Appeal court frees ‘innocent’ man convicted of brutal killing

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A YOUNG man who has always proclaimed his innocence over a murder in 2004 has been released from prison after serving more than seven years of his 12-year life sentence in a dramatic twist in his case at the Court of Appeal.

Sam Hallam, 24, from Hoxton, east London, whom lawyers described as the victim of a “serious miscarriage of justice”, was released on bail by leading judges yesterday after prosecutors announced they were not opposing his challenge against conviction.

Mr Hallam, who was 18 when he was found guilty at the Old Bailey and sentenced to life for the murder of a trainee chef, was released from the cells at the Royal Courts of Justice in London to be greeted by emotional family members and dozens of tearful and cheering supporters.

His mother Wendy Cohen, 53, who hugged her dazed-looking son, said the family was in a state of shock over the turn of events.

Surrounded by well-wishers she said: “My family has been through hell. It has been torture for Sam and the whole family.”

Among those greeting Mr Hallam were his brothers Terry, 31, and Danny, 29, and sister Daisy, 16. His father, Terry, was found hanged in October 2010.

Mr Hallam, who had earlier listened to proceedings from the dock of a packed courtroom, was hurried into a waiting car which sped away up Fleet Street as car horns honked and supporters whooped.

He was convicted in October 2005 of the murder of Essayas Kassahun, 21, who died after being attacked by a group of youths on St Luke’s estate in Clerkenwell, London, in October 2004. Mr Kassahun, who was Ethiopian, was attacked with spiked bats and knives after trying to save a friend who was the real target of the group.

Mr Hallam, who was arrested nine days after the killing, was one two men found guilty of the murder. The other, Bullabek Ringbiong, then 20, was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years.

Since his conviction, his family and friends have mounted a high-profile campaign insisting Mr Hallam is innocent. His case came before the appeal judges after it was referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent body which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.

Lady Justice Hallett, sitting with Mr Justice Openshaw and Mr Justice Spencer, will give their ruling in the case at noon today, when they are expected to quash his conviction.

During yesterday’s hearing, Mr Hallam’s QC Henry Blaxland told the judges a miscarriage of justice was brought about by a combination of factors – including failure by the police to properly investigate Hallam’s alibi and by non-disclosure of material by the prosecution that “could have supported his case”.

Summarising the grounds of challenge, he said: “It is our case that this appellant Sam Hallam – and I put it boldly – has been the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice brought about by a combination of manifestly unreliable identification evidence, the apparent failure of his own alibi, failure by police properly to investigate his alibi and non-disclosure by the prosecution of material that could have supported his case.”

The prosecution case against Mr Hallam was based principally on the evidence of two witnesses who said they were present at the murder scene and saw the then 17-year-old take part in the attack. Mr Hallam says he was elsewhere on the night of the killing.

An appeal against his conviction was dismissed in March 2007 and he applied to the CCRC to review his case in February 2008.

The CCRC said it did so because it a range of issues, including new evidence , raise the real possibility that the Court of Appeal would quash the conviction.