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Judges quash murder conviction
A young man who spent more than seven years behind bars for a murder he insists he did not commit has had his conviction quashed by judges.
Sam Hallam, 24, was at the Court of Appeal in London to hear the announcement by Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice Openshaw and Mr Justice Spencer that his conviction is "unsafe".
Mr Hallam, who was convicted at the Old Bailey in 2005 of the murder of a trainee chef and sentenced to life, was dramatically released on bail by the three judges on Wednesday after prosecutors said they were not opposing his appeal.
His QC, Henry Blaxland, told the court that Mr Hallam, of Hoxton, east London, was the victim of a "serious miscarriage of justice".
Mr Hallam was 18 when he was found guilty of the murder of Essayas Kassahun, 21, who died after being attacked by a group of youths on the St Luke's estate in Clerkenwell, London, in October 2004.
His family and friends have waged a high-profile campaign insisting he is innocent, with supporters including the actor Ray Winstone.
Mr Hallam sat in the public gallery with his mother Wendy Cohen as the judges gave their reasons for their decision.
There was tumultuous applause and shouts of "justice" as the conviction was quashed.
Lady Justice Hallett gave the court's reasons in a judgment lasting more than an hour.
Mr Hallam's conviction was overturned in the light of fresh evidence relating to his alibi and identification.
His case came before the appeal judges after it was referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent body which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.
His QC Henry Blaxland told the judges on Wednesday: "It is our case that this appellant Sam Hallam - and I put it boldly - has been the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice brought about by a combination of manifestly unreliable identification evidence, the apparent failure of his own alibi, failure by police properly to investigate his alibi and non-disclosure by the prosecution of material that could have supported his case."
At the start of the ruling in the packed courtroom, Lady Justice Hallett said: "This is yet another tragic example of the effects of gang violence.
"A fight that began for little reason and lasted less than five minutes left one young man dying in the street and several other young men incarcerated for many years."
In a statement read outside court by Paul May, who led the campaign to free him, Mr Hallam said: "I don't want anyone else ever to suffer what I've been through since October 2004.
"The identification evidence against me was so unreliable it should have never been put to the jury.
"The Metropolitan Police should have followed up leads which would have proved my innocence of the terrible murder of Essayas Kassahun.
"They should have disclosed all the relevant evidence in their possession to my lawyers and they didn't.
"I now need time to recover with my family and friends from the nightmare I've suffered for the last seven and a half years.
"Justice has long been denied to me but it has now finally prevailed."
He also thanked the Criminal Cases Review Commission and Thames Valley Police for the "thorough investigation" they carried out into his case.
Mr Hallam, who lost a conviction appeal in 2007 and was serving a minimum term of 12 years before his release on bail, always denied being at the murder scene.
The prosecution case against him was based mainly on the evidence of two witnesses who said they were at the murder scene on October 11, 2004. There was no forensic evidence linking him to the attack.
Mr Blaxland said the case "provides a stark reminder of the dangers of a miscarriage of justice from unreliable visual identification evidence".
Fresh alibi evidence was also before the appeal judges which came from post-trial examination of the appellant's mobile telephone.
Lady Justice Hallett said Mr Hallam's "inability or unwillingness" to say where he was at the time of the murder had "not exactly helped his case".
He exercised his right to silence during interview, on the advice of his legal representative which, with the benefit of hindsight, was perhaps not in his best interests."
The judge said that two mobile phones were taken from Mr Hallam on his arrest and post-trial analysis showed photos on one of him with his grandmother and his late father on October 11, and with his friend Timothy Harrington - who said he had not seen Mr Hallam that week - on October 12.
The judge said: "Given the attachment of young people and the more mature to their mobile phones, we can't understand why someone, either from the investigating team or the defence team, did not think to examine the phones attributable to the appellant.
"One reason proffered for the failure to examine the phones was that, in 2004, the Metropolitan Police did not have the technology in house.
"However, given our limited knowledge, we would have thought that, even a cursory check would have produced some interesting results.
"Further, we would have thought the appellant would have alerted the defence team that he had been taking photos on a new phone which would have helped establish his whereabouts."
"Although this could not establish a positive alibi for the night in question, it raised the distinct possibility that both the appellant and Mr Harrington were mistaken as to the night they were together, and that the alibi was not a concoction with intent to deceive."
The judge added: "Plainly, the appellant, for whatever reason - whether stress or well-intentioned legal advice - did not help himself at interview or in the witness box.
"It was not a case, therefore, where the police or the trial judge could conclude there was no evidence against him. There was evidence for the jury to consider."
She said that the identification evidence was never very satisfactory and there was plainly scope for mistaken identity, without proper independent supporting evidence.
"We now have therefore the real possibility that the failed alibi was consistent with faulty recollection and dysfunctional lifestyle and not a deliberate lie."
She said: "In our judgment, the cumulative effect of these facts is enough to undermine the safety of these convictions."
She concluded by expressing sympathy for the family of Mr Kassahun, who "was by all accounts a charming young man with a great deal to offer".
"They had to cope with his death, the original investigation, the trial and now these proceedings.
"I hope they understand we all have to do our job according to law."
Mr Hallam said in an interview with the BBC that the "whole system" had been unfair.
"The whole system, the whole police process, the court process. Obviously it was not fair," he said. "Everything was not right."
He added: "The original police investigation was not done properly. They could have done things then to eliminate me but they never."
Mr Hallam said he "always knew" he was innocent but could do nothing in prison.
"It was horrible. I had to get used to it," he said. "I couldn't do anything. It was only, it was only my supporters and family who could help."
Asked if he was angry, he said: "Not yet. I probably will be. I'm still in shock."