Miscarriages of Justice

Page last updated on Sunday 26th May 2013 at 08.45

A miscarriage of justice most recognisable as the conviction and punishment of a person for a crime they did not commit. The expression can also apply to errors in the other direction —”errors of impunity”, and to civil cases where the judge simply finds for the wrong party (claimant or defendant). The criminal justice system has means to overturn, or “quash”, a wrongful conviction, but this is very often difficult to achieve. In some instances a wrongful conviction is not overturned for several years, or until after the innocent person has been released from custody or died.

The route to reviewing wrongful imprisonment in the UK is via the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) who may, in tightly controlled circumstances, undertake a scrutiny of the evidence used to convict. This is normally done alongside the police force responsible for the arrest and charging. Persuading the CCRC to undertake such an exercise is a high hurdle in itself and usually requires the backing of an established justice campaign organisation and political backing. If a CCRC investigation is successful it results in a referral of the case back to the Court of Appeal where it is normally heard by three Law Lords.

The usual or known circumstances that lead to miscarriages of justice are set out here:

Plea bargains that offer incentives for the innocent to plead guilty

Confirmation bias on the part of investigators where they favour only information that confirms their original hypothesis or suspect profile

Withholding or destruction of evidence by police or prosecution that would assist the defence

Biased editing of evidence, often CCTV film

Fabrication of evidence or outright perjury by police or prosecution witnesses

Prejudice towards the class of people to which the defendant belongs

Misidentification of the perpetrator by witnesses and/or victims

Overestimation/underestimation of the evidential value of expert testimony

Contaminated evidence

Faulty forensic tests

False confessions due to police pressure or psychological weakness

Misdirection of a jury by a judge during trial

Perjured evidence by the real guilty party or their accomplices or by the supposed victim or their accomplices

Conspiracy between court of appeal judges and prosecutors to uphold conviction of innocent in order to preserve the ‘integrity’ of the judicial system

In this section of the uPSD website we feature eight serious, nationally-known miscarriages of justice: Two of them where West Yorkshire Police have wrongly sent their own officers to prison, Danny Major and Michael Bunting. Others featuring forced confessions beaten from two retarded young men, Stefan Kiszko and Anthony Steel, and the mentally-ill Judith Ward and two highlighting, possibly, the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct in the history of British policing. These are the “Operation Douglas” cases of Danny Mansell and Gary Ford.

Welcome to the world of West Yorkshire Police where ‘We do what we want’. The latest case we feature concerns the wrongful conviction of a man accused of murder, Colin Norris in the notorious “Angel of Death” trial in 2008.

Hover on the links in blue, and click, to take you to the individual case pages or navigate from the Menu Bar. Case Studies > Miscarriages of Justice > Individual case.

First up, is the nationally known case of Danny Major. A former West Yorkshire Police officer himself, he was wrongly imprisoned in 2006 after being tried twice for allegedly assaulting a drunken Leeds man in police cells.

A similar case of son of West Yorkshire policeman wrongly convicted of assault had occured just five years before the Danny Major case, with less than two miles between the incidents in Leeds. Michael Bunting‘s case is even better-known than Danny’s case as a result of an acclaimed book written by Michael called A Fair Cop.

We follow those up with West Yorkshire Police’s most notorious unsolved murder. Carol Wilkinson was bludgeoned to death on her way to work in Bradford and our friendly local force decided to get the crime off their books by ‘fitting up’ mentally retarded Council worker, Anthony Steel. He was subsequently cleared in 2003 but died only two years later at the age of only 51.

The Steel case bore many similarities to the widely known case of the wrongful conviction of Stefan Kiszko who served 16 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. A parody of the violent interrogation and torture, by West Yorkshire detectives, followed by coerced confession featured in David Peace’s widely acclaimed TV trilogy, Red Riding.

Next up is the notorious case of the horrific M62 coach bombing which shocked the nation in 1974. Bungling Detective Chief Superintendent George Oldfield – later of ‘I’m Jack’ Ripper fame – wrongly jailed 25 year old Judith Ward for a crime she didn’t commit and for which she served 18 years in jail. Again the over-riding feature was a lengthy interrogation, discredited ‘confession’ and false evidence.

The cases of Danny Mansell and Gary Ford have attracted huge publicity because of the misuse of notorious supergrass Karl Chapman. The two wrongly convicted men spent a total of 27 years in prison between them and are now fighting West Yorkshire Police for compensation.

The latest case to be added to West Yorkshire Police’s roll of shame is the so called “Angel of Death” murders which saw Colin Norris jailed for life at Newcastle Crown Court in March 2008. Norris was jailed for the murder, or attempted murder, of five elederly patients at Leeds General Infirmary where he worked as a nurse. It was alleged that he had injected insulin into those patients despite there being no evidence, forensic or otherwise, that he had done so. New scientific evidence has been produced by Inside Justice who have campaigned for Colin Norris’s release and the Criminal Case Review Commission have confirmed that they have launched an investigation.