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Murder trial identity fears

PUBLISHED: 11:34 25 June 2008 | UPDATED: 13:17 24 August 2010

By Lorraine King and Alex Wellman Government chiefs are rushing through legislation that would prevent accused killers from knowing the identity of anyone giving evidence against them. Jack Straw, Justice Secretary, is thrashing out the c

By Lorraine King and Alex Wellman

Government chiefs are rushing through legislation that would prevent accused killers from knowing the identity of anyone giving evidence against them.

Jack Straw, Justice Secretary, is thrashing out the change of law after the murder conviction of a Hackney man was quashed.

Special measures including anonymity for witnesses became an integral part of Operation Trident's cases following the well-publicised case of Sophie Lewis.

The 22-year-old had agreed to give evidence against her former partner Ricky Sweeney, 19, who had been charged with killing Dean Roberts, 20, in Harlesden, in July 1999.

Accomplices of Sweeney tried to kill Miss Lewis on two separate occasions to prevent her from giving evidence.

However, Miss Lewis bravely took to the witness stand while recovering from her injuries sustained in the second attempt at her life.

She has since been given a new identity and lives in a secret location under the witness protection scheme.

The issue was brought to a head following a successful appeal by Iain Davis, who was jailed in 2004 for gunning down three men.

Law Lords ruled last week the trial was unfair as the prosecution was solely reliant on anonymous witness statements.

He will now have a retrial.

Delroy Elliot from Sudbury, has been at the forefront of anti-knife and gun crime campaigning following the death of his 17-year-old son Anton Hyman.

Anton was shot, stabbed and thrown in the River Brent in March 2004. His killers have never been caught.

Mr Elliot said: "This ruling will cause a knock-on effect for other cases.

"There should be a sense of panic because all the hard work Trident has done to persuade people to come forward.

"This ruling will give convicted killers a platform for appeal and their lawyers will be jumping on it.

"In a lot of cases there is no DNA so there is nothing to rely on except witnesses.

"I just hope and pray that the Government will push this legislation through as quickly as possible so witnesses can feel safe about coming forward."

At present the decision to allow witnesses to give evidence anonymously is done so under 'common practice' which is why the Law Lords were able to quash the conviction of Mr Davis. They will be unable to do so once the procedure becomes legislative.

Cllr Hayley Matthews, Brent Council member for community safety, said: "I fully support special measures as it's one of the things that helps police convict people.

"Cases often fall through because people are unwilling to put their name forward understandably, for fear of reprisals.

"It is important that people do feel that they are going to be kept safe. At the end of the day you should not be able to get away with murder."

Det Supt Gary Richardson from Operation Trident said: "The community we serve who need this legislation will be protected under this legislation."

lorraine.king@archant.co.uk

alex.wellman@archant.co.uk


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