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John Kamara

Twenty years

My pledge of justice, April 18 2006, by Luke Traynor, Liverpool Echo

John Kamara pledges £100,000 to help victims of miscarriage of justice

BBC News
30 March 2000

'Murderer' freed after 20 years

A man has been freed by the Court of Appeal after spending 20 years in jail for the murder of a betting shop manager.

John Kamara, now 44, from Toxteth in Liverpool, had his murder conviction dramatically quashed by three judges in London.

Mr Kamara was alleged to have been one of two men who murdered stammering bookmaker John Suffield in 1981 during a robbery because he could not tell them the combination of the safe.

Mr Kamara was present at London's Law Courts to hear his freedom announced after the judges were told 201 statements had been "hidden" by police.

Outside court, Mr Kamara's 40-year-old brother Philip said: "At the moment I am full of joy and thinking it's Johnny's day. The anger will hit me later. Justice has come right, but why did it take 20 years when he could have been out 12 years ago? The police investigated the case and never found anything. A total of 201 statements were hidden by the police."

Mr Kamara's case had been referred to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, who "found" the statements in 1998 "in a box of miscellaneous material" furnished to the commission by the Crown Prosecution Service.

His conviction was overturned by Lord Justice Otton, sitting with Mr Justice Douglas Brown and Mr Justice Hooper.

After hearing submissions on behalf of Mr Kamara and the Crown, Lord Justice Otton said the court saw no reason to delay announcing its decision in the case.

He said the conviction would be quashed with "immediate effect" and the reasons for the decision would be given at a later date.

Lord Justice Otton described it as "a difficult, worrying and complex case".

Mr Kamara had denied murdering 23-year-old Mr Suffield - who was stabbed 19 times at his Toxteth betting shop - but was found guilty by a jury at his 1981 trial at Liverpool Crown Court.

He was sentenced to life for murder with six years' concurrent for robbery. His co-accused Raymond Gilbert, then 23, admitted the charges.

Mr Kamara's counsel Michael Birnbaum QC told the judges: "This is a case of a kind which in one respect at least one would hope is a thing of the past.

"That is to say, a case in which there turns out to have been a massive non-disclosure at the trial."

Mr Birnbaum added there were "many disturbing features of the case".

Liverpool Echo, 31 March 2000

'Police must now find out the truth'

John Kamara today pleaded with Merseyside police to find the real killer of Toxteth bookie John Suffield.

Mr Kamara served nineteen years in jail before he was freed yesterday by the Court of Appeal in London.

His conviction was quashed after the judges heard that more than 200 statements were withheld from Mr Kamara's defence team at the time of the original trial.

And today, as he woke up to his first day of freedom, he told the ECHO: "Now it is time for the truth to come out."

One man is already serving life for the murder of Toxteth betting shop manager John Suffield in 1981, but another man who carried out the attack with him is still to be found.

But John Kamara's Appeal Court victory yesterday throws the case open again.

Today he said: "Merseyside police should now do all they can to find the truth for the Suffield family. After 19 years I have now been released but they are still suffering. They have been a tremendous support to me over the last five years and they were in court to see me freed. But I still feel for them because they are still waiting for the killer of their son to be brought to justice."

And John Suffield's father, John senior revealed: "In my heart I've known for the last five years that John Kamara was innocent. Evidence was shown to me about the ID parade and about the non-disclosure of other evidence in court that made me think he might not be guilty.

"I fully supported Mr Kamara in having the evidence re-tested and meticulously examined. The judges, in their wisdom, have identified that there was a miscarriage of justice against Mr Kamara.

"I wanted to know the truth and now I do. My son is in heaven and would agree with the court's action today."

Mr Suffield continued: "The last three days have been very traumatic for me and my wife. We have had to re-live the horror of the murder of our son all over again. But this was for the greater cause of justice. This was for John Kamara and we wish him well."

It took just minutes for the Court of Appeal to release Mr Kamara after Michael Birnbaum QC outlined "overwhelming evidence in his favour."

Mr Kamara, 44, is now considering legal action against Merseyside police who were strongly criticised by his barrister Michael Birnbaum QC. He was expected to meet his legal advisers today to discuss his next move.

But he says his first concern is for the family of the murdered man John Suffield who have supported him for the last five years.

His first taste of freedom was when he enjoyed a sip of champagne in the cells with Mr Birnbaum and his solicitor Susannah Arthur.

After being bungled into a cab he was taken to the home of Paddy Hill, the Birmingham Six member who has helped in the campaign to have him freed.

Looking dazed Johnny Kamara said: "I cannot believe I was free, I thought the trial would go on for another day. I must have written a thousand letters over the last 20 years but now I have got my freedom it has come as a shock."

Johnny, originally from Toxteth is now planning to return to Merseyside.

His brother Phil, 40, who stood on the identity parade that led to the conviction of his brother said: "Johnny has missed out on so much. He has lost the chance to have a family of his own and he has missed seeing his nieces and nephews grow up."

He has also missed out on his mother Sadie, seeing him a free man, she died in 1990.

Phil added: "She would have loved to have seen this day, she always knew he was innocent, it broke her heart to see him go to prison."

Johnny Kamara was originally sentenced to life and could have been released seven years ago but he refused to cooperate with the parole board, protesting his innocence.

He always maintained his innocence but a Home Office inquiry led by Merseyside Police between 1987 and 1992 found no evidence for appeal.

But the case was taken up by Channel 4's Trial and Error programme in 1997.

The criminal cases review commission said there were possible doubts over the conviction and it was referred back to the Court of Appeal.

It heard how at least a dozen of the 201 non-disclosed papers could have been in Mr Kamara's favour and how procedures had been broken at an identification parade where Mr Kamara appeared in prison clothing.

The court also heard another man confessed to the police in 1987.

Lord Justice Otton described Mr Kamara's appeal as "a difficult, worrying and complex case."

It was alleged stammering betting shop manager John Suffield had been stabbed because he could not tell raiders the combination of the safe at Coral's Bookmakers on Lodge Lane in Toxteth.

His parents sat through the appeal and saw Johnny Kamara released.

Mr and Mrs Suffield have now written a letter to prisons minister Paul Boateng calling for help for Mr Kamara now he has been released.

Michael Baxter. assistant chief constable of Merseyside Police said: "We will study the reasons behind this judgement very closely to establish whether it highlights any issues that affect police procedures in Merseyside."

Johnny Kamara was convicted in 1981 with Raymond Gilbert who changed his plea to guilty during the trial. Mr Kamara claimed he was never with Mr Gilbert at the time. Mr Gilbert is now claiming he did not murder Mr Suffield.

Guardian Unlimited
17 April 2001
Life after life

John Kamara spent almost 20 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. When he was finally freed on appeal last year, there was no apology, no offer of counselling and nowhere for him to go. Louise Shorter followed his progress during his first traumatic year of freedom ....

For three days I sat in the public gallery of court number six, heart in mouth and eyes fixed on the top of the head in the dock. It was all I could see of the man everyone was talking about. He was an angry man, they said. Volatile. Prisoner H10109 had been locked up for the past 20 years for a brutal murder he said he hadn't committed. This was his last chance to prove his innocence. If this appeal failed he knew he would die in prison. It was a real-life drama unfolding before my eyes and I had persuaded my boss and John Kamara to let me film him from the moment he got out. If he got out.

The appeal had been running for three days when suddenly the judges took their leave. Nobody knew what was going on. It was a strange place to stop. A detail of one of the witness statements, which had been buried for 20 years, was being examined. The judges had drawn their heads together in a huddle and then, suddenly, they got up and left. Everyone in the court room - lawyers, journalists and supporters sat in tense silence. Five minutes later, the judges returned and abruptly told the defence barrister, Michael Birnbaum QC, that Kamara's conviction had been quashed. Nobody moved a muscle. There wasn't a murmur. All my preconceived notions of families jumping in the air, shouting in jubilation, were out of place that day. The judges didn't have a single word of apology for Kamara. Their thanks went to the lawyers. They didn't even look at the man who had been robbed of 20 years of freedom.

An hour later, I stood at the back door of the appeal court and waited for Kamara to come out into the sunshine. Finally, I met the man who, until an hour before, was classed as one of the country's most dangerous men. He was quietly spoken and bemused. He said he didn't understand what the judges were saying when they quashed his conviction. He thought he was being taken back to the cells, then he heard one of the security guards saying he would be going home.

The trouble was, he had no home. We got into a taxi and started filming as we pulled out of the court precinct. A small crowd of supporters shouted and cheered as we drove out on to the Strand and Kamara flinched and blinked in the glare of the lights. I didn't want to rush in with 101 idiotic questions so we sat in the taxi - Kamara, his brother, a friend, me, and a colleague, Sara Hardy, who was operating a video camera - in silence. The atmosphere was charged as, for what seemed like an hour, we drove through London and looked at the view.

When I viewed the raw footage later I was amazed to discover it only lasted eight minutes. Then I began talking to Kamara. He was friendly and kind but punch-drunk. When he found the words to express himself they came in a jolt. He said it felt as if the taxi was driving too fast. Later, he would tell me that everything seemed to be going too fast, even people walking looked as if they were scurrying about on fast-forward. His eyes couldn't take in the colour because in prison everything is grey, so on that first journey, the tones, to him, were like an overexposed photograph. Finally, we arrived at Paddy Hill's house. The two men had met in Parkhurst prison in the early 80s - eight years before Hill's release as one of the Birmingham Six. Kamara was going there because he had nowhere else to go. At the court he had been given £46 and a travel pass that ran out that evening at 8pm. He left with sacks and sacks of court papers and one set of clothes. As an innocent man, nobody in authority had responsibility for Kamara. He didn't fall into the remit of the probation service because they only deal with guilty people. He had spent 16 of the past 20 years in solitary confinement fighting his case. No human contact for 23 hours a day. Day after day. Year after year. He had been told when to eat, sleep and exercise for two decades and now he was being put back on the streets with no help at all.

When we got to Hill's house we continued filming. Suddenly the tables had turned for Kamara. After all those years of being told what to do, I started asking him for opinions and permission to film. He didn't know what I wanted him to do, but I didn't want him to do anything for the camera. I wanted him to be natural but he didn't know what natural was.

We stopped filming when it got dark. News crews were turning up, thrusting huge cameras about the place. Kamara was giving interviews and saying he was waiting for a prison guard to tell him to get behind his cell door. Sara Hardy packed up the camera and we left. I shook Kamara's hand on the way out.

The next time I spoke to Kamara he was going to Liverpool, so we met there. He had stunned me by saying he was going to meet the father of the victim of the crime for which he had been imprisoned. BBC Radio Merseyside had tracked Kamara down and invited both men on to its live phone-in show the next day. For years, John Suffield, the victim's father, had believed Kamara was guilty. Now he wanted to meet him. I arranged to be there, too, and film the meeting. Afterwards, Kamara and I would return to London on a train. I had heard stories of other people released from long prison sentences who had freaked out on a fast-moving vehicle or gone berserk if an unwitting bystander had shut the door on them while in a small room.

The radio interview went well. The two Johns showed nothing but mutual respect and it was plain that Kamara was comforted by Suffield declaring publicly in a loud, clear voice that he was an innocent man. Suffield had sat through the appeal. He knew that Kamara was not one of two men who had bound his son, a betting shop manager, to a swivel chair and tortured him for the combination to the safe. It was a combination the manager could not give because, in his terror, his stammer worsened and he could not get the words out. It was another emotional, highly charged day for Kamara, made worse by the huge cameras of the local news crews who followed him everywhere. He was happy with ours because it was so small and, probably, because we were two women who didn't crowd him. But the bulk of the crews and their equipment nearly panicked him.

Over the following months Kamara and I spoke daily and met regularly. Sometimes Sara or another colleague came too and filmed. Other times, we just sat and chatted. Kamara had a rollercoaster of a life those first few months - tracing and meeting lost siblings, trying to get benefits to live on, trying to come to terms with the fact that, after a 20-year battle to clear his name, people now expected him just to forget about it. He had virtually no friends and nothing to do except go over the case papers which had been the focus of his life for so long. He was not offered counselling; he needed people to talk to.

I had to resolve issues too. How do you draw the line when you are so personally involved? There were times when I thought Kamara would end up homeless because he didn't exist in the eyes of the social services and wasn't eligible for housing. Should I offer my spare room? I couldn't film with him all day and then leave him out in the cold, but I couldn't save him either. How could I make a film about the injustice done to people freed after wrongful conviction, but step in and provide the food and shelter he was denied?

Three months after Kamara's release he reached his lowest point. He had arranged to go to the House of Commons to meet his MP, Louise Ellman, with whom he had corresponded regularly from prison. We arranged to meet at Westminster underground station where we had permission to film Kamara's arrival. It had always been virtually impossible to ask Kamara to do anything for the camera. He felt self-conscious walking in or out of a building for us, so we couldn't get set-up shots. He would get angry and anxious and was in danger of de-camping entirely; we always had to grab whatever we could on the hoof. On this particular June morning, Kamara was in such a state of despair he could barely talk to me. We were held up at the tube station by a delegation of Japanese businessmen on a guided tour. Every time I tried to go up to Kamara to explain, he would cross the street and walk away. He looked gaunt and was a shadow of the punch-drunk but dignified man released from prison a few months previously.

At times, Kamara would telephone to say he didn't want any more to do with the film. He would shout and rant and say he was pulling out of the project and wanted all the tapes. He was still being messed around by social services and had no home of his own. He couldn't sleep and spent most nights sitting up at Alexandra Palace, staring at the distant lights of London, wishing he was back in prison. He needed some outlet for the anger that had reached boiling point and I was one of a small number of people with whom he had regular contact.

A year on, I class Kamara as a friend. He is now spending his time trying to help other prisoners who claim to be innocent. He has a strong network of supportive friends and family. He has his own home; he has even found love and plans to marry.

I have acted as a kind of counsellor to him at times, but have also had to keep a distance and observe. It has been a difficult line to tread, but it has allowed me to witness the extraordinary strength of his character: Kamara survived in spite of the system, not because of it.

Life After Life, a Rough Justice special, was broadcast on BBC1 on 17 April 2001

BBC News
15 April 2001
Partners in pain
It is almost impossible to imagine the pain of your son being murdered. But what is it like when you discover that one of the men jailed for life for his murder was actually innocent and the guilty man is still alive and well somewhere in your community? BBC News Online spoke to John Suffield, who faced just such a dilemma.

John Suffield believes one of the men convicted of his son's murder is as much a victim as himself. When Mr Suffield heard evidence John Kamara might have been wrongly convicted he not only campaigned for his freedom but embraced him publicly, urged the Home Office and the Probation Service to do all they could to resettle him, and put pressure on the police to reopen the case.

The ordeal left them feeling like they had both been victims of a miscarriage of justice.

The nightmare began on 13 March 1981 when 23-year-old John Suffield was stabbed 19 times during a robbery at the betting shop in Toxteth, Liverpool, where he worked. Two men escaped with £176.

Within days Merseyside Police had arrested two men and before the year was out Mr Kamara and his co-accused Raymond Gilbert had been convicted and jailed for life.

Advised not to attend trial

Mr Kamara pleaded not guilty but Gilbert changed his plea to guilty at the last moment.

Mr Suffield's father, John, 66, was advised by police not to attend the trial but he turned up on the last day to see justice done.

"That was the way it stayed for 14 years, into the 15th year. I had heard nothing about either man and I considered they were both free, as they had served their tariffs of 10 and 15 years," he said.

But one day in 1994 the Suffield family received a letter from the makers of the TV programme Trial & Error who wrote to say they had been investigating Mr Kamara's case for several years and believed he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

"That rocked us back on our heels," said Mr Suffield, a retired office manager.

But the Suffields were forced to admit that Mr Kamara was innocent having learned of the evidence that:
the identity parade used to identify Mr Kamara had been botched and was illegal
the prosecution had withheld 201 witness statements from the defence, some of which were crucial.

'Focus for my hatred'

When the realisation had sunk in, Mr Suffield, said he felt a lot of guilt: "I had used John Kamara to vent my anger at what had happened. I had used him as a focus for my hatred. But I felt guilt, because the man was innocent of the murder of my son."

It took another six years before he was finally freed. In March last year the Court of Appeal quashed Mr Kamara's conviction as unsafe. Lord Justice Otton described it as a "difficult, worrying and complex case".

In the days before the hearing, Mr Suffield wrote to Merseyside Probation Service and faxed Home Office Minister Paul Boateng to point out that Mr Kamara was likely to be released and to seek assurances that he would not simply be thrown on the street, like many victims of miscarriages of justice.

"In the event, the probation service was there to meet him, but the arrangements they made were totally inadequate," said Mr Suffield.

'He has nothing to fear'

He subsequently met Mr Kamara and publicly embraced him, telling him he had "nothing to fear" from him, his wife or his five children, who were all convinced of his innocence.

"In many ways, we are as much victims of a miscarriage of justice as John Kamara," said Mr Suffield, who is vice-chairman of a group called Support After Murder and Manslaughter (SAMM) which helps relatives whose loved ones have been slain.

The family is not happy with the way Merseyside Police dealt with the case or their refusal to reopen the file.

Mr Suffield told BBC News Online: "A third man, who was named on the Trial & Error programme, told the police he had actually carried out the murder, not Kamara. He was offered limited immunity by the police if he would go on record but he refused."

Mr Suffield said he was not satisfied with the police, who said after the trial they were not looking with anyone else in connection with the murder.

'This is not justice'

"That is not satisfactory. This is not justice for my son," said Mr Suffield.

He has these words of advice for families who are faced with the possibility that their loved ones' killers were wrongly convicted:

"They have to make themselves aware of the facts. They have a duty to get to the bottom of what the offender, or alleged offender, is saying."

To complicate matters Gilbert, who pleaded guilty, now claims he is innocent but the Criminal Cases Review Commission refused to refer his case back to the Court of Appeal and Mr Suffield is convinced of his guilt.

A Merseyside police spokesman said the 201 pieces of evidence had been handed over by the police to the prosecution and it was they who had failed to disclose them to the defence. He said the force would investigate if further evidence came to light.

The Kamara case was the subject of a special edition of Rough Justice, shown on BBC One on 17 April 2001

Guardian Unlimited
10 May 2000
'Cover-up' claim by freed man

By Helen Carter

A man who spent 19 years in jail for a murder he did not commit yesterday accused the appeal court of a cover-up despite its ruling quashing his conviction.

John Kamara, now 44, was wrongly convicted of the murder of a betting shop manager in Liverpool in 1981. His conviction was quashed in March this year after a lengthy legal battle.

Yesterday the three appeal court judges gave their reasons. They criticised the office of the director of public prosecutions for failing to disclose 201 witness statements taken by Merseyside police to the defence lawyers at the original trial.

They said: "On the material available before us, it appears that the fault lies within the office of the DPP. We have come to the firm conclusion that the verdicts of guilty of murder and robbery can no longer be considered safe."

Mr Kamara said yesterday that he was disappointed with the ruling. "It doesn't go far enough - it's a complete cover up," he said. "They have just blamed the DPP, when they should have looked at the way Merseyside police dealt with the investigation."

He plans to continue his legal battle to prove that the police knew about the statements which were not disclosed to the defence.

In 1981, Mr Kamara, from Liverpool, and Raymond Gilbert were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of John Suffield, stabbed during a bungled burglary at his betting shop. They were also convicted of robbery.

During the trial, Gilbert changed his plea to guilty. Even though Mr Kamara continued to profess his innocence, the trial was allowed to continue.

Guardian Unlimited
5 January 1999
Knife killing case review

By Sue Quinn

The case of a man who was jailed for life 17 years ago for the murder of a Liverpool bookmaker is being re-examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Johnny Kamara, now aged 42, has consistently protested he had no part in the stabbing of John Suffield during a botched robbery in 1981.

The commission is examining allegations that Kamara's identity parade was unfair, and that another man later confessed to police that he committed the murder.

A spokeswoman for the commission yesterday confirmed the case had been referred by the Home Office, but said it was unclear when a decision would be made.

"We are in the middle of an investigation and there is quite a lot of work to be done," she said. "It will probably be some months before we make a decision."

During Kamara's trial, Liverpool crown court heard that he and accomplice Raymond Gilbert stabbed Suffield 19 times during the robbery at the betting shop he managed in the Toxteth area of Liverpool.

Gilbert changed his plea to guilty during the trial, and while Kamara protested his innocence, the jury convicted him of the same charge.

Kamara's case will be featured in a Channel 4 documentary, Trial and Error, to be screened tonight. The programme will present evidence which it claims casts doubt on the fairness of Kamara's identity parade.

The programme also reveals that six years after the trial, another criminal confessed to police that he was the second man involved in the murder. However, because he refused to confirm his confession, Merseyside police and the Home Office decided it was insufficient to throw doubt on his conviction.

Kamara's is the latest in a long line of cases to be reviewed by the commission, established in 1997 in the wake of several miscarriages of justice cases including the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four.

The commission has reviewed 613 cases of alleged miscarriages of justice, with a further 490 under review and 1,020 waiting to be looked at.

As of the end of November, 34 cases had been referred to the Court of Appeal. Of the 10 cases heard so far, eight convictions have been quashed.

See also:
Lose no sleep over Gilbert? - An open letter from Bruce Kent on the conviction of Ray Gilbert - he cares, do you?

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