3 July 2003
A former sailor convicted of a brutal murder has been cleared by the Court of Appeal.
Michael Shirley has spent the past 16 years in prison after being found guilty of killing Portsmouth barmaid Linda Cook.
Three judges in London quashed Mr Shirley's conviction on Thursday after hearing that new DNA evidence established that he was "probably not" the culprit.
They were told that the recent DNA tests carried out on evidence submitted at the original trial pointed to an unknown man who, the defence argued, was the real killer.
Michael Mansfield, QC, defending, presented the court with complex scientific evidence which he said indicated that the DNA found at the crime scene could not have been Mr Shirley's.
"The sensible and realistic appraisal from the scientists is that there was only one contributor to the male DNA; that that person was the attacker, and no jury, hearing the fresh evidence, could be sure that it was Shirley," he said.
Miss Cook, 24, was raped and murdered as she walked home from a friend's house in December 1986. Her jaw and spine had been broken and her larynx had been crushed by the heel of the killer, who left the logo of a shoe imprinted on her body.
Mr Shirley, from Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, was an 18-year-old naval rating on shore leave in Portsmouth at the time of the murder. He was arrested six months later and convicted at Winchester Crown Court in 1988.
Mr Shirley has always insisted he was innocent of the murder, but a 1989 appeal was rejected by the Court of Appeal. He completed the recommended minimum 15 years of his life sentence, but was refused parole because he refused to admit to the murder.
The former sailor could now be in line for a substantial compensation award, although he would not discuss that possibility after being released from the court cells in London.
He described life in prison as "hell", and said: "Now I just want to try to get my life back together." Mr Shirley said the evidence which cleared his name had been available for some time. "Hampshire Police knew how strong the DNA evidence was and could have stopped this ages ago."
James Plaskitt, the MP for Warwick and Leamington Spa, who spoke outside the Court of Appeal, said he also felt Mr Shirley's release had taken too long.
"The thing I'm angriest about is the length of time it has taken us to get this back into the Court of Appeal. We've had the evidence that undermined the original verdict for many, many years."
Mr Shirley said that, were it not for his family's backing, he did not think he would still be alive. "If it wasn't for my mother and my father and some of my other supporters, I'd be in a coffin right now."
The former sailor added that he was not the only person to have suffered since Linda Cook's murder. "At the end of the day I'm not the only victim here. The family of the girl who was killed are as much a victim in this as I am."
Michael Shirley had been an Able Seaman in the Royal Navy, and following a reference by the Criminal Cases Review Commission new DNA evidence had come to light which was likely to have exonerated Michael.
The victim Linda Cook had been
raped , perhaps buggered, and killed by a man stamping on her head and
neck. Michael Shirley had been convicted on the strength of four main points
The new evidence: Linda Cook's DNA bands were found in and subtracted from the mixed DNA profile in the material from the original swabs. There remained an array of foreign bands which could not have come from Linda Cook or Michael Shirley. The Crown accepted there had been a male contributor to the DNA found in Linda Cook's swabs who was not Michael Shirley, therefore if the only sources of DNA in those swabs were Linda Cook and another person, then that other person could not have been Michael Shirley.
In an expert report for Michael Shirley, it was submitted that any semen found inside Linda Cook was fresh and had therefore been deposited by her attacker, rather than somebody she may have been with earlier that evening.
To counter this new DNA evidence, the Crown submitted that the other circumstantial evidence against Michael Shirley was so strong as to dispel this improbability of a second DNA contributor, namely the injuries on Michael Shirley's body, the right shoe impression, the timing of Michael Shirley's movements and the "missing half hour".
1. As a result of the new DNA evidence in this case, the overwhelming probability was that all the semen found in the intimate swabs was deposited by one man on one occasion, that is to say by her killer when he raped her.
2. According to a medical report obtained by Michael Shirley, it would not have been possible to date the injuries with the accuracy claimed by the prosecution, which put them at four weeks old, dating back to the time of the murder. It had also taken into account that despite Michael Shirley not always being fully clothed while on board the ship, none of his colleagues had noticed anything different in his appearance. It followed that the evidence of injuries to Michael Shirley did not begin to dislodge the powerful improbability of a second DNA contributor.
3. With regard to the impression of a shoe on Linda Cook's abdomen, the trial judge had concentrated on 1986 shoe sales in Portsmouth, therefore narrowing down the quantity of pairs of shoes with the relevant imprint. Although this was held to have given a fair overall picture, this piece of circumstantial evidence could not alone overturn the probability of there being one DNA contributor.
4. R suggested that Michael Shirley was in the vicinity of the murder scene at the time Linda Cook was attacked, and Michael Shirley could not on his explanation of events account for the passage of half and hour as he should have arrived back at the ship half and hour sooner than he did. However, there was evidence from a girl with whom Michael Shirley had left the nightclub that they had in fact left later than originally thought. This was corroborated by a taxi driver who had picked them up and by the log at his office. The effect of this was that the alleged coincidence of Michael Shirley's and Linda Cook's arrival at the scene of the crime and the lost half hour in Michael Shirley's movements effectively disappeared.
5. Furthermore, tests had subsequently shown that no trace of Linda Cook's DNA was to be found anywhere inside or outside of Michael Shirley's shoe and bloodstains on Michael Shirley's clothes were found to have been his own rather than from Linda Cook.
21 October 2001
could be freed
For 13 years, Michael Shirley has sworn he did not kill Linda Cook. Now he may be proved right
By Tracy McVeigh
A sailor who has spent the past 13 years trying to prove himself innocent of murder and rape could soon be freed after vital new evidence was uncovered in a police filing cabinet.
Michael Shirley was a teenager when he was jailed for life in 1988 for what became known as the 'Cinderella' murder - the vicious killing of 24-year-old barmaid Linda Cook. Now a DNA sample found in police stores - together with a witness statement not produced at his trial - could clear Shirley and point instead to a sex attacker who escaped detection and could have struck again.
Shirley was on shore leave in Portsmouth when the murder happened in December 1986. Linda Cook was walking a mile or so between a friend's house in Portsmouth and her home in Southsea when she was raped and then died, yards from a school playground. Her jaw and spine were broken and her larynx crushed by the heel of the killer, who stamped on her body so hard that he left an imprint of the logo from the sole of his shoes. It was the police hunt for the shoes - 250 pairs of which had been sold in Portsmouth that year alone - which led to the case being dubbed the Cinderella murder. And 18-year-old Shirley owned a pair. He was also one of the third of all British males who share a blood group type with the murderer.
The fact that his shoes were at his parents' home in Leamington Spa, and that he had an alibi, a girl called Deena Fogg he had taken out that night, did not dissuade police and they arrested him some six months later.
'I feel there was so much pressure to get a conviction on this crime, not necessarily to solve it, that they fitted the case around me,' said Shirley from Gartree Prison in Leicestershire. He has staged hunger strikes, rooftop protests and sent hundreds of letters in an unflagging attempt to clear his name. 'Knowing every single night you are banged up for something you haven't done and there are people within the system who could even think or suspect you're guilty of that offence - you can't imagine that,' he said. 'It's degrading.'
In 1992 his case named was as one one of 110 possible miscarriages of justice in a dossier given to the Home Office by the National Association of Probation Officers and justice groups Liberty and Conviction. Nothing was achieved despite a report being passed to the chief constable of Hampshire.
He now is pinning his hopes on the DNA sample, which his solicitors had tried to obtain for several years, and on the discovery of Deena Fogg's original police statement which places him half an hour away from the scene at the time of the murder.
'The evidence that Michael Shirley is innocent was always convincing, now it's overwhelming,' said his solicitor Anita Bromley. 'The girl's original statement, which tallied with his account of what happened, was not revealed to the jury but instead she was re-interviewed by police some five months later and somehow the times changed slightly in that second statement.
'Michael has maintained his innocence throughout. Last year he would have been eligible for parole but he won't get it because he will always plead innocent and the sad fact is that those are the people who die in prison.'
Bromley believes there is now a good case for police in Portsmouth to examine their records and look for a serial attacker. 'At the time of Linda Cook's murder the area had seen a spate of vicious sex attacks and there was a feeling that this was a serial sex killer. Police were under enormous pressure to catch the man,' she said.
Bromley is now trying to contact sailors who served on Shirley's ship, HMS Apollo, at the time in case they unknowingly hold further proof of his innocence. The Crime Cases Review Commission has already referred the case to the Court of Appeal after examining the new evidence and a hearing will soon be set - although it is unlikely to be before next year. It is one of only six per cent of the CCRC's caseload which gets that far, and of those around 75 per cent end up being quashed by the appeal judges.
Although Shirley's parents have stuck by their son, not everyone is convinced of his innocence. Linda Cook's father, Jim, who still lives in Hampshire, said: 'Shirley is certainly responsible. But he has done his time and has lost a substantial part of his life. That is good retribution. If I saw Shirley today I'd just carry on walking. I wouldn't want to sink to his level by doing something.'
21 April 2001
referred by CCRC
Convicted Warwickshire killer Michael Shirley could be out on bail next week after he was given permission yesterday to appeal against his sentence.
The former Campion School, Leamington, pupil has always protested his innocence of the murder and rape of a Portsmouth barmaid in 1986. He was jailed two years later and has since refused parole in protest against his conviction.
But now the Criminal Case Review Committee has decided to allow Shirley the right to appeal.
His solicitor, Anita Bromley, will lodge the appeal in the next few days and will also lodge an application for bail.
Shirley's mother, Pat, of Berenska Drive, Leamington, today spoke of her joy after hearing that her son can appeal against his life sentence.
Mrs Shirley, aged 59, who spearheaded a campaign to win the release of her son after his conviction, said: "We have been pushing for Michael's release ever since he was convicted.
"We're just over the moon and at last we have proved to everyone what we believed in. Michael always said he was innocent.
"I promised him from the very beginning that we'd carry on fighting for him and it has finally paid off."
Four key pieces of evidence combined to secure Shirley's conviction during a trial at Winchester Crown Court.
Shirley, who was an 18-year-old sailor at the time of his arrest, owned a pair of shoes which matched an imprint on the victim's body, blood matching his group was found at the scene, his body was covered with scratches and he was in the area at the time of the crime.
But Mrs Shirley claimed the shoes were fashionable at the time and her son shared the same blood group with almost a quarter of all males.
She said the scars came from a surfing accident weeks before and the timing which tied him to the murder scene was under dispute.
Leamington MP James Plaskitt said: "A lot of people have worked very hard on this and I always thought that he would get the appeal. I am sure many people will share in the family's newfound sense of hope."
He believed the appeal was allowed because of new forensic evidence relating to improvements in DNA testing.
Barmaid Linda Cook was found murdered on wasteground in the Hampshire town.