Justice at Last!

At 14.01 pm on Wednesday 16 May 2012, prosecutor David Hatton QC stood up in Court 8 of the Royal Courts of Justice. Having listened to opening arguments advanced by Henry Blaxland QC in Sam Hallam’s appeal against conviction, Mr Hatton announced, the Crown would no longer oppose the appeal. There was a second or two’s silence while his words were absorbed by Sam’s supporters packed into the court’s public seats. A sustained roar of approval followed as those present realised that the long campaign for justice for Sam Hallam was over. The Vice President of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division), Lady Justice Hallett called for restored silence stating “I will not have my court turned into a circus”.

Those of us sitting in the legal benches were necessarily more restrained in our reaction to the Crown’s announcement. I could not but reflect how five years earlier, a much smaller band of supporters listened as the former Vice President, Lord Latham turned the court into a Theatre of the Absurd. In upholding Sam’s conviction, Latham VP declared the words of prosecution witness, Bilel Khelfa meant the exact opposite when written down as when he had uttered them at Sam’s trial. How such an extraordinary verbal feat was accomplished, Lord Latham did not say (nor did Hallett VP attempt any explanation when she delivered her judgement quashing Sam’s conviction the next day).

After a short adjournment, the Court told Sam he would be immediately released on unconditional bail pending his appeal being allowed.  News of Sam’s impending freedom had already spread to campaigners waiting in the corridor outside Court 8 and outside the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) building itself. An agonising hour of legal submissions ensued before the court rose.  His legal team went straight to see Sam in the cells below the courts while officials processed his release on bail. He was visibly in shock walking repeatedly on the spot.  Sam’s barristers Henry Blaxland QC and Peter Willcock QC, his solicitor Matt Foot and I were greeted by thunderous applause from Sam’s supporters as we left the cells. There was, however, a problem. Having expected a hard-fought hearing over two days with the prospect of a reserved (delayed) judgement, no arrangements had been made for Sam’s walking free that day. In keeping with the admirable standard of self-organisation which has typified the campaign for Sam Hallam, a supporter assured me he would have his car outside the building within minutes (great work, Lee!).

Sam’s mother, Wendy and I returned to the area leading to the cells. After a short while, Sam came out. He was understandably anxious to leave the building but we had to warn him that as soon as he turned into the Main Hall, a huge crowd of euphoric supporters awaited him. The RCJ can rarely – if ever – have witnessed the ecstatic cheering which greeted Sam from his supporters when he appeared as a free man with his name cleared. At one point, we were worried that Sam’s legs might fail him such was the intense emotion of the moment. Sam was momentarily disconcerted when people surged towards us spraying liquid until we realised they were supporters who had somehow acquired bottles of champagne to celebrate his release in style.

Sam was escorted into the waiting car by his brother Terry accompanied by Wendy to drive to the Hoxton home he last saw when arrested on 20 October 2004. Gathered outside the RCJ was a cross-section of people who had long campaigned for his release and exoneration:- his family, friends and neighbours, actors and other professionals who staged Someone to Blame about Sam’s case at Islington’s Kings Head Theatre, a campaigner (and now pupil barrister) who’d organised a full chamber orchestra performance outside the Ministry of Justice in support of Sam. Especially satisfying  was the presence of campaigners who themselves had been the victims of miscarriages of justice: Annie Maguire and her son Patrick who suffered years of wrongful imprisonment for terrorist offences of which they were entirely innocent,  Nora and Breda Power – wife and daughter of Billy Power of the Birmingham Six. Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four and Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six (who both visited Sam’s mother at her home in 2009) sent messages of support for Sam’s appeal.   

It was also gratifying that a Commissioner and staff from the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) as well as the Senior Investigating Officer who led Thames Valley Police’s inquiry into Sam’s case were present. There are those who allege CCRC personnel merely respond passively to applications claiming wrongful conviction and never investigate cases for themselves. Sam Hallam’s case gives the lie to such claims. Without the painstaking work of the CCRC and Thames Valley Police, it’s highly unlikely Sam’s wrongful murder conviction would ever have been overturned.

The Sam Hallam Campaign has achieved its objective and will shortly disband. Many broader issues will be pursued by those who have been involved in Sam’s case including possible litigation against the Metropolitan Police, compensation for Sam’s years of wrongful imprisonment, a review of Crown Prosecution Service actions, restoration of CCRC budget cuts and changes to the law concerning  identification evidence   In the meantime,  please check out another injustice inflicted since 1991 on Eddie Gilfoyle whose case is currently awaiting a decision by the CCRC.

 

Paul May

Sam Hallam Campaign