John Brannan/Bernard Murphy

Bernard Murphy celebrates outside the High Court
Bernard Murphy celebrates
his release after a decade in prison
Ten years

BBC News
25 January 2002
Murder convictions

Two men sentenced for life 10 years ago for murdering a man in a Manchester nightclub have had their convictions quashed. Three Court of Appeal judges overturned the convictions of John Brannan and Bernard Murphy on Friday.

Mr Brannan committed suicide at Blundeston prison, Suffolk, in 1998, while serving his sentence. Mr Murphy was freed after it was ruled the conviction for killing Michael Pollitt was unsafe.

Mr Pollitt died from a single knife thrust to the stomach at the Express nightclub in Manchester on 24 June 1991. Their cases were referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission as a possible miscarriage of justice.

Lord Justice Keene, Mr Justice Forbes and Mr Justice Gross, overturned the convictions in London on Friday. The appeal on behalf of Mr Brannan was continued after his death through his brother Lee. The two men had previously challenged their convictions in 1993, but their appeals were dismissed.

At their trial the Crown's case was that Mr Brannan struck the fatal blow and that he was acting jointly with Mr Murphy, who was armed with an axe and uttering threats against Mr Pollitt's life.

Document disclosure

But during the appeal, lawyers for Mr Brannan and Mr Murphy said fresh evidence showed Mr Pollitt had a gun or might well have had a gun with him at the time of his death, giving rise to a defence of self-defence.

At the orginal trial the Crown failed to disclose four police documents recording information received that Mr Pollitt had had a gun. Even under the disclosure rules at that time, the defence should have been told about these matters.

Lord Justice Keene said if the jury had known about a possible gun they might not have convicted the two men. He said: "In those circumstances these convictions must be regarded as unsafe and therefore both appeals are allowed."

Campbell Malone, of Stephensons solicitors in Bolton, said after the ruling: "On behalf of the family of John Brannan I obviously welcome the decision of the Court of Appeal.

"Clearly as John committed suicide in prison in December 1998 it cannot be a totally joyous occasion particularly when the truth about what happened could have been told earlier. His family have been glad to be able to fight on to clear his name for the sake of his memory and for his two children.

"After every miscarriage of justice it is said that such miscarriages could not occur nowadays because of the safeguards said to be in place. In fact the rules regarding disclosure are now more favourable to the Crown than those in force at the time of this trial in 1992. The prospect is for more wrongfully convicted prisoners, not less."

Guardian Unlimited
26 January 2002
Murder verdict on jail
suicide man overturned

By Jeevan Vasagar

A man who stabbed a childhood friend in a nightclub brawl 11 years ago and took his own life at Blundeston prison, Suffolk, in December 1998 was yesterday cleared of murder by the appeal court.

John Brannan was convicted along with Bernard Murphy, who was carrying an axe during the brawl, of killing Michael Pollitt at the Express nightclub, Manchester, in 1991. But the two men had always claimed it was self-defence, and that the victim had been armed with a gun.

The criminal cases review commission, which investigates possible miscarriages of justice, referred their cases back to the appeal court, where judges quashed both men's convictions.

At the appeal, defence lawyers said that the prosecution at the trial had failed to reveal police documents recording tip-offs that Pollitt had been armed.

After being released from the cells at London's Law Courts, Mr Murphy said: "I am just sorry that my friend Brannan isn't here with me today to hear his name cleared."

Brannan's solicitor Campbell Malone said after the ruling: "On behalf of the family of Brannan I obviously welcome the decision of the court of appeal.

"His family have been glad to be able to clear his name for the sake of his memory and his two children. They would like to thank the criminal cases review commission for their investigation and those witnesses who told the truth."

He added: "It is noteworthy that a critical factor in the court's judgment was the failure by the crown to disclose material that would have undermined its case or supported that of the defence.

"After every miscarriage of justice, it is said that such miscarriages could not occur today because of the safeguards in place. Rules regarding disclosure are now more favourable to the crown than those in force at the time of this trial in 1992."

16 October 1999
Nightclub murder cases
referred to court of appeal

The cases of two men convicted of murder seven years ago have been referred to the Court of Appeal for the second time after their convictions were thrown into doubt.

John Brannan and Bernard Murphy were sentenced to life imprisonment at Manchester Crown Court in February 1992 for the murder of Michael Pollitt who was stabbed to death at the Express night-club in Manchester on June 24, 1991.

Both Brannan and Murphy gave themselves up to police the following month.

They appealed their convictions in December 1993 but this was dismissed and they approached the Criminal Cases Review Commission, an independent body with the power to investigate possible miscarriages of justice and refer cases back to the Court of Appeal.

A spokeswoman for the Criminal Cases Review Commission said: "I can't comment about the case apart from to say that we have found something in there that throws the conviction into doubt."

The 14 members of the Commission have been investigating the cases of Brannan and Murphy since 1997.

Even though the Commission had told both parties that a case was beginning to form Brannan killed himself in December 1998 at Blundeston prison in Lowestoft, Suffolk.

The spokeswoman added: "It is very sad as we had told him that we had a case but he had changed a lot, his mental state was very bad."

The Criminal Cases Review Commission was set up under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. It is responsible for reviewing suspected miscarriages of criminal justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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