Looking for lost evidence
A little while ago the American evangelist Pat Robertson, while talking about the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, said it was time the United States took him out. Robertson would have to guide someone like me, an atheist, to the biblical reference that justifies the killing of a world leader to stabilise oil supply, but I am sure it is there amid the pillars of salt and jawbones of asses. Rather than argue with Pat on theological grounds through these pages, it would be far better to invite him to the UK to speak. Perhaps some liberal Christians might even help out by offering a formal invitation.
Pat’s public incitements to kill Chavez are a matter of record, so once in the UK it should be relatively easy for Charles Clarke to arrest him as a preacher of hate. If we can get him in after the new anti-terror legislation is passed, he could be detained for three months without charge and deported back to America. The trouble is that, as the US outsources torture to Egypt and Guantanamo Bay and retains the death penalty on its own shores, Britain would probably have to negotiate a special agreement with the US, to make sure Pat didn’t suffer any ill-treatment on his return.
These new “anti-terror” measures stand a good chance of becoming law. After the London bombings of 7 July and the alleged attempts on 21 July, the police asked for increased powers; they stand a good chance of getting them, too. Such was the sense of fear, outrage and shock, that Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, could have said, “In order to fight terrorism we need to be able to hold suspects without charge for three months, and we need new police cars: Porsches, with tinted windows. And new machine-guns, made of gold . . .” – and the Home Secretary would have considered it.
Naturally, holding a suspect for three months would make the police’s job easier, but then abolishing juries would make their job easier, too. And getting rid of the whole bothersome process of a trial and evidence would make policing a doddle. This might seem glib, but consider the number of miscarriages of justice that have occurred, and continue to occur.
On 12 October, a court began hearing the appeals of two Scottish men, Billy Allison and Steven Johnston, who were convicted of the murder of Andrew Forsyth in a frenzied attack in November 1995. During the trial the jury was told that “to bring home a conviction against Steven Johnston, the deceased would require to have died on Friday 3 November”.
Forsyth’s body was found on 9 November, and in 1996 Johnston was banged up for life for the killing. So was Allison.
However, evidence has come to light that Forsyth did not die on 3 November 1995. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission found four witness statements by people who claimed they had seen Forsyth alive days after the date police said he had died. This is crucial. If Forsyth was alive after that date, why did the court convict Johnston of killing him?
The eyewitnesses who gave statements included a newsagent, who claimed Forsyth came into his shop for a paper on 4 November. Another man saw Forsyth drinking in a bar on 8 November, five days after he is supposed to have died. Maybe Pat Robertson could help me out here: Jesus, too, was seen after His death, but did the Resurrection involve a pint and a quick read of the paper?
Crucially, the police did not disclose these statements to the defence team. Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, the former Lord Advocate, said that “at best this is unacceptable bumbling incompetence, and at its worst . . . it may be criminal”. Equally alarming is that the Scottish Crown Office knew the police had withheld the crucial witness statements back in February 1997. Having previously claimed that “all statements taken by the police in this case” had been handed to the Procurator Fiscal, Deputy Crown Agent Norman McFadyen wrote on 3 February 1997: “It is now clear that the information which I had previously conveyed to you in my letter . . . was inaccurate and misleading in relation to the retention of the results of the enquiries of the police and the taking of statements.” If the authorities knew of the missing witness statements in 1997 why have these men waited until 2005 to get an appeal?
This is not the first time police have withheld or “lost” evidence in criminal trials. Perhaps the most notorious case was that of John Kamara, wrongly jailed for the murder of a Liverpool bookmaker. Kamara served 19 years in prison before being freed on appeal, when the police found a flabbergasting 201 witness statements proving that he could not have committed the murder. These 201 statements had not been released to the court.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the body that examines miscarriage-of-justice pleas, is actively working on 428 cases, with a further 347 waiting to be reviewed. So far, of the 235 the CCRC has examined and referred to appeal, 165 have resulted in the convictions being quashed, or the sentence reduced.
So will the power to detain suspects without charge for three months make the police more thorough in assembling their cases, or will it become easier to withhold and fabricate evidence? Maybe Pat Robertson’s hotline to the Lord can help out with that question when the preacher gets to our shores.