Vulnerable man with learning difficulties could have murder conviction quashed

Oliver Campbell - Hattie Sharlott-Sewell
Oliver Campbell - Hattie Sharlott-Sewell

A murder convict with severe learning disabilities jailed for shooting dead a shopkeeper could be cleared more than 30 years later, in what would be one of Britain’s worst miscarriages of justice.

Oliver Campbell, who has impaired memory and reasoning skills, spent 11 years in prison after being found guilty of killing Baldev Hoondle during a robbery at a Hackney off-licence on July 22 1990.

A confession to the crime in a police interview was a major part of the prosecution against him. But a three-year review by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which assesses potential miscarriages of justice, found the “full extent of his vulnerabilities were not properly understood” – so Mr Campbell’s admission may not have been reliable evidence.

Despite rejecting a similar appeal in 2005, it has now referred the case to the Court of Appeal after a 23-year battle by Mr Campbell and his lawyers, saying there is a “real possibility” the conviction could be overturned.

The 52-year-old’s legal team argues that his disabilities meant he was suggestible and easily swayed by questions from experienced Metropolitan Police officers, who “ran rings around him and made him confess to something he didn’t do”.

It is understood that a report by Gísli Guðjónsson, an international expert on false confessions and false memory syndrome, was a key part of the CCRC’s review.

'Not properly investigated'

Helen Pitcher, chairman of the commission, said: “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.

“This meant that the judge didn’t have the full picture when deciding whether his admissions should have been admitted as evidence. It also meant that the jury was unaware of important information about how reliable or otherwise those admissions actually were.

“We’ve decided that there is a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will now overturn his convictions in light of this new evidence and have referred the case for a fresh appeal.”

The CCRC said it considered “changes in the law and practice since Mr Campbell’s conviction, in particular concerning the treatment of vulnerable suspects and the admissibility of hearsay evidence which could have supported his defence case”.

The commission said it consulted an expert who “explained how a modern approach to assessing Mr Campbell would take a more holistic view that considered his background and experience.

“This expert agreed that there were reasons why Mr Campbell may have given unreliable evidence, which were not fully understood or explained to the jury at the time,” said a statement from the CCRC.

Glyn Maddocks KC, Mr Campbell’s solicitor – who has worked pro bono on the case for more than two decades – said: “Oliver should never have been convicted in the first place.”

A witness recalled seeing two men, one of whom was wearing a distinctive “British Knights” baseball cap similar to one bought earlier by Mr Campbell, fleeing the scene.

But Mr Maddocks described the identification as “pretty feeble” and said there was “no forensic evidence whatsoever”. A BBC Rough Justice documentary in 2002 also heard from a ballistics expert who cast doubt on whether Mr Campbell, who now lives in Suffolk, could have fired the gun used in the killing.

Sandy Martin, Mr Campbell’s former MP, told Parliament in 2019 that “Oliver simply was not capable of carrying out such a crime”, while a petition calling for the conviction to be overturned has more than 87,000 signatures.

'Whatever he said was nonsense'

“The whole case had no merit at all,” said Mr Maddocks.

“Oliver was confused. He believed at the time that if he confessed they would let him go. He’d have owned up to being President Kennedy if they’d pushed him harder.

“The confession was got out of him in a way it shouldn’t have been. Whatever he said was nonsense, he didn’t even know what colour the gun was. Very experienced police officers ran rings around him and made him confess to something he didn’t do.

“The judge must have had serious doubts about Oliver’s ability to understand what was going on at the trial. Oliver didn’t have a clue what was going on. He didn’t have anyone to help him in terms of an intermediary.

“He must’ve found the whole thing completely bewildering. He has got a very, very poor memory. Being in court, having to give evidence, must’ve been way, way beyond him.

“The judge probably should’ve stopped the trial. Oliver was a lamb to the slaughter.

“It will be a very, very strange Court of Appeal not to quash the conviction. The evidence is overwhelming that he wasn’t up to it. Unless it’s completely crazy or bizarre, they will have to quash the conviction.”

A Met Police spokesman said: “The case was fully investigated at the time, with a range of evidence brought before a jury who convicted the defendant in 1991.

“We are aware this matter is with the CCRC and therefore it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”