Confessions in widow murder trial 'unreliable'

Robert Sutcliffe

A WOMAN convicted of murdering her grandmother after her sister secretly tape recorded her confession before handing it to police launched a battle for her freedom yesterday.

Julie Kenyon, who was jailed for life in 2003 at the age of 46, was present in the dock at the Court of Appeal in London for the proceedings before three senior judges.

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Her QC Paul Dunkels told them that her appeal was founded on fresh expert psychological and psychiatric evidence relating to three confessions she made over the death of 89-year-old widow Irene Waters at the home they shared in Halifax, in 1996.

Mr Dunkels submitted that the evidence established that at the time she made those confessions she was suffering from a “personality disorder” and that the confessions should now be regarded as “unreliable”.

That disorder, he argued, was “relevant and significant to any question about the reliability of any of those confessions”.

Kenyon was convicted by a majority verdict at Newcastle Crown Court of murder.

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In a tape recording made by her sister Carol in a Halifax town centre pub, Kenyon confessed to smothering her grandmother, with a pillow because she had asked her to help her die.

The hearing follows a referral of Kenyon’s case to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, (CCRC), an independent body which investigates possible miscarriages of justice. Kenyon’s defence at her trial was that she had made false confessions because she had felt under pressure from family members to confess and told them what they wanted hear.

Mr Dunkels told Lord Justice Hughes, Mr Justice MacKay and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones that her murder conviction was based solely on three confessions – one to her mother, another to family friend Kevin Donegan in 2001 and then to her sister.

An inquest held soon after the death of Mrs Waters concluded that she had died of natural causes. The QC said: “Without those confessions there would have been no evidence of an unlawful killing at all.”

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Kenyon’s appeal is being contested by the Crown. The hearing was adjourned until Friday, February 19 for the legal submissions to be completed.

Mr Dunkels said: “The prosecution case relied upon the truthfulness of those confessions – first to establish that a murder had been committed at all and second that the appellant was responsible for that murder.

“There was no other evidence that Mrs Waters had been unlawfully killed as opposed to having died of natural causes, as was the original conclusion.”

It is being argued on Kenyon’s behalf by Mr Dunkels that she was suffering from an “emotionally unstable personality disorder” which would have been “all-pervading back in 2000 and 2001 at the time of the confessions”.

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He said: “It is our submission that the evidence of her personality disorder should be taken into account when considering the reliability of her confessions...”

Kenyon, of Dodgeholme Court, Mixenden, Halifax, did not appeal following her conviction, but applied to the CCRC in October 2003.

The CCRC later announced it had decided to refer her conviction to the Court of Appeal “in light of new expert psychological and psychiatric evidence gathered by the commission which raises the real possibility that the court may quash the murder conviction on appeal”.

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