Stefan Kiszko

Page last updated on Saturday 25th May 2013 at 2015hrs

On the gravestone that marks the burial place of Charlotte Kiszko, and her son Stefan (pictured above centre), the inscription is carved on the blackened Pennine rock: “A loving wife and a very devoted mother“. That is an understatement of monumental proportions. No one could possibly have been more steadfast than Charlotte, who campaigned tirelessly – and ultimately successfully – for sixteen long years to prove the innocence of her son. Much in the way that the relatives and friends of the many who perished in the Hillsborough Disaster have fought relentlessly for justice – and the parents of Danny Major who still battle every day to clear their own son’s name.

Stefan Kiszko was convicted, after a diabolical West Yorkshire Police investigation, of the murder of 11-year-old Rochdale girl Lesley Molseed in 1975. The murder probe, and subsequent brutal and relentless three-day interrogation of Kiszko, was led by Detective Sergeant John Akeroyd and his boss, Detective Superintendent Dick Holland, both of whom were commended at the subsequent trial. The repeated request to have his mother present whilst he was being questioned was refused and, crucially, the police did not caution Stefan Kiszko until long after they had decided he was the prime – and, indeed, only – suspect. He ultimately “confessed” after being told he could go home to his mother if he did so.

Holland was later to achieve notoriety in the Yorkshire Ripper investigation after which he was demoted following an internal inquiry. He was also one of the senior investigators on another of the greatest miscarriages of justices of modern times, Judith Ward, wrongly convicted of the M62 IRA coach bomb murders after a similarly brutalising interrogation. When he retired in 1988, Holland viewed the conviction of both Stefan Kiszko and of Judith Ward as being “among his finest hours during his 35 years in the police force”.

It is almost 40 years since Stefan, an Inland Revenue clerk with the mental and emotional age of a 12-year-old, was found guilty at Leeds Crown Court by a jury directed by Judge Sir Hugh Park; and 20 years since he died, like his father, of a heart attack after an all too brief  brief taste of freedom. He was just 41 years of age. His beloved mother, of Slovenian descent, died a few months later. Charlotte had buried her husband, Ukrainian-born Ivan Kiszko, in Halifax cemetery after he dropped dead at Stefan’s feet in 1970 following a heart attack.

Stefan had suffered from XYY syndrome, a condition in which the human male has an extra Y chromosome. Such males are normal except for – sometimes slight – growth abnormalities and minor behavioural abnormalities. One of Stefan’s “behavioural abnormalities” was jotting down the registration numbers of a car if he had been annoyed by the driver. This led, in part, to his wrongful conviction as he had, at some point prior to the murder, unwittingly jotted down the number of a car seen near the scene of the crime. It was argued by the prosecution at the murder trial that only someone at the scene could have known the number of this car. Also, as a symptom of his condition, Stefan Kiszko would have been physically incapable of the sex crime of which he was convicted. A crucial fact which was never disclosed to his defence team at the time of the trial.

David Waddington, who persuaded this totally innocent man to plead guilty to manslaughter, went on to become Home Secretary and now sits in the House of Lords as Baron Waddington. Stefan Kiszko’s defence team, led by Waddington, made significant mistakes at trial. Firstly, they did not seek an adjournment when the Crown delivered thousands of pages of additional unused material on the first morning of the trial. Secondly, in court, Waddington maintained the inconsistent defence of diminished responsibility, which the Kiszko family had never authorised.

Prosecuting counsel, Peter Taylor QC, later became Lord Chief Justice and, of course. is eternally (and now posthumously) famous as the luminary leading the Judicial Inquiry into the Hillsborough Disaster, just over 4 weeks after the football stadium tragedy which cost 96 lives.

After a month in the notorious Armley gaol following his conviction, Stefan Kiszko was transferred to Wakefield Prison and immediately placed on Rule 43 to protect him from other inmates as, in the eyes of the law, he was now a convicted sex offender. Or, in prison parlance, a ‘nonce’. Stefan’s mother launched an appeal, but it was dismissed on 25th May 1978, when Lord Justice Bridge said “We can find no grounds whatsoever to condemn the jury’s verdict of murder as in any way unsafe or unsatisfactory. The appeal is dismissed”

Charlotte Kiszko never gave up the fight to clear her son’s name despite being roundly ignored and then stonewalled by both politicians, including successive Prime Ministers James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher, and by the legal system. Thatcher’s role in the police cover-up after the Hillsborough disaster is also slowly starting to unravel. In 1984, Charlotte contacted JUSTICE, the UK human rights organisation which, at the time, investigated many miscarriages of justice. Three years later, she was made first contact with solicitor Campbell Malone, who agreed to take a look at the case when it seemed almost certain that Charlotte’s son would never be released. Meeting Malone was the turning point and two years later, working with barrister Philip Clegg (Waddington’s junior at the trial) a petition was presented to the Home Office. By an astonishing quirk of fate Waddington replaced Douglas Hurd as Home Secretary on the very same day, 26th October 1989. It took Waddington a further sixteen months to refer the matter back to West Yorkshire Police for re-investigation. Detective Superintendent Trevor Wilkinson quickly established that there were glaring errors in the prosecution case, particularly relating to the medical evidence. Key witnesses against Stefan also retracted their original statements saying that they had lied for “a laugh”and other witnesses were located through private investigator, Peter Jackson, who gave him strong alibis, in any event.

On 17 February 1992, a judicial investigation into Kiszko’s conviction began. It was heard by three judges, Lord Chief Justice Lane, Mr. Justice Rose and Mr. Justice Potts. Present at the hearing were Franz Muller QC and William Boyce for the Crown, who were there to argue that Stefan Kiszko was guilty of murder and, therefore, must remain in prison custody. Stephen Sedley QC and Jim Gregory, were defence counsel who asserted Kiszko was innocent. However, Muller and Boyce did not put up any counter argument after hearing the new evidence from Sedley and Gregory, and immediately accepted its validity.

Despite the overwhelming and obvious evidence that Kiszko was innocent, West Yorkshire Police and Ronald Outteridge, the original forensic scientist, refused to apologise to Kiszko for his wrongful conviction. In 1991, Outteridge became angry when questioned about his role in the trial.

Neither did David Waddington, Sheila Buckley, her daughter Maxine Buckley, Pamela Hind, Debbie Brown and Catherine Burke, whose perjured evidence helped convict Kiszko, or prosecution barrister Peter Taylor offer any apology or express one word of regret for what had happened. All refused to comment when Kiszko was released. West Yorkshire Police even tried to justify the position they took in 1975 whilst accepting, and admitting, they were wrong.

Fifteen years after Stefan was vindicated and released, justice was finally done for the victim’s family. Ronald Castree, a comic-book dealer from Oldham (pictured above left), was eventually caught after he gave a DNA sample in connection with what is understood to have been a serious sexual assault in 2005. No action was taken over that complaint but the body sample provided a match with semen found on Lesley Molseed’s underwear. The sexually deviant Castree was alleged to have lured 11-year-old Lesley into his taxi before sexually assaulting her, stabbing her 12 times and dumping her body high on the moors above Ripponden, near Halifax.

Despite DNA evidence that established there was a billion-to-one chance that Castree was not the killer, he continued to protest his innocence after he was sentenced at Bradford Crown Court. Liverpool-based Mr Justice Openshaw told him: “You kept quiet whilst an entirely innocent man was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced for this murder. He served 16 years before his conviction was fully set aside, living only a couple of years after his release before he died.”

Justice campaigners continue to protest Ronald Castree’s innocence saying he was the second person fitted up for Lesley Molseed’s murder by West Yorkshire Police.

Could a case as shocking happen today? uPSD say yes because you have the same West Yorkshire Police force completely enamoured with its own sense of invincibility. The man who helped to prove Stefan’s innocence, and who acted as his mother’s staunch ally, believed at the time that there was just as much danger of ignoring equally egregious miscarriages of justice. “In the current climate more miscarriages will take place,” said Campbell Malone. “It is nonsense to suggest miscarriages of justice are less likely to happen now. We are more at risk – the climate is just as bad as it was in the 1970s when you had all the Irish cases (including Judith Ward featured here). I am profoundly gloomy about the situation.”

Mr Malone accepted that changes in the law through the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) had removed some of the dangers. Stefan Kiszko was, for instance, initially questioned without a lawyer and made his confession after being told by West Yorkshire Police detectives that, if he did so, he would be allowed to go home. Under PACE both those would now be unlawful.

uPSD hope, with Danny Major’s case back in the national newspapers, that it will give people the opportunity to think about the widescale misery that can be caused and remind people that the real perpetrator can be free to carry out other offences.

Since the Birmingham-based CCRC opened its doors in 1997, it has received 10,288 applications for cases to be reviewed. Of these, 376 were referred back to the court of appeal and 241 convictions were quashed. Anecdotally, the CCRC presents a higher evidential hurdle than the Court of Appeal to which it refers those cases it deems have sufficient merit. It is an area of our judicial system which, uPSD believe, requires urgent review.