Murder bid conviction quashed after 25 years

A man who served 25 years for the attempted murder of a nine-year-old boy had his conviction overturned by the court of appeal today.

A man who served 25 years for the attempted murder of a nine-year-old boy had his conviction overturned by the court of appeal today.

Paul Blackburn, 41, from Warrington, Cheshire, was 15 when he was found guilty by a jury 27 years ago. Today he was present in the London courtroom to hear three judges declare his December 1978 conviction "unsafe".

Lord Justice Keene, Mr Justice Newman and Mr Justice Walker had been told by Blackburn's barrister that he did not have a fair trial by current standards.

Blackburn was released on life licence in March 2003. The court heard that his detention had been "clearly prolonged" by his persistent assertions that he was wrongly convicted.

After his trial at Chester crown court, Blackburn was sentenced to life detention and subsequently served 25 years in 18 different prisons.

He continued to protest his innocence.

His case was referred back to the Court of Appeal for a fresh review by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent body that investigates possible miscarriages of justice.

At the end of the ruling, there was applause in court as a clearly emotional Blackburn was congratulated by wellwishers.

He said afterwards: "I'd rather there had been other evidence that had helped me out but the CCRC deal with technicalities and I've had to be satisfied with that."

Giving judgment, Lord Justice Keene said the crown, which did not support or oppose the appeal, had conceded there was linguistic evidence now available which suggested significant police involvement in the wording of Blackburn's written admissions in July 1978.

That called into question the credibility of both of the senior police officers that carried out the crucial interview and testified on oath that they sat quietly by while Blackburn wrote his own statement.

"We are conscious we have not heard from them as they have not been called but we cannot escape the conclusion that they cannot have told the truth about the written confession."

That also called into question the reliability of the preceding oral admissions.

He said Blackburn, who had just turned 15 at the time, should have been told of his right to consult a solicitor and been given the opportunity to do so.

The interview should have taken place at a police station where notices about the right to legal advice were displayed and not at the approved school where Blackburn was in care.

A parent or Blackburn's assigned social worker should have been present as the house warden there on his behalf did little to safeguard his interests.

Blackburn was questioned for more than three hours without a break before he made any admission.

"Such a lengthy questioning of a 15-year-old boy without a parent or guardian present gives us real cause for concern."

He concluded that Blackburn would have regarded a reference by the officers to an earlier incident and a possible further charge as a threat to be made good if he did not cooperate.

"When we put all these circumstances together ... we are clear that none of the appellant's admissions should have gone before the jury.

"Certainly, in the light of current standards, they cannot be seen as reliable."

Those admissions were the heart of the case, and the other evidence was "circumstantial and of limited weight".

The court's task was not to say whether or not Blackburn committed the offence but whether the conviction was unsafe.

They were satisfied that it was and should be quashed.

Later, a beaming Blackburn said outside the Royal Courts of Justice: "I'm just elated."

Speaking after the ruling, Blackburn's solicitor Glyn Maddocks said: "We are absolutely delighted."

He said there had been "a major miscarriage of justice" and today's ruling was a "vindication" of a long battle for justice.

"The police officers lied ... we have said all along that their evidence was unreliable."

Asked whether a claim for compensation would be made, Mr Maddocks said: "Absolutely. It goes without saying. He will be entitled to a substantial amount of compensation."

"If only we could get back the 25 years Paul has lost, but we can't. Unfortunately the state does not give an apology, but it does give compensation."

Press Association

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