Engineer's wrongful conviction quashed after eight years

Court of appeal rules conviction of Patrick Zengeya unsafe because of failure to disclose relevant material during case

An engineer who said his career was derailed by a wrongful conviction for fraud eight years ago was cleared by the court of appeal yesterday.

The case of 36-year-old Patrick Zengeya had been referred back by the Criminal Cases Review Commission as a potential miscarriage of justice.

The court of appeal ruled that the failure to disclose relevant material during the case had undermined the safety of the original verdict.

Zengeya said the conviction, in July 2001, had paralysed his life. "At long last I can start living again," he said.

Zengeya was studying for a PhD in engineering when he was arrested by police in connection with the use of stolen credit cards to pay for the transportation of a car from England to South Africa.

He was convicted on two counts of attempting to obtain services by deception at Manchester crown court and sentenced to nine months in jail.

He protested his innocence and appealed against the conviction in November 2001, but was refused leave to appeal and it was not until he took his case to the commission in September 2006 that there was a breakthrough.

In 2008, the commission recommended that the case be referred back to the court of appeal.

Zengeya had agreed to an offer from a man called Ali Usman, who owed him money for fixing his car, that Usman would pay the shipping costs for the car bound for South Africa.

Usman was a key prosecution witness in the case.

A commission report found that the police officer investigating the case, Steve Hassall, then a detective sergeant and now a detective superintendent for Greater Manchester police (GMP), failed to disclose certain important pieces of evidence, relating to Usman, which should have been put before the jury.

The commission found the failure to give full and proper disclosure of material relating to the credibility of the key prosecution witness rendered the conviction unsafe.

"Hassall's witness statement was clearly misleading in that he said Usman was interviewed in relation to 'unconnected offences of obtaining services by deception' whereas the records of his police interviews clearly showed that he was interviewed as a suspect and also, as regards items found in his house, as a potential fraudster," the commission's report said.

GMP's professional standards branch has placed Hassall on restricted duties while the case is investigated.

He has 30 years' experience in the police and has received several commendations for professionalism and bravery. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is also investigating.

A GMP spokeswoman said Hassall was on restricted duties pending the outcome of the IPCC investigation.

A spokesman for the IPCC said it was "investigating the allegation that the officer failed to disclose evidence at the original fraud trial".

The Crown Prosecution Service did not ask for a retrial and did not challenge the appeal.

Zengeya was poised for a successful career in engineering before his arrest and conviction. He had a job lined up as an engineer in the RAF on completion of his PhD, but the offer was withdrawn when he was convicted.

"Every job I applied for I was turned down for because I had to declare my conviction," he said.

"I'm self-employed and go around fixing people's cars because I was unable to get any other sort of employment.

"Now I can start applying for engineering jobs again, although my colleagues from university are much further up the career ladder than me because of all the years I've lost."

He is planning to pursue a civil action against GMP following yesterday's ruling. He says police referred to him as a "black bastard" during the investigation.

"When I went to prison I was in shock," he added. "I couldn't believe that I'd been arrested, let alone convicted for a crime I didn't commit.

"I sat in jail and cried, but the other prisoners were very supportive of me during the few months I was inside.

"A case like this really messes up your life. I'm very frightened of the police as a result of what happened to me. Every time I see a police car, my heart beats very fast. I'm hoping that, now my conviction has been quashed, that will change."


Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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