A man, wrongly jailed for 20 years over a murder he didn’t commit, has told how the ordeal “took over” his life after a key witness statement proving his innocence was locked away in a store cupboard.
John maintained his innocence after the murder in Liverpool, Merseyside, but was found guilty after a witness who claimed she saw two mixed race men attacking Mr Suffield, later picking John out of a line up.
But it was later discovered that another witness statement contradicting this evidence was “gathering dust” in a storeroom, the LiverpoolEcho reports.
The miscarriage of justice has been explored in a documentary on the Crime and Investigation Network, called British Injustice, presented by investigative journalist Raphael Rowe – who himself served 10 years in prison for a crime he did not commit before winning an appeal.
Mr Suffield opened the Joe Coral’s bookies on Lodge Lane, Toxteth, before he was tied and beaten by his assailants, who made off with less than £200 in cash and left him for dead shortly after 9.30am on Friday, March 13.
Police at the time believed Mr Suffield had inadvertently angered his attackers because his stammer meant he could not respond to their demands for a code to a time-locked inner safe.
After just a matter of days, Merseyside Police arrested Ray Gilbert and John, subjecting them to intense, prolonged interrogation without the presence of solicitors.
After around 48 hours, detectives obtained what appeared to be a confession from Mr Gilbert, who tragically for John and his family falsely named him as his accomplice.
Mr Gilbert later retracted his confession and says he was psychologically vulnerable at the time.
In the documentary, Mr Rowe, who met John in prison while they were serving time, takes him back to Admiral Street police station to ask about the interrogation process.
John says: “Racism had a lot to do with it. Don’t forget, this was a time, we had the Toxteth riots. I just feel the police, them days, were out to get a quick conviction.”
John says he was prepared to answer questions and did not stonewall detectives.
He said: “I was telling them it wasn’t me, telling them where I was.
“Then, in my interviews, they were telling me that Gilbert has confessed and he says you was with him. They threw the statement down.
“I looked at it, read a bit, threw it, and then just went bit mad. I would say I’m tired, can I sleep.
“They would put me in a cell, I had two hours sleep, then new officers would open the door and say ‘interview’. And it was just continuously for three days.
“I mean the only time I seen a lawyer, was when I was getting charged.
“It was just a bad experience being in there and thinking that they can just put you away for something you didn’t do.”
Alongside Mr Gilbert’s confession, however, Merseyside Police found a witness, named in court documents as Ms Edmunds, whose evidence was vital in securing John’s conviction.
She claimed she saw two mixed race men scuffling with a white man – Mr Suffield – outside the betting shop at around 9.30am.
Ms Edmunds later picked John Kamara out of an identity parade, which formed the only direct evidence in the case, other than Ray Gilbert’s retracted confession.
What the jury in their trial never heard, however, was the evidence of a Florence McCoy, who also saw Mr Suffield that morning.
Her version of events was totally different.
According to Ms McCoy, she saw Mr Suffield opening up his shop at around 9.35am and even said “hello” to him as he entered his shop – no mention of any assailants – meaning the attack must have come later and directly contradicting Ms Edmunds.
This vital statement was never disclosed, and did not see the light of day until 1999, when the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) began reviewing John’s case.
CCRC investigators made a shocking discovery – 201 undisclosed witness statement sitting in a storage room that defence lawyers for both John Kamara and Ray Gilbert did not know existed.
The case was referred back to the Court of Appeal and formed the core of John’s efforts to get his conviction quashed, but other problems were noted as well.
The court was told police in 1981 had recycled five of the 11 volunteers used in two subsequent identity parades for witnesses, one containing Ray Gilbert and the other John Kamara, which breached procedural guidelines.
In 2001, almost 20 years later, the conviction was officially declared unsafe and John was free.
However, as he told Mr Rowe, his release was the start of another battle.
He said: “That’s when I really panicked then. Where do I live? Where do I go? I think I was afraid of coming out.”
John eventually managed to rebuild a life, in part, thanks to the support and friendship of another man who had been wrongfully convicted, Paddy Hill, one of the ‘Birmingham Six’ who were wrongfully convicted over an IRA bomb attack which killed 21 people in 1974.
But the effects of his ordeal remain.
Mr Rowe asked if John has been able to move on and live his life since his release.
He said: “No, me personally, I haven’t stopped to tell you the truth, it’s just continued.
“Even though I have come out, it’s took over my life now.”
British Injustice is available to stream on Crime and Investigation play.