Vulnerable man ‘humiliated’ into confessing to 1990 London murder, court told

<span>Oliver Campbell arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice, London, for his appeal hearing.</span><span>Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA</span>
Oliver Campbell arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice, London, for his appeal hearing.Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA

There is a “crescendo of concern” from psychological experts that a vulnerable man was convicted of murder on the basis of a false confession, the court of appeal heard on Wednesday.

Oliver Campbell was convicted of murdering east London shopkeeper Baldev Hoondle 33 years ago after telling police he had shot him. But Campbell, 53, suffered profound brain injuries as a baby, leaving him with significantly impaired cognitive ability.

Campbell was “humiliated” by police in “disgraceful” interviews after the murder in summer 1990, the court heard. Many were not recorded or conducted with a lawyer present and his subsequent “confessions” were described as “simply absurd” and having “a litany of inconsistencies”.

The case is being considered in a two-day hearing at the court of appeal by its vice-president, Lord Justice Tim Holroyde, alongside Dame Mary Stacey and Sir Charles Bourne. The Crown Prosecution Service is opposing the appeal and will present its evidence on Thursday.

In what could turn out to be one of Britain’s longest-running miscarriages of justice, Campbell’s case was referred for appeal in 2022 by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), having been rejected by them nearly two decades ago.

As happened in the Andrew Malkinson case, the CCRC had previously declined to refer Campbell’s case for appeal in 2005 after an initial investigation. The latest referral is on the basis of further evidence of Campbell’s vulnerabilities.

Describing the pressure put on Campbell in police interviews, Michael Birnbaum KC said Campbell was “humiliated” by one detective and “frequently told that his body language betrayed guilt”.

Birnbaum said there was a “growing crescendo of concern” from experts that Campbell made a false confession. He said there was now a consensus among experts that Campbell decided after pressure from police that confessing to an accidental killing was his “least bad option”.

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

Describing the police interviews last year, Campbell said: “It’s like, they were putting pressure on me, pressure on me … My whole mind couldn’t take all the questions.”

Birnbaum described a “disgraceful series of interviews of a kind that no police officer today would dream of conducting”.

Commenting on the impact of this, Birnbaum said: “Since Oliver hadn’t been there, all he could do was make things up and his account became increasingly divorced from the facts as we know them and increasingly inconsistent.”

The only witness who saw the gunman “face to face” inside the shop, the shopkeeper’s son, described the attacker as being significantly shorter than Campbell and carrying a silver gun, when Campbell said it was black. That witness did not pick Campbell out of an identity parade. The gunman was also right-handed while Campbell was left-handed.

The only witness who did choose Campbell saw the gunman for a few seconds across four lanes of traffic – and initially picked nobody from the line-up.

A second man who admitted to being in the shop that night, Eric Samuels, was convicted of robbery but acquitted of murder. Samuels, who has since died, told his solicitor that Campbell was not the gunman and repeatedly told others “that Oliver was not with him in the robbery”. This was not disclosed to jurors at trial as it was deemed “inadmissible hearsay”.

A previous appeal against Campbell’s conviction was dismissed in 1994 after a fellow prisoner alleged that Samuels had told him multiple times that Campbell was innocent. He said Campbell had only got involved in the case because of a hat which someone else had taken from him. The British Knights baseball cap, which was found a few hundred yards from the shop, had hairs inside it belonging to someone who was neither Samuels or Campbell.

Later, in a 2001 BBC documentary, Samuels told a reporter in a covert video recording that Campbell had not been with him during the robbery and gave a vivid account of the shooting.

Campbell was released in 2002 having spent 11 years in prison. He was in court on Wednesday watching nervously, dressed in a navy suit and tie. Birnbaum said those who knew him best describe him as “naive, gentle, loyal to friends, not at all violent and easily manipulated”.