‘I could have had a job and kids’: Oliver Campbell hopes for justice 30 years after murder charge

Gently spoken and with a propensity to worry, Oliver Campbell, 53, is a little anxious about how he is going to get to the court of appeal in London from his home in Suffolk later this month and quite what he will find when he gets there.

He remembers almost nothing of the 14 police interviews he endured three decades ago or even much of the trial at the Old Bailey where was sentenced to life for murder in December 1991.

By the time of his release on licence from prison in 2002, Campbell had clocked up time in at least seven institutions in his 11 years inside, but he has little to say of it beyond that he enjoyed tending to the horses at the stables near HMP Hollesley Bay, an open prison. “I kept myself to myself,” he says. “Looking after horses would be my golden job.”

Campbell’s lack of recollection of the seismic moments in his life has been just one of the consequences of the brain damage he suffered from a heavy blow to his head as a baby.

Possibly another is a certain sweetness to him, an innocence and naivety, that would have been abundantly clear to the police officers taking down his contorted confessions to the murder on 22 July 1990 of Baldev Hoondle, the owner of an off-licence on Hackney’s Lower Clapton Road.

Campbell, black and from a troubled background, was 19 years old at the time of the crime. A number of his incriminating police interviews were done without a lawyer being present.

That the extent of his mental impairment, an inability to reason, and high level of suggestibility, was not made evident to the Old Bailey jury when the confessions were laid before the trial is at the heart of what could prove to be one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British criminal history. It could also once again pose difficult questions for the Criminal Case Review Commission responsible for sending questionable verdicts back to court. They have sent Campbell’s case back now – but it has taken many painful years to get there.

Does he feel angry? “Sometimes,” says Campbell, who has spent the last two decades unable to travel abroad and requiring permission even to get a job due to the terms of his release. “But I don’t show it because, as I look at it, if I show the anger, officially, they will have to put me back inside.”

Hoondle was shot in the back of the head after grappling with one of two men attempting to rob his store at 10.30pm, as his son, who also worked in the shop, watched on.

The prosecution successfully argued at trial that Campbell had fired off a shot from close quarters and then fled.

A second man who did admit to being in the store that night, Eric Samuels, then 26, was convicted of robbery but acquitted of murder.

The threads that linked Campbell to the murder scene were his recently purchased British Knights baseball cap found near the murder scene and a friendship with Samuels.

Then, in comments made both during and outside police interviews, Campbell had made various admissions.

His initial denial of knowledge of the case beyond what he had seen on the TV programme Crimewatch turned to something different. In an interview in the presence of his foster mother, but without a lawyer, he told an officer: “I don’t want to lie, I shot the Asian man.”

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It was enough for the police – and the jury. But there were always some glaring problems with the case.

The murderer had been right-handed but Campbell is left-handed. Samuels, in comments outside a police interview, had told officers that Campbell was not there. He had named another man, known only as Harvey, as the gunman.

Samuels, who has since died, had refused to give evidence in support of Campbell but he went on to say the same in a covert recording made by a journalist for a BBC documentary presented by Kirsty Wark and aired in 2002. Campbell had indeed bought a British Knights cap eight days before the murder but he had given it away soon after, according to a witness. And there were hair samples in the cap that did not belong to Campbell or Samuels.

The case rested on the confessions – and Campbell’s defence has always maintained that they were contradictory and in some aspects quite absurd.

Campbell had told the police that he had kept the gun in a holdall beneath his left arm made of two pieces of string. He said the gun was black but it was silver. He claimed to have hired it but couldn’t remember from whom. He thought it had been unloaded but he had practised shooting it.

“It’s like, they were putting pressure on me, pressure on me,” recalls Campbell. “So much questions, coming back. My whole mind couldn’t take all the questions.”

Sandy Martin, a former Labour MP, who has championed Campbell’s cause said the conviction was always a nonsense. “He couldn’t have shot him, he would have been jelly on the floor in that situation,” he says.

Last November, Helen Pitcher, chair of the CCRC, announced the case would be sent to the appeal court again as “it is now clear that at the time of Mr Campbell’s trial and appeal, the full extent of his vulnerabilities were not properly understood”.

Glyn Maddocks, who has represented Campbell for more than two decades, said satisfaction that the arguments had finally been recognised was mixed with disappointment that such a decision had not been made in at least 2005 when he had made similar submissions. The case, he suggested, had worrying echoes of that of Andrew Malkinson, whose rape conviction was quashed in July.

A first hearing relating to the new appeal will be heard on 11 October.

Life would likely always have been hard for Campbell but he wishes he had been given a chance to make it better. “I could have had a full-time job, kids, married, had a relationship, maybe going on holiday,” he says. “Now I am like in a room and all the doors are locked.”