Shadows must be removed from convictions

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A few weeks ago, I interviewed Dwaine George, who is a convicted murderer and former member of Manchester’s notorious Cheetham Hill Gang, on behalf of BBC’s Inside Out Programme.

Mr George was released from prison last year, having served 12 years of a life sentence for the murder of 18-year-old Daniel Dale in 2001. He has always denied responsibility and has relentlessly pursued an appeal against his conviction through the Criminal Cases Review Commission. When he was charged with the offence there was a strong case against him, which included forensic, voice recognition and identification evidence. That evidence weakened during the trial, particularly during the defence cross-examination of witnesses. One witness, who initially named Mr George as being in a car which collected a gun from his house prior to the murder, decided he couldn’t be sure it was actually him. Other witnesses gave conflicting accounts of what they had seen during this shooting on the streets of Manchester. Despite that the jury took just six hours to unanimously convict him.

Crucial forensic evidence which led to his conviction was the discovery of two microscopic particles of gunshot residue on a coat seized from his home. Back in 2001 it was considered to be strong evidence that the person wearing the coat had recently been involved in a shooting. However, since then and especially after Barry George’s (who is not related) successful 2008 appeal against his conviction for the murder of Jill Dando, that evidence is now considered to be insignificant. Later this year the Appeal Court will decide whether Dwaine George’s conviction should be overturned due to this forensic assessment of this evidence.

What is clear though is Mr George knows more about this murder than he was prepared to tell me. He says he even knows who is responsible but won’t name them because of the risk of reprisals against him and his family.

I don’t know whether Mr George was involved in this murder or not, but this is just one of many alleged miscarriages of justice cases making its way through an apparently inefficient appeals system. The length of time these matters take is unfair on people who are wrongly convicted and also on the families of victims. What is certain is the appeals system is open to abuse, is too slow and needs to change.