Tony Stock was convicted of robbery at Leeds Assizes in July 1970. He was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Stock says he is completely innocent and for more than forty years has fought to clear his name. Quite remarkably, his case has been before the Court of Appeal four times, but on each occasion his appeal has been dismissed. His third and fourth appeals followed referrals by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC). Stock’s case remains the only one that the CCRC has referred to the Court of Appeal for a second time.
I would have thought that the injustice done to Tony was fairly self-evident and yet his conviction still stands. I find this very difficult to accept. Only a detailed account of Tony’s story can properly explain how he came to be wrongly convicted and why this injustice has been perpetuated. Now retired from the CCRC, I intend to provide that detailed account.
This is not that detailed account. The CCRC’s statement of reasons for its decision to refer the case for a second time is 40 pages long and is supported by numerous other documents. The Court of Appeal judgment when dismissing Stock’s fourth appeal is 17 pages long. It would take a book, at least the size of an average novel, to recount all that has happened since 1970. It is an incredible story of how the criminal justice system has failed Stock and only a detailed account can properly explain what has gone wrong. In this short article I will nevertheless try to provide some understanding of the injustice Stock has suffered.
About 6.45pm on Saturday 24 January 1970 Mr Gregory, the manager of the Tesco store in the Merrion Centre in Leeds, was taking cash to a nearby bank night safe. He was accompanied by another member of staff. It was dark and wet and the area was not well lit. The two men were attacked from behind and struck with iron bars. It was a ferocious attack. Gregory received blows to his hand which fractured his fingers and forced him to drop the night safe bags. These contained a little over £4,000. Gregory and his colleague had, in fact, left the store with Stewart Wilson, the warehouse manager, but he had stopped to buy a newspaper. Wilson heard a scream and ran over. The robber attacking Gregory swung round and looked straight at Wilson. He hit the ground with his iron bar and aggressively invited Wilson to ‘have a go’. The two men stared at each other for a few seconds before the robber, in response shouting from his mates, turned and ran to their getaway car. Wilson, very commendably, ran after the robbers and managed to accurately record the index number of their car.
The then Leeds City Police swung into action to try to find the men responsible for this dreadful crime. Wilson was the only witness able to describe any of the robbers. Later that evening, the police showed Wilson the Leeds City photograph albums to see if he could identify the robber. He did not do so. It is known that the albums did not contain Stock’s photograph. The following day, Sunday 25 January, Wilson worked with a police artist to produce an artist’s impression of the robber. That afternoon he also made an identikit impression.
The identikit impression was published and quickly recognised by a senior Bradford police officer as bearing a very good likeness to Stock who had been acquitted of a robbery in Bradford two years earlier. The identikit impression was also recognised by three Tesco employees as being very much like a particularly smelly customer who had been in the store on the Thursday before the robbery. Leeds City Police acquired a photograph of Stock and showed it, as one of a group of ten photographs, to the three employees. All three picked out Stock’s photograph as that of the smelly customer they had seen in the store.
Tony Stock lived in Stockton on Tees, more than an hour’s drive north of Leeds. The police called on him and asked him to account for his movements on the day of the robbery. He denied that he had been in Leeds. He was shown the identikit impression of the robber and acknowledged that it did bear some resemblance to him. He declined the police invitation to stand on an identification parade. The police did not arrest Stock; had they done so he would have been entitled to see a lawyer who might have advised him to stand on an identification parade.
Following Stock’s refusal to stand on an identification parade, the two detective sergeants working on the case took the witness Wilson to Stock’s house so that he could confront him. When Wilson came face to face with Stock at his front door he identified him as the robber. Stock was arrested and taken firstly to Stockton on Tees police station where he was held whilst one of the Leeds officers took a witness statement from Wilson to cover his identification of Stock as the robber. Quite incredibly, the two detective sergeants, Stock their prisoner and Wilson all travelled back to Leeds in the same small motor car. It could not have been a pleasant journey.
In 1970 there were no rules to govern how a confrontation between a witness and suspect should be conducted. There were though, rules about the conduct of identification parades. The rules required that wherever possible identification parades should be conducted by an officer of Inspector rank who was not in anyway involved in the investigation of the particular crime. This was to ensure that the identification parade was conducted fairly and to avoid any suggestion that the outcome was affected by the officers involved in the case. If an independent officer was required to conduct an identification parade, then it is arguable that this principle should have applied equally to any identification procedure, including a confrontation. It cannot have been right for the two officers responsible for the investigation to have taken Wilson to Stockton on Tees and to have arranged the confrontation themselves. At trial a witness’s confidence in the correctness of his identification is tested in cross examination. It could not have been appropriate for Wilson to hear the exchanges between Stock and the two detective sergeants on the journey back to Leeds as whatever was said could have lent support to Wilson’s view that his identification of Stock was correct.
An important element of the Crown’s case was the things allegedly said by Stock to the police when they brought Wilson to his front door and later when they interviewed him in a Leeds police station. In 1970 there were none of the modern safeguards to prevent the police ‘verballing’ suspects or being falsely accused of doing so. Whilst the jury in 1970 must have accepted the police evidence of what Stock said, the CCRC found it surprising that Stock, a man with recent experience of having been arrested and interviewed for a very serious offence, would have made the incriminating remarks attributed to him whilst completely denying his involvement in the robbery. The most crucial remark allegedly made by Stock was when the police brought Wilson to his front door. On seeing Wilson he is alleged to have said: ‘Get that man out of here, he knows me.’ The significance of this remark was not lost on the Court of Appeal, because if Stock had recognised Wilson from the robbery then there could be no doubt about the accuracy of Wilson’s identification. Somewhat surprisingly the statement made by Wilson shortly after the confrontation omitted any reference to Stock’s alleged remark. Stock has always denied saying any such thing. At trial Wilson did recall Stock saying: ‘Get that man away from here, he’ll identify me.’ Whilst this provided some support for the police evidence, the CCRC noted a significant difference between the two versions. The police version ‘Get that man out of here, he knows me’ suggests that Stock recognised Wilson as the man he threatened during the robbery and is not capable of an innocent explanation. Whereas Wilson’s version was capable of an innocent explanation in that Stock was presumably aware, having previously seen the identikit, that there was a real risk of him being identified.
In addition to the identification evidence of Wilson and the police evidence of what Stock had said, there were two further elements to the prosecution case. The three Tesco witnesses had identified Stock in the dock when he appeared at the Magistrates’ Court. Since Stock had denied having visited Leeds recently, it was argued that their identification of him as the particularly smelly customer in the store on the Thursday before the robbery undermined his claim not to have visited Leeds recently. The final element was the finding, on the day after the robbery, of a suitcase in a stream at the side of the Wetherby to York road very close to its junction with the A1 road – the obvious route from Leeds to Stockton on Tees. The suitcase contained items from the robbery including four iron bars and six night safe bags.
In 1978 there was a dramatic new development. Samuel Benefield had been arrested by the police in London for a series of armed robberies. He became what was then known as a ‘supergrass’. He admitted the crimes he had committed and was prepared to give evidence against other members of the gang. Benefield must have been regarded by the Crown as a witness of truth as he was called to give evidence at three separate trials leading to the conviction of seven former associates. They each received sentences of between 15 and 21 years’ imprisonment. Benefield himself was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for robbery. He asked for 41 other offences to be ‘taken into consideration’. One of these offences was the 1970 robbery of the Tesco store manger in Leeds for which Stock had been convicted. Benefield named the four associates with whom he carried out the robbery and provided a great deal of detail about the crime itself.
The robbers had used a Ford Cortina, stolen in Wakefield earlier that day. The police found this car in Leeds the following morning. Benefield made a statement about the Leeds robbery. He said that the gang had stayed in Leeds overnight and had left the next day. He said they had stolen another car, probably a Cortina, and had driven it to another town where they caught a train to London. He recalled dumping the night safe pouches in a stream at the side of the road, but could not say where this was.
Benefield’s revelations led to an investigation by the then West Yorkshire Metropolitan Police. The investigation established that on the day after the robbery a Ford Cortina had been stolen in Leeds and was later found abandoned at York Railway Station. The Ford Cortina was stolen from a point just 200 yards from where the Cortina used on the robbery had been abandoned. This was a significant piece of new information especially as the suitcase containing the night safe pouches had been found in a stream at the side of the Wetherby to York road, a perfectly logical route to take from Leeds to York. The investigation also established that the police constable in Leeds who found the abandoned Cortina used on the robbery had also dealt with the report of the theft nearby of the second Cortina. The officer thought it possible that the robbers might have stolen the second Cortina and brought this to the attention of one of the detective sergeants investigating the robbery. None of this was disclosed to Stock’s defence team. Had it been so it could have been used to undermine the prosecution’s suggestion that, on his way back to Stockton on Tees after the robbery, Stock had pulled a short distance off the A1 to dump the suitcase on the Wetherby to York road.
The West Yorkshire investigating team interviewed and took a statement from Wilson in which he said that one of the detective sergeants in the case had shown him a group of five photographs. He picked one out as being similar to the robber but did not think he was involved. This previously undisclosed information was potentially very important. It was known that the three Tesco employees had been shown a photograph of Stock in a group of 10 photographs. If Wilson had been shown Stock’s photograph in a group of five photographs before the confrontation, this could have a bearing on the fairness of the confrontation identification. For some reason the investigating officer took another statement from Wilson, which seemed to miss the point.
After years of protesting his innocence, which included a hunger strike whilst in prison, Stock must have thought that all his prayers had been answered when Benefield admitted that he and four named others had committed the robbery. He could not have been more wrong. He petitioned the Home Secretary to refer his case to the Court of Appeal, but the Home Secretary declined to do so. He tried again some ten years later and in 1993 a different Home Secretary did refer his case. This led to the 1996 Appeal.
Benefield gave evidence at the Court of Appeal; he admitted doing the robbery in Leeds and named the four other men involved. The court accepted that Benefield had given details of the robbery which could have only been known by someone involved in it or who had been provided with this information. The court did not find his evidence credible and rejected it. It is perhaps unsurprising that his grasp of the facts in 1996 was not as good as it was in 1978 and it is a great pity that he did not have the chance to give his evidence much earlier.
The CCRC was very critical of the 1979/80 West Yorkshire investigation, which failed to properly investigate the sequence in which the police showed photographs to witnesses. The absence of a correct sequence of the showing of photographs led to the court being misled at the 1996 appeal. At the 2004 appeal Stock’s counsel submitted that the police did show Stock’s photograph to Wilson before 5th February 1970, the day of the confrontation. The hearing appeared to turn on the wording of Wilson’s statements taken by the West Yorkshire investigation. The CCRC considered these statements to have been poorly worded and which did not adequately deal with the issue to hand. In its judgment the court said that there was no proper basis for concluding or suspecting that Wilson was shown a photograph of the appellant before 5 February 1970. It is very interesting to note that the court referred to the submission that Wilson had been shown Stock’s photograph by the police as the crucial submission. It was surely crucial because, had it been accepted, the fact that this had happened without being disclosed must have adversely affected the fairness of the trial and therefore the safety of the conviction.
Moving the goalposts
There were five grounds at the 2008 appeal, the first and perhaps the strongest ground reads as follows:
There are substantial grounds to regard the identification evidence of Stewart Wilson as contaminated by his being shown photographs and by his subsequent failure to disclose those events at trial.
I have set out below the court’s judgment in respect of this ground as I have found it impossible to summarise it in any meaningful way:
As to the first ground, Mr Bennathan QC on behalf of the appellant accepts that this was the central issue before the court in 2004, when the appellant’s arguments were rejected. He submits, however, that the CCRC reference makes it plain that the Court fundamentally misunderstood the argument, and came to a conclusion that was quite clearly wrong on the material before it or at least wrong now that the material has been more fully deployed and argued.
The basis for this submission is the conclusion of the CCRC that the five photographs which are mentioned by Mr Wilson in his 1979 statement included one of the appellant, and was shown to Mr Wilson by Detective Sergeant Mather. As Detective Sergeant Mather was not on duty over the weekend of the robbery, they were clearly shown to him after he had helped compile the identikit, and probably on the 28th January 1970. This is information which was not disclosed to the defence at trial, and does not appear to have been recorded, contrary to proper practice. Detective sergeant Mather himself refers to showing some photos. It follows that the identification by Mr Wilson on the 5th February 1970 was potentially contaminated.
We agree with the submission up to a point. If Mr Wilson was correct in his recollection in the 1979 statement that he was shown five photographs by the smaller of the detective sergeants that is likely to be a reference to Detective Sergeant Mather. As Detective Sergeant Mather was not on duty over the weekend, Mr Wilson’s account must mean that he was shown the five photographs on some occasion other than the occasion that he was shown the albums and helped compile the identikit, which was on Sunday 25th January 1970. It follows that the conclusion of the Court of Appeal in 2004 that he was shown the photographs on the same occasion, is difficult to justify. If he was right that it was Detective Sergeant Mather who showed them to him it must have been later in the week. Other evidence suggests that Detective Sergeant Mather did see Mr Wilson on the 28th January 1970; and indeed the Detective Sergeant accepts that he showed some photographs to Wilson at that time. It may be that those photographs did include a photograph of the appellant. That would be consistent with Mr Wilson’s statement that he considered that one of the photographs was of a man similar to the appellant. There is no doubt that if he had indeed been shown a photograph of the appellant, Detective Sergeant Mather should certainly have made a note of the matter and the fact that he had been shown photographs; and should in any event have been disclosed to the defence, whether or not the appellant’s photograph was amongst those that were shown to him that day.
It seems to us, however, that there are two difficulties for the appellant. The first is that the point he seeks to make is dependent upon an evaluation, 28 years after the statements in 1979 and 1980 were made, of statements which themselves were made 9 and 10 years after the events in question. That in itself would make it difficult for us to conclude that the evidence was sufficiently clear as to justify the conclusion that it can be a secure basis for interfering and doubting the safety of the verdict. But perhaps more important, even if we accept that the appellant’s photograph was amongst the photographs shown to Mr Wilson, at whatever time, before the confrontation on the 5th September 1970, it is clear, first, that it was not available before he helped with the identikit, which was agreed to represent a likeness which was “very close” to the appellant, and the circumstances of the confrontation as described by Mr Wilson was so dramatic that they must have been critical to the conclusion of the jury. If it be the case that there was a photograph of the appellant which Mr Wilson did not immediately recognise as his attacker, that seems to us to be capable of strengthening the reliability of his ultimate identification, in that he was not prepared to identify him from a photograph, which can often be an unrepresentative likeness, but was able to identify him when he saw him in person. We accordingly do not think that any of the arguments that have been put before us in relation to the photographs undermine the safety of the conviction.
My first thought when I read the above extract from the 2008 judgment was that the court had simply ‘moved the goalposts’.