Robert Brown

Guardian Unlimited
14 November 2002
Man wrongly convicted of
murder freed after 25 years

By Nick Hopkins, crime correspondent

A convicted murderer who has been protesting his innocence from jail for the past 25 years walked free yesterday when the court of appeal accepted "compelling" evidence of police corruption, bullying and non-disclosure of vital evidence.

Speaking shortly after being released, Robert Brown, 45, said he had been in "an abyss of hell" since he was arrested for killing 51-year-old Annie Walsh, a woman he maintains he never met.

The court heard that Mr Brown was beaten up by officers from Greater Manchester police. They intimidated him into signing a confession, fabricated two other statements, and withheld an important piece of forensic material from his defence team.

Details of widespread corruption within this particular squad were known to the Home Office and Manchester police in 1983, when one of the detectives in the case was sent to jail for perverting the course of justice. But Mr Brown's attempts to have his case referred back to the appeal court were turned down twice in the early 1990s.

His lawyers insisted yesterday that the police had to reopen the murder inquiry and investigate the conduct of the officers involved; the force said it would "thoroughly examine" the appeal's findings before taking any decisions.

Mr Brown, from Glasgow, was 19 when Walsh, a spinster, was found bludgeoned to death in her flat in Charles Barry Crescent, Hulme, Manchester, on January 31 1977.

She had been hit over the head 16 times. Her blood was spattered on the walls, furniture and ceiling.

Mr Brown was arrested four months later by detectives from Platt Lane police station; within 36 hours he had signed a confession.

There was little corroborating evidence; a witness, Margaret Jones, who claimed to have seen Walsh with a man shortly before she died, attended a series of identity parades, and picked out a 37-year-old man. But no charges were brought against him.

In a subsequent line-up she chose Mr Brown, saying: "He's the only one who looks like him."

Mr Brown claimed at trial that he had been threatened, intimidated and physically abused by officers, who, he said, had written his confession and manufactured two other statements.

In his summing up, the late Mr Justice Milmo told jurors that the case rested on who they believed - Mr Brown or the police. "That is the principal issue with which you will have to deal in your deliberations," he said.

But neither he nor the jury knew that one of the central officers in the case, Detective Inspector Jack Butler, was "deeply corrupt", the court of appeal heard yesterday.

"Not only had he been involved in serious corruption himself, but he had presided over a conspiracy of corrupt officers under his direct control at Platt Lane police station between 1973 and 1979," said Mr Brown's barrister, Ben Emmerson QC. "The evidence strongly suggests that these officers had engaged in a pattern of corruption _ over a period of years, which both pre-dated and post-dated [Mr Brown's] arrest."

Mr Butler, who had been pro moted to detective chief inspector, was convicted in 1983 and sentenced to four years in jail, Mr Emmerson said.

The prosecution of Mr Butler and two other officers was based on a report by Superintendent Peter Topping that detailed the culture of corruption in the station.

This report was known to Manchester police and the Home Office, but its contents were not disclosed to the defence until last week, 20 years after it was written.

Pressure brought to bear on Mr Brown was psychological as well as physical, the appeal court heard. During questioning by detectives, Mr Brown was shown a bloodied pair of jeans that officers claimed were his and proved he had attacked Walsh.

In fact, they belonged to a woman who had just suffered a miscarriage. Mr Emmerson said prosecutors had also failed to tell the defence about a fibre that was found on the coat of the victim which matched a jumper seized from another suspect, Robert Hill.

This cast "serious doubt on the reliability" of Mr Brown's supposed confession and would have been an important element of the defence case.

Two professors of linguistics had studied Mr Brown's confession statement and concluded it could not have been taken down in dictation, as Mr Butler and two other officers had claimed.

"If that is right, then the account of all three officers _ was false. This shakes the very foundation of the prosecution," said Mr Emmerson. The "stench of corruption" permeated the police inquiry.

Quashing Mr Brown's conviction, Lord Justice Rose said: "This verdict cannot be regarded as safe. We could not possibly be sure on what we have heard that the jury, had they known what we know, would have reached the same verdict. It is, to put it at its low est, a possibility that they might have reached a quite different verdict."

Mr Brown was eligible for parole 10 years ago, but refused to admit his guilt and stayed in jail.

With the support of Mojo, the miscarriage of justice support group, he successfully lobbied the criminal cases review commission. The commission referred the case to the appeal court this year.

"I would have stayed inside another 25 years if I'd had to," Mr Brown said.

"The public has to start asking questions. Who is causing these miscarriages of justice? Who is being held responsible? The officers involved in this case must be brought to account."

Earlier this year Mr Brown was refused bail to see his seriously ill mother Margaret, who wept when she heard he had been freed.

"They didn't show me any compassion, any humanity even during my mother's illness, and that absolutely dis gusted me," said Mr Brown, who is entitled to compensation for the loss of his liberty, loss of earnings and psychological damage.

"Money will not compensate me for the loss of my life," he said. "It will not compensate my mother and it will not compensate the victim or the victim's family.

"They have been forgotten in all this."

A statement from Manchester police said: "No decision has yet been made whether to reinvestigate the murder of Annie Walsh or to review other cases investigated by the officers involved."

Mr Brown intends to return to Scotland to see his mother.

See also:
An excellent documentary by BBC Scotland's Frontline - click here for netcast.

The Scotsman
7 July 2002
Murder, lies, corruption
and a life inside

By Eamonn O'Neill

A brutally-murdered spinster, bloodstained jeans, the recovery of evidence missing for 10 years and a bent copper. The case of Annie Walsh has all the ingredients of a Mickey Spillane pot-boiler.

But this is no pulp-fiction fantasy for Robert Brown, the Scot jailed for Walsh's murder 25 years ago, who is now Britain's longest-serving prisoner and claims to be the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

Brown made his first plea of innocence within minutes of signing a confession in May 1977, claiming police had beaten it out of him, and he has continued to protest ever since, even rejecting the chance of parole if he admitted he committed the crime.

Now, Scotland on Sunday can reveal that Brown could be on the brink of a sensational exoneration, thanks to the contents of a file produced by investigators at the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC). Brown's lawyers are convinced this will free their client when he goes before the Courts of Appeal in London in the next few months.

Brown, originally from Drumchapel in Glasgow, was barely 20 years old when he was dragged from his bed at dawn and taken to a Manchester police station to be questioned in connection with the murder of Walsh in her home four months earlier.

On the freezing morning of January 31, 1977, Greater Manchester Police discovered a murder scene that described a brutal and frenzied attack.

The body of Walsh, a 56-year-old factory-worker, lay slumped in her living room. The surrounding furniture, walls and even the ceiling, were sprayed with blood. The postmortem photos later revealed 16 small, crescent-shaped injuries, mostly to her scalp, which caused fatal brain haemorrhaging. A Home Office pathologist would conclude that she'd been lying dead for anything between two to three days.

Within 32 hours of his arrest, Brown confessed to the murder. Although he later recanted, a Manchester Crown Court jury, before Justice Milmo in October 1977, accepted that the police had carried out a thorough investigation to obtain a genuine confession. Brown was found guilty and sentenced to life.

The jury rejected Brown's very different and controversial version of events.

The young Scot claimed that he was punched violently during his arrest, never read his rights nor formally charged with the crime. He said that when he asked for a solicitor, he was told: "Only guilty men ask for lawyers." He alleged that he was kept naked for hours and that he was forced to do step-ups on a chair while detectives laughed at the size of his genitals. He also accused senior officers of holding him across a table and punching him in the abdomen.

"We were all crying," says Susan Hadfield, a recently traced witness who was a friend of Brown at the time. "At the time of his conviction I saw him along with his girlfriend Cathy Shaw and he kept telling us he was innocent."

Even in 1977 there were holes in the case that convicted Brown: the motive for the murder was robbery, yet the handbags Brown was said to have stolen were later found in Walsh's flat with £240 inside; Brown was never linked forensically to the crime; there were no eyewitnesses; there was no strong identification witness linking him to the victim; the confession he made outlined a crime which was at odds with the scene-of-crime pictures.

Within five years another hole was blown in the case, when Detective Inspector Jack Butler, one of the senior detectives whom Brown alleged was involved in the beating which led to his confession, was convicted of charges involving perverting the course of justice and corruption.

These weaknesses continued to give Brown and his lawyers hope, and in 1993 I directed and produced a documentary for STV's Reporters series which exposed many of these inconsistencies.

In preparing the programme in 1992 I approached Greater Manchester Police regarding Butler. I found an initially positive response inexplicably turning sour. A subsequent letter from the head of the CID tried to warn me off my "informal investigation, however well intended..."

We did make breakthroughs, though. Brown's ex-girlfriend Shaw was found and testified about the brutality of the arresting officers. Tragically, she died within months from an alcohol-related illness, and relatives told me Brown's conviction had "impacted her life terribly".

Our claims were handed to the then Home Secretary Michael Howard and C3, the Home Office department which at that time investigated miscarriage of justice claims - but a referral to the Court of Appeal wasn't forthcoming. The answer: nothing new here, so Robert Brown stays inside.

Moreover, the Home Office insisted that Butler's conviction after an unrelated case in 1983 had no bearing on Brown's confession or conviction. The CCRC report which will go before the Courts of Appeal tells a very different story.

It shows that in 1977, while he was working on the Annie Walsh murder investigation, a range of allegations of dishonesty already existed against Butler.

The allegations were also mentioned within a previously undiscovered internal police investigation file that was placed in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. No one can explain why this vital document was not discovered before 2002, and it is not known if Butler was disciplined after an internal investigation in 1978.

New allegations of dishonesty against former DI Butler have also emerged. Within the last few months I was contacted by a 63-year-old man who alleged that Butler attempted to pin blame on him for a violent attack he claims he didn't do.

He claims Butler assaulted him and tried to intimidate him into confessing.

Robert Lizar, Brown's lawyer, is currently in the process of taking an affidavit from this individual and plans to call him as a witness in the appeal hearing. Another witness will be Alan Smith, whom Robert has always claimed was with him during the day of the murder.

When I spoke to staff at C3 about this 10 years ago they were openly sceptical about Smith's very existence.

Yet, in 2002, following a simple newspaper advert, he turned up and told me he was indeed with Brown on the day in question.

The 50-page CCRC decision exposes other flaws, including questioning the evidence of at least three witnesses. The report notes none of the conflicting witnesses were called to trial.

Another disturbing feature of the case involved a pair of bloodstained jeans produced in evidence against Brown at the trial.

The jury was told that the sight of these had reduced Brown to tears, the inference being that this might indicate guilt. In fact these jeans belonged to a woman Brown knew who had suffered a miscarriage while wearing them.

The CCRC report is at a loss to explain why such an item of no evidential value was introduced into a courtroom.

In fact, the only forensic evidence in the case actually linked another suspect, Robert James Hill, to the victim via a unique fibre that was found at the scene of the crime.

The CCRC findings pointedly mentions that the defence at the original trial was never told about the existence of this piece of vital evidence and that a detective altered reports to suggest this was a common fibre.

Finally, Professor Malcolm Coulthard, a University of Birmingham linguistics expert, is also mentioned in the report. After a study of the confession, he believes Brown did not voluntarily admit guilt.

The CCRC report concluded that there is a "real possibility" that Brown's conviction will be overturned by the Court of Appeal when it meets later this year, or early next year. If that happens, the Scot will become the latest in a long list of victims of belatedly rectified miscarriages of justice.

One man, at least, remains convinced of Brown's guilt. Jack Butler steadfastly stands by his claims that the interrogation he and his colleagues carried out on Brown followed proper procedures. He was only convicted of the 1983 allegations and, after serving a prison sentence, now works as a security guard in Manchester.

After refusing requests for an interview he told me in writing: "I have made it quite clear thatů I have no reason to believe that the conviction of Robert Brown is unsound."

But what is equally clear is that, after an 18-month enquiry, the CCRC findings challenge former DI Butler's assertions square-on. Brown's legal team hope to prove that, in a cruel twist of irony, the ex-policeman may yet turn out to be the only rightfully convicted criminal in this whole affair.

Guardian Unlimited
21 June 2002
'I didn't do it'

He has spent 25 years in jail for a murder he denies committing. Even prison governors believe that he is innocent. Will Robert Brown ever be released? Eamonn O'Neill investigates

'This is a perpetual nightmare, I've been left in limbo and words cannot really convey what this experience has done to me," says Robert Brown, a 45-year-old Scot now regarded as the UK's longest-serving prisoner who claims to be the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

The Queen's silver jubilee celebrations were under way the last time Brown tasted freedom. Barely out of his teens, he was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced for a murder he has always claimed he did not commit. The victim was a 56-year-old woman named Annie Walsh, who was found dead in her flat in Hulme, Manchester, on January 31 1977. Four months later, Brown was arrested. Within a day and a half he had broken down enough to scrawl his signature on a one-page confession that he has always claimed was false.

"In 1977 I'd just turned 20 and I was, like most young men, irresponsible and naive. But after the trial I was suddenly placed in an environment where violence was the norm. To say I had to grow up quickly is an understatement."

Brown's case is now being examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the body charged with investigating alleged miscarriages of justice. Officers from the CCRC have been examining the case for 18 months, and for the past three, Brown's lawyer, Robert Lizar, has been repeatedly told that a judgment as to whether his client's case will be referred back to the court of appeal is "imminent".

In the meantime, a high-profile campaign has been launched with support from Helena Kennedy QC, Chris Mullin MP, and former Guildford Four member and now human rights campaigner, Paul Hill. "Brown is really and truly the 'forgotten man' of the British judicial system and police malpractice in the 70s," says Hill, who served a year with Brown in Wormwood Scrubs. "I can tell you that Brown never fitted in in the Scrubs. Everyone knew that this man was innocent. It was a given. The prisoners, the staff, the governor and the visitors - they all knew he'd been fitted up."

In his summing up of the 1977 trial, Mr Justice Milmo stated: "The accused has made very serious allegations not against one police officer only but... against a large number of police officers, and that is probably the principal issue with which you will have to deal in your deliberations when you come to retire." Not surprisingly, the jury chose to believe a team of senior Greater Manchester Police (GMP) detectives over the solitary young man in the dock who constantly protested his innocence and told a story of beatings and coercion. Brown was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he serve at least 15 years. The last thing he shouted as he was led from the dock was, "I am innocent..."

"He was in a terrible state when his father and I visited him in the cells downstairs after he'd been sentenced," Margaret Brown, his 75-year-old mother, tells me. "He was wailing and crying ... He just kept saying over and over again, 'I didn't do it, I didn't do it.'" Margaret Brown is currently lying in a Glasgow hospital after undergoing a major operation for a serious illness. The prison service has twice allowed her son to visit her. Throughout the trips, Brown was chained to a prison warder in case he escaped. This was caught on film by BBC Scotland's Frontline series - the second time in 10 years that I have helped to make a documentary about his case.

I first became involved at the end of 1991 when I was making programmes for Channel 4. I made contact with Brown's lawyer in Manchester and began work on a Scottish Television documentary, which was broadcast in 1993. It led to a petition to the then home secretary, Michael Howard, for an appeal. This was refused.

In the intervening years I have come to know Brown well. We met many times, until the prison authorities tried to make me sign papers guaranteeing that I wouldn't extract information from him about his case: I refused and, with Brown's agreement, suspended prison visits. We have, however, talked by phone almost daily. During this time, governors and deputy governors have written to me expressing their belief in his innocence. I've lost count of the times prison visitors, psychologists and pastoral staff have expressed the same view. All express horror and frustration at how long it takes for someone like him to be exonerated.

Meanwhile, Brown refuses to participate in parole proceedings on the grounds of logic: how can he be paroled for something he didn't do?

When GMP officers arrived at 652 Charles Barry Crescent on January 31 1977, they found a brutal murder scene. Blood was splattered on walls, furniture and ceiling. The postmortem photos reveal 16 small, crescent-shaped injuries, mostly to Walsh's scalp, which caused her massive fatal brain haemorrhage. Later, a Home Office pathologist stated that she had been dead for between two and three days.

The police investigation appears flawed, to say the least. They decided that the motive for the murder was robbery - despite the fact that the victim's handbag, found at the scene of the crime, contained £241. They also claimed that the murder weapon was a lamp in the shape of a woman's head, although one was never found. The evidence of scene-of-the-crime photos - supported by Dr Jim Thorpe of Strathclyde University's renowned forensic department - suggests that a crowbar or metal tool was more than likely used.

None of this, however, is to suggest that the police didn't try to track down the killer. Thousands of statements were taken, and records of local mental hospitals were examined for someone capable of bludgeoning a harmless woman to death.

Annie Walsh was last seen coming home in the late afternoon on Friday 28. One witness, Margaret Jones, claimed that she was with a man. "He was 5ft 3in, very thin and rough looking. He was in his late 20s or early 30s, and had scratch marks on his face... He was white but his hair was shoulder length, Afro-style. It was matted at the back and looked very scruffy."

Within two months she was in a police station looking at a line-up of suspects. She picked out one, a 37-year-old man, but no charges were brought, and he was freed. Eventually, on May 18, the youthful, good-looking Brown was arrested at dawn. At the time he was living with his 16-year-old girlfriend, Cathy Shaw. She later claimed that when the police came, they punched him and threw her naked into a cupboard. Brown has consistently claimed that the arresting detectives did not charge him with murder, read him his rights or offer him a lawyer during the subsequent 32 hours of questioning. He was immediately put in an ID parade and picked out by Jones with the vague words: "He's the only one that looks like him."

Brown claims that later, during questioning, he was punched in the stomach and forced to do step-ups naked on a chair inside Moss Side police station while detectives laughed at the size of his genitals. In 1993, a source showed me a confidential Home Office document, which included a statement from a doctor at Risley remand centre who had examined Brown that May and found "a little tenderness in the area of the sternum and abdomen and could not exclude the possibility that this was caused by blows".

Brown alleges that a GMP serious crime squad detective named Jack Butler played a central role in these violent and abusive proceedings. Later it would emerge that Butler was convicted and sentenced for perverting the course of justice, and corruption in an unrelated case. Another witness has also contacted me in recent weeks, alleging that Butler violently beat him inside a Manchester police station and then allegedly tried to frame him for a robbery in the early 70s. This 63-year-old witness has said that he will testify in Brown's case should it come to the appeal court. When I put to Butler in 1993 the allegation that he had beaten Brown to extract a confession, he said "nothing untoward" had taken place. "I have made it quite clear that... I have no reason to believe that the conviction of Brown is unsound."

The police version is that Brown eventually admitted his guilt after heavy, skilled questioning. Brown claims otherwise. He says that after the beatings, the final straw was when detectives told him that Shaw had said he was guilty. He alleges that he signed the manufactured confession so that he could see her and proclaim his innocence. When they met, Shaw told him that she had never implicated him (she confirmed this to me in several on-the-record interviews before her death in 1993).

During the 25 years that Brown has been in prison, he has lost his father and sister, and is now on the verge of losing his mother. When his sister was dying in 1992, I watched him attempting several times to hug her while chained to a prison officer who refused to unlock the handcuffs. I was ashamed to even witness it. Two days later, she died. He wasn't allowed out for her funeral. "I wept all my tears in private," he later told me. "I'm used to it."

BBC News
12 June 2002
Killer's case goes to appeal

A man who has been in jail 25 years for a murder he says he did not commit has had his case referred to the Court of Appeal.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission has passed the case of Robert Brown to appeal judges. Brown, from Drumchapel in Glasgow, was convicted of the murder of Annie Walsh at Manchester Crown Court in October 1977. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

His application for leave to appeal against conviction was refused by the Court of Appeal in 1978. Brown has always insisted that the police framed him for the death of the 51-year-old Manchester spinster. However, new evidence has been brought to light which he claims proves his innocence.

BBC Scotland's Frontline programme featured Brown's case in April. Brown told the programme that corrupt police officers bullied, beat and broke him, and he signed a false confession.

The new evidence being considered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission includes scientific evidence linking another man to Miss Walsh's murder and expert analysis of Brown's alleged confession which concludes it was a false statement.

Miscarriages of justice

Paul Hill - one of the Guildford Four, who was falsely convicted of a pub bombing in the 1970s - shared a cell with Brown. He said: "There is a common thread going through all these miscarriages of justice in the 1970s.

"They were young men and women who were uneducated, who didn't have any experience of the world beyond the environment in which they lived and they were subject to police officers who had 30 or 40 years experience breaking down Britain's hardest criminals. It was incredibly easy."

Brown could have been freed on parole 10 years ago if he had admitted the crime. But he said his need to clear his name is stronger than his desire for freedom.

Guardian Unlimited
3 March 2002
Robert Brown won't get parole -
because he maintains his innocence of murder

By Amelia Hill

Margaret Brown is dying. Last week, allowed to see her for the first time in months, her son silently gazed at her shrunken form on the bed and moved forward. Then he stopped.

Turning to a policeman standing behind him, he asked the officer to move around the bed and raise his arm incongruously in the air: the steel chain attached to his handcuff was making it impossible for him to hug his mother.

Everybody laughed when the 'wanted' posters went up around Manchester's Bullring estate. It was January 1977 and it looked, Robert Brown said at the time, as if the police were searching for Rod Stewart.

Then he forgot about it and went back to his day-to-day life. The murder of 51-year-old Annie Walsh, battered to death in her home for no apparent reason, had horrified the neighbourhood but after four months and no police leads, people began to forget.

Until, that is, the May morning when the police beat down Brown's front door, hauled him out of bed, slapped his girlfriend and drove them both down to the police station.

It took five policemen 30 hours to break him down. The 19-year-old was threatened, intimidated and mocked, refused access to a lawyer, made to strip and shown a pair of unfamiliar, blood-soaked jeans which he was told proved his guilt.

'We all have a breaking point,' said Eamonn O'Neil, a campaigning television journalist who has been fighting for Brown's release for 11 years. 'By the end, he would have signed anything, which is exactly what he ended up doing.'

The trial at Manchester Crown Court was, by all accounts, a farce, but the judge told the jury that to find in Brown's favour would be to accuse six policemen of lying. 'This was before any of today's high-profile cases of police corruption,' said O'Neil. 'In 1977, it was incomprehensible that a policeman would lie on oath.'

The jury found Brown guilty and the judge sent him down for a minimum of 15 years. A quarter of a century later, however, Brown is still in jail. Now that Stephen Downing, imprisoned for 28 years for a murder he did not commit, has been released, Brown is the victim of Britain's longest-running alleged miscarriage of justice.

Brown, like Downing, has been classified by the Home Office as being IDOM, in denial of murder, and not even the impressive list of prison governors, guards and psychiatrists supporting his claims of innocence can win him parole.

'For the Parole Board, being IDOM is the worst-ever category. It's a staggering injustice,' said Don Hale, the human rights campaigner whose battle against the authorities secured Downing's release. 'Prisoners with that label are considered more dangerous than someone who is genuinely guilty of murder.'

Hale's book about his battle is the basis for the forthcoming BBC film In Denial Of Murder. 'When I contacted the Home Office about Stephen's case, their attitude was that he would be treated literally as scum and his file would stay at the bottom of the pile until he admitted his guilt,' he said. 'The whole thing was completely horrendous; by the end, the prison authorities were practically pleading with him to say he was guilty because they knew there was no way he was going to be let out as long as he kept maintaining his innocence.'

Downing's case hit the headlines but Hale, who receives hundreds of letters a month from prisoners insisting they too have been unjustly imprisoned, is adamant that Downing's case is far from unusual.

'There's a feeling that Stephen's case is exceptional; that he was innocent but most are not,' said Hale. 'That's patently untrue: we've seen a stream of innocent men released from jail over the last few years but the Home Office still refuses to admit the system gets it wrong.'

O'Neil agrees. 'Robert's is a lonely case but a distressingly typical one,' he said. 'It's a nightmare the rest of us simply can't imagine.'

After their initial appeal has been turned down, there are two ways lifers can get a sentence revoked: by the Parole Board and the Court of Appeal, via the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Brown, who is waiting to see whether the commission refers his case back to the Court of Appeal, is keeping his hopes in check: prisoners, campaigners, independent experts and even members of the boards all admit the system is not only loaded against those who refuse to accept guilt but that it punishes those who continue to insist on their innocence.

Between April and July last year, 22 per cent of those who maintained their innocence were granted parole compared with 46 per cent of all prisoners.

Jo Dobry, a member of the Parole Board, is adamant that there is no prejudice towards IDOMs. 'Those who claim to be innocent possibly do make life more difficult for us and it's true that we take as fact that prisoners have been rightly convicted,' she conceded. 'But the myth that we have a policy of not recommend ing the release of murderers who maintain their innocence is completely wrong.'

Kevin McNamara MP, a member of Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights, disagrees. 'The Parole Board may claim they do not penalise prisoners for insisting on their innocence but I believe that claim is disingenuous in the extreme,' he said. 'The IDOMs I meet repeatedly tell me of the pressure they are put under to admit guilt in order to progress through prison as quickly as possible.'

Those who resist, he says, suffer abuse and discrimination. 'The treatment received by those who refuse to give in needs to be looked at by the Home Affairs Committee or by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.'

His call is echoed by members of the Criminal Cases Review Commission itself. 'Whether the Parole Board claims it is the case or not, we have seen documents proving that people do see a conflict between getting parole and maintaining their protestations of innocence,' said Tony Foster, a member of the commission and former chief executive of ICI. 'There is no question that this is a state of affairs that is absolutely wrong.'

The CCRC was established in 1997 in the wake of the Birmingham Six case. While undeniably slow and despite arguments over the cases it chooses to consider - taking up cases where the prisoners have died, for example, before those where the claimants are still alive - most feel the commission is relatively efficient.

There is a widespread feeling, however, that it is thwarted by the Court of Appeal: of the 150 cases the CCRC has referred back to the Court of Appeal in the past five years, Foster estimates just over half have been heard, one third of which have been rejected.

'The Court of Appeal has an almost inbuilt bias in keeping people in prison,' said John McDonnell MP, a campaigner against miscarriages of justice. 'It's full of judges who are dyed-in-the-wool-types who err on the side of caution, demanding a standard of evidence that is almost impossibly high.'

For those like Brown, forced to choose between staying in prison while his mother fades away or admitting a heinous crime, the struggle can be overwhelming. As the police led him back to prison last week, he clutched a photo of the two of them together; the chain and handcuff still tugging on his wrist.

See also:
Extra time for being in denial

The Scotsman
20 January 2002
Scottish Stephen Downing
bids to clear his name

Liam McDougall Home Affairs Correspondent

A Scot jailed 25 years ago for bludgeoning a spinster to death in her home is set to have his case sent back to the Court of Appeal after securing powerful new evidence of his innocence.

In a case with striking parallels to that of Stephen Downing, lawyers for Robert Brown say the 44-year-old was the victim of falsified police confessions. They say investigators at the independent Criminal Cases Review Commission have compiled a dossier of evidence which all but clears their client of killing Annie Walsh on Manchester's Hulme estate in January 1977.

An alibi witness has been traced whom Brown, then 19, has always claimed was at a football match with him when the killing took place.

New information - never heard at the original trial - shows that clothing fibre was found on another suspect which was consistent with clothes worn by the victim.

Claims that Brown's confession to police was fabricated by detectives and extracted only after hours of physical and psychological torture, have also been backed up by linguistic experts.

Further doubt has been cast over the confession after the conviction of Jack Butler, a senior detective with Greater Manchester Police's Serious Crime Squad who conducted the confession, for corruption in a separate case.

Finally, the post mortem evidence also did not match what Brown was supposed to have told police.

The papers are expected to be lodged at the Court of Appeal within weeks and if successful, Brown, from Drumchapel in Glasgow, could be in line to receive millions of pounds in compensation.

He is now one of the longest serving prisoners in the country who claims his conviction was a miscarriage of justice

Last Tuesday, Downing - who was the longest - had his conviction quashed. Like Brown, the 45-year-old, was said to have battered his female victim in the 1970s and claimed his confession to police was false. He is now set to claim £2m in damages.

Brown's solicitor, Robert Lizar, said: "Robert's case has all the hallmarks of a classic miscarriage of justice. It has striking parallels with the Downing case as both involve a disputed confession from young and vulnerable defendants.

"We are hoping for a positive decision from the Criminal Cases Review Commission at the end of the month so the case can be sent back to the Court of Appeal."

Brown is currently a Category C prisoner in low-security Haverigg Jail in Cumbria.

His case first came to light in the early 1990s when government minister Lord Gus Macdonald, then an executive at STV, made a television documentary about it.

Brown was sentenced in October 1977 at Manchester Crown Court to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure for the murder of Walsh and lost a subsequent appeal.

Walsh, 51, had just finished work for the day in a factory in Manchester when she walked home with groceries on January 28, 1977. Three days later she was found dead at her home by a visiting electricity meter reader. She had been killed by repeated blows to the skull, leaving her unrecognisable.

No money was taken from the flat after the attack and more than £200 in wages was left untouched in her purse. The murder weapon has never been recovered, although police decided it was a missing table lamp.

Brown's confession claimed he dumped the murder weapon down the rubbish chute, but a police search of the area immediately after the discovery of the body found nothing.

Nearly two months into the investigation Manchester police placed a 37-year-old suspect in an identification parade. Despite being picked out by a witness, the man was freed.

Later, in May, the police arrested Brown, a drifter who led an unsettled life in Scotland and who had brushes with the law before moving to Hulme and living in a series of flats.

Since the trial Brown has consistently denied murder and remained ineligible for parole, which would have freed him in 1988.

His case has now been taken up by the campaign group, the Miscarriage of Justice Organisation, headed by Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six.

Last night, speaking from his cell, Brown said: "They can't give me justice, I realise that. All I'm asking for now is the truth to be revealed.

"I feel the system has attempted to dehumanise me. It has never tried to rehabilitate me. I am not responsible for the victim's death. All I want now is to get acquitted and get my life back again. I just want to put my arms around my mother."

His mother Margaret, 73, who lives alone in her Glasgow flat, said: "I know that he is innocent and that is what keeps me going. I'm getting tired after all the years of fighting and travelling down to England to see him in jail. Getting him out of there is all that I live for."

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