Conviction quashed – after 25 years in jail

A man who has served 25 years behind bars protesting he was the victim of police corruption could be in line for millions of pounds in compensation payment after the Court of Appeal yesterday overturned his murder conviction.

Robert Brown, now 45, from Glasgow, who was jailed for life in 1977 for murdering a Manchester spinster, Annie Walsh, 51, was freed by three judges in London who ruled that the guilty verdict against him "cannot be regarded as safe".

Lord Justice Rose, Mr Justice Gibbs and Mr Justice Davis heard that, unknown to the jury or the trial judge, one of the police officers central to the case, Det Chief Insp Jack Butler, was "deeply corrupt".

Brown, who would have been eligible for parole 10 years ago but for his insistence that he was not the person who had brutally bludgeoned Miss Walsh to death, emerged jubilant from the cells at the Royal Courts of Justice, to be hugged and applauded by wellwishers.

He said: "Today was a victory. My conviction was an indictment against the whole criminal justice system. I wholeheartedly blame the police – it's they who should be held responsible.

"The criminal justice system buried this for 25 years. They knew it existed. They kept me in custody to ensure that the criminal justice system was in working order."

Brown, who always insisted police bullied him into signing a false confession, said he would never have given up the bid to clear his name.

"I would have fought this for the next 25 years if I'd had to. It's nothing to do with freedom, it's to do with justice, liberty and truth."

Brown paid tribute to his 75-year-old mother Margaret's "loving strength".

"I have just spoken to her. She's overwhelmed by emotion but she's happy and looking forward to us spending some time together."

He said: "They could have let me out on bail in July, but they didn't show me any compassion, any humanity, even during my mother's illness – and that absolutely disgusted me."

He said he would have to sit down with his lawyers before deciding whether to pursue compensation.

"Money will not compensate me for the loss of my life. It will not compensate my mother and it will not compensate the victim or the victim's family.

"They have been forgotten in all this, they have not received justice."

Brown's solicitor, Robert Lizar, said he could be entitled to "very substantial" compensation, running into millions, but stressed that the case was not about money, but about "regaining his good name".

He also commented: "I will be urging Manchester police to reopen the investigation into the murder, because the family of Annie Walsh have not been properly served by the justice system in any way."

In a statement issued after the ruling, the force said: "Greater Manchester Police have provided full assistance to the Court of Appeal in the case of Robert Brown, and we are aware of today's decision, which has cast doubt on the original evidence in this case and overturned Mr Brown's conviction.

"We would like to reassure the people of Greater Manchester that procedures under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act now provide safeguards for both suspects and officers. These include recording of the interview process, and advanced forensic techniques."

Ben Emmerson QC, for Brown, told the judges: "The appellant's case is, and always has been, that the only document ever recorded in his presence was a written confession statement.

"He gave evidence at trial that this statement was the product of the officers deliberately putting words into his mouth – that none of the information contained in the statement came from him and that none of it was true.

"He said that he was intimidated into signing the statement by threats of violence and a number of actual physical assaults; and that the other confession statements, which the officers claimed were contemporaneously recorded, were nothing of the sort.

"They were subsequently concocted accounts, based on the single confession statement he had been intimidated into signing."

He said three principal grounds of appeal were advanced on Brown's behalf – "fresh evidence of Butler's corruption", expert linguist evidence relating to the confession statement, and the failure of the Crown to disclose evidence of a positive match between a fibre found on Miss Walsh's coat and a jumper seized from a different suspect, Robert Hill.

Mr Emmerson said two professors of linguistics had both given evidence that it was more likely than not that the account given by the police officers in evidence relating to the confession statement was untrue.

Referring to the "integrity" of Mr Butler, counsel said: "Unknown either to the trial judge or to the jury, Mr Butler was deeply corrupt."

Mr Emmerson added: "Not only had he been involved in serious corruption himself, but he had presided over a conspiracy of corrupt police officers at Platt Lane police station (Manchester) between 1973 and 1979.

"The evidence strongly suggests these officers had engaged in corruption amounting to a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice over a period of years, which both pre-dated and post-dated the appellant's arrest."

Brown's case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.

Mr Butler, who was jailed for four years in 1983 for attempting to pervert the course of justice and accepting bribes, is now believed to be working as a private investigator.