicitor told BBC Newsnight about how he had been ‘misled’ by the police and described how the interviews had been ‘unfair and an abuse of police powers’ (see here). The first time Campbell was interviewed by the police at Plaidstow police station, he waived his right to a duty solicitor. He was later interviewed at Hackney police station in the presence of solicitor, Arthur Mullinger, however the key interview took place after he left.
Mullinger claimed to have explicitly requested the police to contact him in the event of furthering interviewing. ‘The police didn’t have anything like sufficient evidence probably even to get a prosecution of the ground, let alone a conviction, without something more – and the ‘more’ was going to be a confession,’ Mullinger told Newsnight. The lawyer was asked if was misled. ‘Yes, of course I was misled,’ he replied.
According to the CCRC, the jury knew of Campbell’s learning disabilities ‘however an expert report concluded that he was not abnormally suggestible’. ‘During its review, the CCRC approached that same expert and invited him to re-consider his assessment of Mr Campbell,’ it explained. ‘The expert concluded that he had not properly understood Mr Campbell’s vulnerabilities at the time of trial or appeal.’ A second expert instructed by the CCRC explained ‘how a modern approach to assessing Mr Campbell would take a more holistic view that considered his background and experience’. ‘This expert agreed that there were reasons why Mr Campbell may have given unreliable evidence, which were not fully understood or explained to the jury at the time.’
‘It is now clear that, at the time of Mr Campbell’s trial and appeal, the full extent of his vulnerabilities were not properly understood,’ commented chair of the CCRC Helen Pitcher OBE. ‘This meant that the judge didn’t have the full picture when deciding whether his admissions should have been admitted as evidence. It also meant that the jury was unaware of important information about how reliable or otherwise those admissions actually were.’
The CCRC’s referral also considers changes in the law and practice ‘in particular concerning the treatment of vulnerable suspects and the admissibility of hearsay evidence which could have supported his defence case’. ‘The CCRC has decided that there is a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will conclude that Mr Campbell’s admissions are unreliable and that ultimately his convictions are unsafe,’ Pitcher said.
Glyn Maddocks added that it ‘must be remembered that many hundred, if not thousands of hours, have been spent working on this case over the last 20 plus years’. ‘I know from my own experience that there are a significant numbers of cases that the CCRC has rejected without doing a proper and thorough investigation that were almost as meritorious as Oliver’s,’ he continued. ‘The CCRC is now being systematically starved of resources and we must do whatever we can to ensure it can function effectively and if it makes an error as it did with Oliver’s case originally it will look again – justice demands this.’