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
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The MET police in London announced this week that it was ‘not practical’ to investigate certain low level crimes in London due to a strain on budget and future savings that are required to be made.
According to New Scotland Yard, there would be a shift towards ‘empowering our officers’ to assess for themselves whether it was proportionate to investigate offences such as shoplifting, criminal damage and car crime. If the complainant in a case was not willing to attend court or the value of the loss/damage was relatively low there could be a decision not to even investigate.
The MET current working procedures
Currently when a complaint is made the police will investigate and make an arrest, or interview voluntarily, if they have reasonable grounds to suspect a particular person’s involvement. If a decision cannot be made about that particular case, the suspect is either bailed to return to the police station or ‘released under investigation’ (RUI). In bail cases the police will work towards making a decision by a particular date; in RUI cases the matter is left open indefinitely whilst investigative work continues.
Increasingly, often due to workload, we have found that RUI cases do not appear to be actively investigated by officers as they do not seem to be high priority. This leaves both suspects and complainants not knowing what will happen to their case. For a complainant, this could leave them feeling justice is not done; for suspects, there will be no way of knowing whether they will face charge and potential criminal proceedings.
Has the MET really thought about the negative consequences of this cut?
There are numerous concerns we have with the proposals laid out by the MET. One of which is the stage at which the decision not to investigate will be made. If made at the point of complaint the effect is likely to be that there are no arrests; this could potentially lead to an emboldening of suspects. If a person inclined towards theft knows that there is a no investigation policy for theft below £50 they are likely to more carefully plan their theft so that it falls below that particular threshold. What is likely to happen is that there is a shift towards lower value theft but in far greater volumes.
If there is no investigation, and of course no arrest, charge and sentence to follow, victims will be left out of pocket and with a feeling that justice has not been done. This could lead to shops and retailers having to tighten their own security, the cost of which is almost inevitably going to pass to the innocent consumer.
Perhaps more worrying is the possibility that retailers and individuals alike may dispense their own justice. If a low-priority theft is not investigated, will it follow that a low-level assault committed on a suspected shoplifter also not be investigated? With budget cuts likely to continue will the new policy be extended; ie the threshold extended to £100?
Policing and law enforcement must not be cut: the criminal justice system is in danger!
We have all had to deal with the years of austerity and cut-backs, but policing and law enforcement is one of the key areas that simply cannot be cut. The criminal justice system is already at breaking point with decrepit prison conditions, prosecution failings, legal aid cuts and court closures. Of course there has to be prioritisation of certain criminal offences, but it should not be at the cost of properly policing and enforcing lower level offences.
If you require representation at the police station or court contact our team on 020 7388 1658 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Duncan Roberts, SolicitorRead More