Keith Twitchell after his
convictions were overturned
(convictions quashed after 17 years)
|Keith Twitchell was convicted
of the manslaughter of George Smith and robbery at Birmingham Crown Court
on 26 February 1982 and sentenced to twenty years' and fifteen years' imprisonment
to run concurrently.
An appeal against conviction
and sentence was heard by the Court of Appeal on 12 December 1983 and refused.
Keith Twitchell was released from prison in 1993, but the convictions for manslaughter and robbery stood until they were overturned in October 1999.
27 October 1999
police torture victim
'Confession' to disgraced crime squad led to 20-year jail term
By David Pallister
A man who was tortured into signing a confession by former members of the discredited West Midlands serious crime squad had his conviction for manslaughter and robbery quashed by the court of appeal yesterday.
The case of Keith Twitchell, now aged 63, was one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice placed at the door of the squad which was disbanded in 1989 after allegations of misconduct going back 15 years.
His counsel, Stephen Solley QC, told the court that "in a scenario of torture that beggars belief" police officers tied Mr Twitchell to a chair at Willenhall police station and then placed a plastic bag over his head.
He was threatened with suffocation until he signed a confession admitting his part in an armed raid on a local factory in 1980. A security guard was gunned down and £11,500 stolen.
One officer was alleged to have threatened: "The bastard signs or he goes out feet first."
Mr Twitchell was sentenced to 20 years in prison and released in 1993. He plans to sue the police for damages.
There have now been nearly 50 wrongful prosecutions secured by the squad on the basis of false confessions or fabricated evidence. Thirty have been overturned by the court of appeal. In another 19, the charges were dropped, the defendants acquitted or the judge directed not guilty verdicts.
Mr Twitchell's case was referred back to the court by the new criminal cases review commission. Another four appeals are pending. Although a number of officers from the squad have been disciplined none has been successfully prosecuted.
Two years ago the appeal court ordered a review of the crown prosecution service's decision not to prosecute four West Midlands officers in the case of Derek Treadaway, who was suffocated to unconsciousness with a plastic bag. Both incidents involved former Detective Inspector John Brown.
Mr Treadaway's conviction was also quashed and he received £50,000 in damages.
The ensuing report by Judge Gerald Butler, published last month, decided that the CPS decision based on insufficient evidence was correct.
After the verdict Mr Twitchell said he was pleased.
But he added: "I do believe firmly that if all the evidence that there has been against various members of the serious crime squad was laid together at one trial, like it is with other criminals, they would be found guilty. "This does not suit the crown because it would have devastating effects."
Giving judgment, Lord Justice Rose, sitting with Mr Justice Jowitt and Mr Justice Hooper, said the case was "yet another appeal arising from the lamentable history of the now disbanded West Midlands serious crime squad."
During the 1980s, "a significant number of police officers in that squad, some of whom rose to very senior rank, behaved outrageously, and in particular extracted confessions by grossly improper means, amounting in some cases to torture.
"During the 1990s it has been the melancholy task of this court to examine the safety of many convictions recorded during that period - and approximately 30 have been quashed." But he stressed the task of the appeal court was not to proclaim the guilt or innocence of either Mr Twitchell or the police officers accused of "bagging" him, but only to assess the safety or otherwise of Mr Twitchell's conviction.
He said that Mr Twitchell's torture allegations had never been considered at his trial. Had they been raised the officers would have faced "potentially devastating cross-examination".
During the two-day hearing, Mr Solley conceded that his client was not a man of good character.
He had committed serious crimes before and been punished for them.
Then in 1980 he was "plucked catastrophically" from a new life with his partner, Denise Lowe, and her son.
Mr Solley said Mr Twitchell recalled that about eight or nine police officers came through the door of the interview room and handcuffed his wrists to the back legs of the chair he was sitting on.
A plastic bag was placed over his head and pressed against his nose and mouth.
"The bag was removed from his head. The procedure was repeated a number of times, until finally his resolve was totally dissolved and he agreed to sign the statement put in front of him."
26 October 1999
has convictions quashed
Keith Twitchell says he may sue the police
A man who said he confessed to manslaughter and robbery charges after being "tortured" by police officers has had his convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal.
Father-of-two Keith Twitchell said members of the now defunct West Midlands Serious Crime Squad handcuffed him to a chair and placed a plastic bag over his head.
And after the hearing, Mr Twitchell said he was considering suing the police for damages, adding: "I think there are things to be addressed. It's not over now."
The judgement came a fortnight short of the 19th anniversary of Mr Twitchell's interrogation.
During the hearing, Stephen Solley QC, for Mr Twitchell, conceded that his client had committed serious crimes before and been punished for them.
Then in 1980 he was "plucked catastrophically" from a new life with his partner Denise Lowe and her son.
'Officers broke his resolve'
Mr Solley said: "What this court is considering is a scenario of torture that beggars belief."
Mr Twitchell recalled that approximately eight or nine police officers handcuffed his wrists to the back legs of the chair he was sitting on.
A plastic bag was placed over his head and pressed against his nose and mouth, and then removed.
Mr Solley said: "The procedure was repeated a number of times, until finally his resolve was totally dissolved and he agreed to sign the statement put in front of him."
After the hearing, Mr Twitchell's solicitor, Gareth Beynon, said the behaviour of the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad would have come to light earlier if his client's allegations had been investigated when he first raised them.
He said: "Torture is not too strong a word for what happened. Mr Twitchell is innocent of his crime. He has served twelve and a quarter years for a crime he did not commit."
Lord Justice Rose said there was before the court "yet another appeal arising from the lamentable history of the now disbanded West Midlands Serious Crime Squad".
During the 1980s "a significant number of police officers in that squad, some of whom rose to very senior rank, behaved outrageously, and in particular extracted confessions by grossly improper means, amounting in some cases to torture," he said.
But he stressed the task of the appeal court was not to proclaim the guilt or innocence of either Mr Twitchell or the police officers, but only to assess the safety or otherwise of the conviction.
After the ruling, Mr Twitchell criticised the judges for not taking a broader look at the activities of the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad.