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Man's murder conviction overturned

A judge has praised the "diligent" work of law students which has helped overturn a former gang member's murder conviction.

Dwaine George, now aged 30, was convicted of the 2001 shooting of 18-year-old Daniel Dale in Manchester, and jailed for life in 2002.

George, who always denied murder and maintained his innocence, was ordered to serve a minimum of 12 years behind bars and was released last year on a life licence.

After a failed appeal in 2004, the Criminal Cases Review Commission(CCRC) referred the murder conviction to the Court of Appeal for a second time.

George's appeal case was prepared by law students at Cardiff University working under the university's Innocence Project, which was set up within its Law School to consider potential miscarriage of justice cases

Today Sir Brian Leveson, president of the Queen's Bench Division, and two other judges quashed George's conviction, saying it was "no longer safe".

Sir Brian, sitting with Mr Justice Green and Mr Justice Goss, expressed the court's "gratitude" to the CCRC for the part it had played in the appeal.

He also paid tribute "to the work of the Innocence Project and Pro Bono Unit at Cardiff Law School, which took up the appellant's case and pursued it so diligently".

Mr Dale, who had never been in trouble with the police, was gunned down as he chatted with friends in the street and was found collapsed in an alleyway off Farnborough Road at Miles Platting.

He was due to be called as a witness in a crown court trial into the killing of his friend Paul Ward, 16, who was stabbed to death in Cheetham Hill in January 2001 in what was a separate case.

Ex-gang member George, formerly of New Moston, was found guilty in April 2002 after a trial at Preston Crown Court of Mr Dale's murder and charges of attempted murder and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.

The judge described how the CCRC obtained its own scientific evidence and referred George's case to the appeal court on the grounds that there was "a real possibility" that the evidence of gunshot residue "does not now attract the value attributed to it at trial, and therefore does not support the identification evidence".

The CCRC also questioned the admissibility of voice identification evidence.

Allowing the appeal on the gunshot residue issue only, Sir Brian said: "In the circumstances, in the light of the new material, we are not prepared to conclude that these verdicts remain safe: the fresh evidence might reasonably have affected the decision of the trial jury."

The judge said Mr Dale was fatally injured on the evening of July 25 2001 and another victim, Darren Thomas, was wounded in the hand by shots fired from the same gun.

George originally stood accused with three others - Ryan Brown, his brother Nathan Loftus, and Arron Cunningham.

Before the trial, Cunningham pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, possessing ammunition without a certificate, and assisting offenders. He went on to give evidence for the prosecution.

Loftus changed his plea of not guilty to guilty of possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life. He was sentenced to five years in a young offenders' institution.

Brown, whose relied on an alibi for his defence, was acquitted of murder and attempted murder but convicted of wounding with intent.

That conviction was later quashed for being "inconsistent" with the acquittals, but he was sentenced to eight years' detention - reduced to seven years on appeal - for possession of a firearm with intent.

Sir Brian said the prosecution case was that George and Brown were responsible for the shooting, using a Walther PPK self-loading pistol which was recovered from Cunningham's house.

The judge said the background to the shooting was witness evidence all leading to the inference that it was the outcome of gang rivalry.

The evidence against George was that gunshot residue had been found on a black Henri Lloyd hooded jacket found under the stairs at his home.

Subsequent analysis found that it bore four particles of gunshot residue, and the prosecution said this was evidence supporting the assertion that George was the gunman.

The current appeal was primarily based on a scientific re-evaluation of the significance of gunshot residue generally.

George's defence argued that the particles could have come from sources other than the shooting.

Years after George's conviction, the Forensic Science Service (FSS) had issued new guidelines in July 2006 on "the assessment, interpretation and reporting of firearms chemistry cases", said the judge.

This document dealt with the prevalence of small numbers of particles of gunshot residue "with the result, so it is argued, that the number and type of particles of residue found on the coat were so small so as to be at or near the level at which they could not be considered to have evidential value."

Sir Brian said that, had the present scientific concerns raised in the appeal court been available to the trial judge, his directions to the jury "would have been couched in terms of much greater circumspection and caution".

He said: "The particles of gunshot residue may well be consistent with the appellant's participation in the murder but, at the very least, the extent (if it got that far) to which they could provide positive corroboration would now have required much more detailed analysis of the science and the evidence."

The conviction was no longer safe because the new evidence might reasonably have affected the trial jury's decision.

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