For more than four decades Tony Stock fought to clear his name for his part in the brutal robbery in Leeds city centre.
It was 6.47pm on Saturday, January 24, 1970 when a gang of four men, tooled up with coshes, rushed a Tesco store manager and his colleague as they walked the short distance from the store in the Merrion Centre to the Midland Bank to cash up just over £4,000 of takings. There was a brief and chaotic fight that left the manager bleeding profusely from a head wound and fractured fingers.
“If you want a go, come on,” one of the gang was alleged to have threatened another Tesco employee, brandishing a chisel within inches of his face. That employee – the warehouse manager – was the only witness who was later able to identify any alleged member of the gang that night.
The man he identified was Tony Stock. However, Stock insisted that he was celebrating his 31st birthday with his wife Brenda and four children at their home on Stockton-on-Tees, more than an hour’s drive from Leeds.
That alibi would ultimately count for very little. In July the same year at Leeds Assizes, Stock was convicted of the robbery, the judge sentencing to 10 years in prison. The verdict did nothing to change his version of events. From his arrest onwards, he insisted he was innocent and while in prison he spent 100 days on a hunger strike in the hope of further raising public awareness.
It was to be the start of a long and frustrating journey through the English system, which would see Tony’s case go back to the Court of Appeal four times, the first time in 1971 and the last time less than five years ago. The Stock case achieved the dubious distinction of being the first and only case to have been referred back to the Appeal judges for a second time by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The CCRC was established as an independent body to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice in 1997 in the wake of a series of scandals such as the Birmingham Six.
Some would have given up. Tony Stock, however, never stopped fighting. Weeks before his death from a heart condition last November, he was spending his pension trying to clear his name.
Now his fight goes on. At the end of last year the Labour’s Barry Sheerman tabled an early day motion noting “with deep regret and sadness the recent death of... one of the most outrageous miscarriages of justice of modern times.” The MP for Huddersfield called on his solicitor, Glyn Maddocks, and supporters to “continue to work to achieve posthumous justice for Tony and his family.”
“The case of Tony Stock is undoubtedly the most outrageous miscarriage of justice. There isn’t a case more clear-cut than his,” says Maddocks. The solicitor first advised Stock in 1994 and, since then he has acted in numerous cases of wrongful conviction, including Paul Blackburn, whose conviction for the attempted murder and sexual assault of a nine-year-old boy was quashed after 25 years in 2005 and Johnny Kamara, whose conviction for murder was quashed in 2000 after 17 years.
“The case ruined Stock’s life,” says Maddocks. “He was obsessed with it and overturning the conviction was going to be his legacy. It is so sad that he has not achieved that.” That his conviction still stands is “an indictment of our criminal justice system. It has to be part of its legacy of shame,” Maddocks says.
Stock had assumed that his name would be cleared when a Yorkshire Post reporter contacted him in 1979 to tell him that a supergrass called Samuel Benefield had confessed to his role in the robbery. Benefield pleaded guilty to a number of robberies implicating himself and four other members of the Thursday Gang, a vicious collection of East London criminals in the Leeds case in 1979.
“I would have been the first of the miscarriages of justice,” Stock once told me. “When Benefield turned supergrass the newspapers reported the story as: ‘Man innocent after supergrass confesses’ – but it wasn’t to be.” That confession formed the basis of a 1979 World in Action programme and the momentum appeared to be moving in Stock’s favour. However, the Home Secretary at the time, Willie Whitelaw, declined to refer Stock’s case back to the Appeal court after deeply flawed investigation into the robbery by the West Yorkshire Metropolitan Police. As Stock saw it: “There was this spate of cases: the Birmingham Six, the Bridgewater Four and the Cardiff Three. Each one was another nail in my coffin.”
It wasn’t until 1996 that the case was sent back to the Appeal judges for a second time. That time, Benefield appeared as a witness at the Royal Courts of Justice but his evidence was deemed not be credible.
“If anyone seriously believes the Court of Appeal has reformed itself since the dark days of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, they should study the unreported and amazing case of Tony Stock,” wrote the investigating journalist Paul Foot in Private Eye back in 1996. Foot was one of a number of campaigning journalists who looked with bewilderment on the case, but despite mounting pressure, Stock’s convictions remained. There were further visits to the Court of Appeal in 2004 and 2008, all to no avail.
Ralph Barrington was the investigations adviser at the CCRC when it was set up in 1997 until he retired in 2011.
“Looking at this case objectively – from the original investigation, the reinvestigation, four separate appeals and the CCRC’s own reviews – so much has gone so wrong,” he says. “I would have thought that the injustice done to Tony was fairly self-evident and yet his conviction still stands. I find this very difficult to accept.”
The Stock case is a complicated one and Barrington, a former head of Essex CID, argues only an appreciation of the accumulation of evidence pointing away from his guilt can properly explain how he came to be wrongly convicted and why this injustice has been perpetuated.
“People won’t be surprised to read that injustices occurred in the 1970s, but if they knew what happened in the Stock case they wouldn’t believe it,” Barrington says. He hopes a full account of Stock’s case will expose the extent of the injustice – even if the courts cannot.
The prosecution case rested on weak identification evidence and controversial use of incriminating verbal evidence – a practice known as “verballing”. The day after the robbery, the one witness – the warehouse manager – worked with a police artist to create an artist’s impression of the robber plus identikit impression. The connection with Stock was made by a senior Bradford police officer. Stock, who has never hidden his criminal record prior to the Leeds raid, had been acquitted of a robbery in Bradford two years earlier.
Following Stock’s refusal to stand on an identification parade, officers paid another surprise visit – this time with the witness – effectively staging a confrontation. The warehouse manager identified him as the robber and so began a series of events which would lead to Stock’s conviction and his life long fight to clear his name.
I am currently researching a book for the Waterside Press about the Tony Stock case that continues to nag away at the conscious of the criminal justice system. In the dismal roll call of miscarriages of justice, there are many alleged crimes far more heinous than central events of this 1970 robbery – that’s not to diminish what was a violent and terrifying robbery. The significance of the Stock case is how the appeal judges have so doggedly stuck to a version of events that have been seemingly so comprehensively demolished.
There is more information on the Tony Stock case at www.thejusticegap.com. If you recall the 1970 robbery or any events surrounding the case of Tony Stock, email Jon Robins at [email protected]
TOLL OF LEGAL MISCARRIAGES
The Criminal Cases Review Commission was established in 1997 to look at possible miscarriage of justice cases.
Since then, the commission has received 50,000 applications.
Of the 675 cases heard by the Court of Appeal, 320 convictions has been quashed, 134 upheld and four reserved.
Three lawyers, including Glyn Maddocks, who represented Tony Socks, are now behind a new organisation called the Centre for Criminal Appeals which will support the investigation of potential miscarriages of justice.
They say resources at the CCRC are stretched and the body which was set up to help victims of miscarriage of justice is struggling to cope with its caseload.