University of Bristol Innocence Project case referred back to Court of Appeal
Press release issued: 20 October 2009
A murder case that has been under investigation by the University of Bristol Innocence Project (UoBIP) has been referred back to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC). The referral is the first for an innocence project case in the UK.
Simon Hall was convicted of the murder of 79-year-old Joan Albert in February 2003. His conviction hinged almost solely on the basis of black flock fibres found at the scene, in his vehicle and at his parent's home. The fibres were later said to be ‘indistinguishable’ from those found at the scene of crime.
In the absence of any other evidence linking Hall to the crime and doubts over the reliability of the fibres evidence, members of the UoBIP began investigating the case in 2006. They sought to demonstrate why the fibres evidence was problematic, and to find new ways to prove Hall’s innocence.
The investigation, led by Gabe Tan, involved the team volunteering hundreds of hours to produce various submissions to the CCRC on the limitations of the fibres evidence, and on the possible utility of new DNA techniques on biological samples found at the crime scene. The team also uncovered new evidence in unused evidence (which for legal reasons cannot be disclosed at this time) that may conclusively prove Hall’s innocence.
Although Hall's conviction is yet to be overturned, Hall and all concerned are cautiously optimistic, especially when taking into account the low referral rate of cases (currently less than 4 per cent of a thousand applications a year are referred back to the appeal courts) and relatively high success rate of referrals (over 70 per cent of cases referred are overturned).
The UoBIP, based within the University’s School of Law, involves students working on real cases concerning long-term prisoners who maintain their innocence, have exhausted the criminal appeals system and have no legal aid. The students work under the supervision of UoBIP founder, Dr Michael Naughton, and are supported with pro bono legal assistance.
Dr Michael Naughton
Dr Naughton teaches in the area of criminal justice in both the University of Bristol’s School of Law and Department of Sociology. He is the Founder and Director of the Innocence Network UK (INUK), the umbrella organisation for approximately 25 member innocence projects in universities in England, Scotland and Wales. He is Founder and Director of the University of Bristol Innocence Project, through which he coordinates student reviews and investigations of alleged wrongful imprisonment of the innocent case. He is also a Steering Group Member of Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence, which is actively engaged with representatives from the Prison Service, the Parole Board, the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and various other governmental and non-governmental organisations.
Gabe is the Casework Manager for the University of Bristol Innocence Project. She is also the Head of Casework for the Innocence Network UK (INUK), the umbrella organisation for more than 20 member innocence projects around the country that have been spawned by the University of Bristol Innocence Project in the last five years, and which was also set up at, and is operated from, the University of Bristol.
What is an Innocence Project?
The aim of an innocence project is to supplement students’ education through working with ‘live-clients’ via a student-led specialist law clinic with a focus on the area of miscarriages of justice, whilst serving to meet the unmet legal needs of alleged innocent victims of wrongful convictions whose cases fall outside the scope of legal aid. The defining feature of innocence projects is that they involve students in researching real criminal cases. This investigative work may be conducted by undergraduate and/or postgraduate students in conventional academic settings or by those enrolled on LPC/BVC programmes. The students’ work is supervised by academics in conjunction with practising solicitors who work on the cases pro bono.