Criminal appeals and delayed justice, over 40 years on
Ordinarily, criminal appeals must be lodged within a relatively short period following trial. Late requests often stand little prospect of success.
This extraordinary case illustrates exceptions to that rule, particularly where modern forensic techniques lead to the clear conclusion that the convicted person is innocent.
Janet Commins was born on 9 June 1960. One evening in January 1976, she left her home in Flint to meet friends at the local swimming baths. She left a note for her parents to say that she would be back at around 8.30 pm. She saw her friends at the baths and was sighted close to her home in the company of two teenage boys at about 8.10. Some time between 8.15 and 8.45 she called to see a friend who lived a few doors away from her. She was told they were not in. After 9.00 pm, when the baths were closed, Janet’s parents became increasingly concerned and at 11.00 pm they reported her missing. On the following morning children playing on rough ground adjacent to Gwyneth Primary School found Janet’s body concealed in bushes.
Noel Jones had just turned 17 and was interviewed by the police. Following an admission that he made to his girlfriend, he was charged with murder.
The admissions Jones made were denied during the investigation process, and he did not have the legal protections that are now available to suspects.
Jones pleaded not guilty to murder. However, on the third day of his trial, he changed his plea to one of guilty of manslaughter. That plea was acceptable to the court, and he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. Regrettably, however, that was not an accurate indication of guilt.
As there was a possibility of a second offender, the enquiry was left open. In 2017 a second man was convicted of sexual assault and the manslaughter of Janet.
The forensic evidence, not available when Noel Jones was charged, disclosed that Jones was not guilty of any crime. There had been a lone attacker, and that person was not Noel Jones. It was a man named Stephen Hough. Hough was linked to the offence when his DNA was taken in connection with an unrelated offence. He was convicted of manslaughter in 2017, and jailed for 12 years.
Court of Appeal
In January 2019 the Court of Appeal quashed Jones’ conviction commenting:
‘… the appellant can leave court wholly exonerated of involvement in this terrible crime.’
‘Our system of criminal justice is, of course, human and errors can be made however strenuous the efforts to ensure that evidence is properly and appropriately collected and placed before the court.
The pressures of being interviewed by the police are clearly real and the protections introduced by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 have done much to address, to such extent as it is possible, the pressures on those arrested and being interviewed.
In this case, however, it is clear that a serious injustice was done for an innocent man felt constrained to admit a grave criminal offence, not sharing the true position with his own legal team.
Many years have passed since he was released from prison but we hope that the quashing of his conviction and the contents of this judgment start to address the injustice that was done to him.’
How we can assist
If you need specialist advice in relation to any criminal investigation or prosecution, from the initial investigation through to court proceedings, please get in touch. Call John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us help.
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.