Alibi for wrongly jailed man not heard by court
A man jailed for a robbery he did not commit more than four decades ago would probably never have been jailed if the trial judge had been told that a taxi driver had provided an alibi.
Frank Newell was originally sentenced to four years in prison for the suspected loyalist paramilitary raid on a post office in Lisburn, Co Antrim, in August 1973.
The 73-year-old, from Belfast's Shankill Road, then had his jail term doubled when his first appeal was thrown out.
But the former taxi driver always protested his innocence, insisting that his car was hijacked by those who stole £3,000 in the armed robbery.
Mr Newell had been too scared to name those who hijacked his car because of the consequences for him and his family.
His case was referred back to the Court of Appeal after being studied by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which examines potential miscarriages of justice. Mr Newell's conviction was quashed in June, and senior judges set out their reasons for clearing his name yesterday.
Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said that if Mr Newell's defence lawyer had been able to use crucial alibi evidence in court, there would have been "a real possibility" that he would have been cleared. A colleague of Mr Newell had said he was at his taxi depot during the robbery, but the trial judge was never told. One of the post office workers had described the robber as having large, wide and strong-looking hands.
But Mr Newell was missing a thumb, and Sir Declan said the particular reference to hands would have been important to the defence. Her statement, however, was not put to her during cross-examination.
And three intelligence reports about the robbery were received by police before Mr Newell's trial, the court heard. These identified some of those responsible for the robbery, that Mr Newell was not involved and that his car had been hijacked. The UVF was said to be responsible.
Sir Declan, sitting with Lord Justices Girvan and Coghlin, described it as "significant" that in a 1976 letter the Law Officers Department indicated the RUC Assistant Chief Constable believed the appellant was innocent.
He confirmed: "We considered that in each respect there had been a failure of disclosure in this case as a result of which the conviction was unsafe. We accordingly allowed the appeal."
When his name was cleared in June, Mr Newell said: "I wouldn't want anybody else to go through what I went through.
"It was a nightmare. I spent my four years in the Crumlin Road Prison and I appealed the four years and they doubled it to eight because they said the four years was very lenient, so that was even worse. But today brought it all to a head and it's finally over."
Lawyers for Frank Newell insisted there was a failure to disclose three key elements of information during his Diplock trial:
- An alibi statement placing Mr Newell at his taxi depot on the day of the robbery.
- Discrepancies in witness identification statements.
- Police intelligence pointing to both his innocence and to the real culprits having UVF connections.