Once an investigative strategy has been decided on a case our work can begin. As previously mentioned we do not hold a view on innocence but hope to conduct or commission new work which may yield results worthy of being considered in a court of law. Sometimes, the results we achieve do not exculpate a prisoner but quite the reverse: they go further to suggest the conviction is safe. We seek all new evidence and will not flinch from commissioning a new test which is just as capable of proving guilt as it is proving innocence.
In one of our early cases we were contacted by a young man convicted of a very violent rape and assault. A woman had been attacked in her own home. Fingerprint evidence from a photograph in the flat led police to a known burglar who was subsequently convicted. He protested his innocence from the start. Our Advisory Panel agreed the case should go forward for a fuller investigation as the evidence against him was fairly slim and it did not fit his usual modus operandi which was to enter empty homes via an open door or window and make off with goods of an easy re-sale value. He always pleaded guilty. He never interacted with anyone who happened to be present in the premises. In this crime there was no burglary and the attacker had gained entry after knocking at the front door. There was also some concern the victim may have known her attacker, though the man in prison was not known to her.
A full forensic review was conducted by scientists from our Advisory Panel who established that at trial there had been extremely limited DNA evidence from an intimate swab taken from the victim soon after the attack. This was of very low evidential value at the time of the trial. Our strategy, with the prisoner’s agreement, was go commission new work on this exhibit to see if new techniques could establish the donor of the male DNA on the swab from this victim.
We secured access to the stored exhibits and permissions to conduct the new work. We worked with the existing solicitor who gained Legal Aid to pay, in part, for new work. New tests were commissioned which ultimately showed that new techniques applied gave a much stronger indication that the man in prison was the donor of the DNA found on the intimate swab from the victim. The case was closed.
A male rape case was another where our strategy rested on applying new DNA techniques. This time a complex, mixed DNA profiles from the victim had, at the time of the trial, only partly implicated the man in prison. We agreed to take this case on; it was a stranger rape apparently committed by somebody quite late in life who had no similar history coupled with fairly limited evidence at trial. Ultimately though our investigation revealed two things: firstly, there was a long history of allegations, albeit they had not all progressed to court, of violence against women. Secondly, new DNA work we commissioned ultimately strengthened the evidence against the prisoner.
Whenever we are contacted about a case we make it clear that we expect complete honesty at all times. In one past case we were approached by the family of a young man who had served nearly the entire minimum tariff for murder. This was a rape and murder case at the end of an evening when two acquaintances had spent the night socialising together. The violence, on face value, was entirely out of character. There were no previous convictions at all and no allegations of a propensity to a loss of control or violence. The pair’s association earlier in the evening was the starting point of the police investigation and remained one of the strongest planks of the prosecution case at trial. His family had spent the past 15 years campaigning on his behalf, attending miscarriage of justice conferences and trying to raise awareness of their son’s plight. Inside Justice agreed to take the case on.
After gaining access to all of the trial papers we reviewed the evidence and started to re-evaluate what witnesses had said. We reconsidered CCTV evidence and searched for new evidence of similar attacks elsewhere. With the assistance of members of our Advisory Panel we reviewed the murder as a cold-case and considered where forensic possibilities might lie. We intended to gain access to the crime scene exhibits and set about formalising a forensic strategy to prioritise new tests. However, we became concerned about the case and the speed with which the man in prison had progressed through the prison system.
The Parole Board of England and Wales has long since acknowledged that protestations of innocence can lead to people being incarcerated far longer than their tariff. To be released from a life sentence, a prisoner must be able to demonstrate they are no longer a danger to society. Many people imprisoned for crimes they have not committed refuse to undertake offender behaviour work which requires them to discuss their ‘index’ crime and work through how they would avoid committing such an offence in the future. Whilst there are examples of life sentence prisoners who say they are innocent being released on licence before their conviction is quashed, they are the exception.
In the rape and murder case we were investigating, the prisoner’s progress through the prison estate had been swift. This raised concern the prisoner might have admitted to the crime within prison but had been unable to admit the same to his family. Eventually we discovered the prisoner was unwilling to allow us access to his psychology and offending behaviour reports which would detail what he had admitted privately to course tutors. Whilst we have sympathy for this man’s family and their lengthy and heartfelt campaign we feel unable to continue to assist in this case.