Sam Hallam celebrates with his family and campaign chief Paul May (second from left) outside the Lion and Lamb pub on Wednesday night, hours after his release from prison
Mum Wendy kisses her son. ‘I never thought I’d see this day,’ she said
Published: 18 May, 2012
by TOM FOOT
'Coming out is like a second punishment,' warns Gerry Conlon (click here for full story)
Bittersweet moment as Sam Hallam meets niece born while he was behind bars (click here for full story)
SMILING but visibly shaken, Sam Hallam walked out of the Court of Appeal a free man on Wednesday after almost eight years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
His conviction for the brutal gang-style murder of Essayas Kassahun in Hoxton back in 2004 was found to be “unsafe” in what lawyers described as a “scandalous miscarriage of justice”.
The 24-year-old – who has protested his innocence since day one, insisting he was not at the scene of the crime – was briefly reunited with his family and friends before being bundled into a black car and whisked home.
Later, Mr Hallam told the Tribune: “I’m overly elated – I’m very happy. I’ve been home and I’m staying in my sister’s room. Mum’s decorating mine.
"I went to see my uncle. I just wanted to get out of the house – so we went for some pie and mash.”
After the appeal was officially upheld yesterday (Thursday) and the conviction quashed – there is no chance of a re-trial – campaign chief Paul May read out a statement from Mr Hallam on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice.
It said: “I don’t want anyone else to suffer what I’ve been through. The identification evidence against me was so unreliable it should never have been put to the jury.
"The Met Police should have followed up leads that would have proved my innocence of the terrible murder of Essayas Kassahun. They should have disclosed all the relevant evidence to my lawyers and they didn’t.
“I need time to recover with family and friends from the nightmare I have suffered for the last seven-and-a-half years.
"Justice has long been denied to me but it has finally prevailed.”
Mr Hallam, who lives in Pitfield Street, Hoxton, was released on unconditional bail shortly after 4pm.
Wearing a black and grey Nike jumper and trainers – the prison had declined a request for a suit and shoes – he was doused in champagne by supporters hiding near the court’s steps.
The Crown said it would not contest the appeal shortly after the lunch break after hearing fresh evidence, obtained by Sam’s legal team, the Criminal Cases Review Commission and Thames Valley Police.
David Hatton, QC, said: “We do not seek to oppose this appeal – it remains a matter for the court to concede the appeal.
"But it is no longer our intention to oppose it.”
The sudden and unexpected announcement – the hearing was scheduled for two days – was met by a release of raw emotion from friends and family in the public gallery.
Lady Justice Heather Hallett, pleading for “order”, insisted that her courtroom would not become a “circus” and that the hearing had to continue for procedural reasons.
Mr Hallam has been held in custody since he was 17 and served time in Feltham young offenders institution and a prison in Oxfordshire.
The judge repeatedly asked Sam if he was all right and whether he understood what was happening as his dream of being released edged closer to reality.
Defence counsel Henry Blaxland, QC – who was instructed in the Carl Bridgewater, Derek Bentley, James Hanratty and the M25 Three miscarriage of justice cases – said the Court of Appeal had “bitter experience of wrongful convictions”.
He added: “Sometimes it is necessary to relearn lessons of the past. In my submission, this was one such case.”
Concluding, he suggested to the court that the “adversarial system” – where barristers put their opposing arguments in contrast to an “inquisitorial system”, where judges investigate the facts of the case – had contributed to Sam’s wrongful conviction.
But the biggest criticism was aimed at the original police investigation, which failed to examine Mr Hallam’s mobile phone.
The appeal court heard that Sam could have been spared almost eight years in prison had the police – or indeed his original legal team – bothered to look at data stored in his mobile phone.
“I have heard of trials that are based solely on cell site analysis,” Justice Hallett said. “It does seem extraordinary this was not checked at all.”
In the end, it was photos taken by Mr Hallam on his “state of the art” mobile phone on the night of the murder that Judge Hallett said “significantly undermined” a crucial element of the original conviction – that Sam had wilfully “concocted” a false alibi.
Yesterday (Thursday), as the court confirmed the appeal was upheld, Justice Hallett said “a cursory check” of the phone “could have established his whereabouts”.
Mr Hallam had his phone on the table during his original police interview but the police did not, officially, look at it.
Mr May, who campaigned for the Birmingham Six, told the Tribune that it was up to police to check the phone.
He said: “As Lady Justice Hallett said this morning [Wednesday], the failure to analyse the phone is ridiculous.
"Do they not have thumbs? You press menu, go to pictures. It’s simple.
"The whole point about mobile phones is any idiot can use them – including any police idiot.
“What we say is the primary responsibility for investigating the mobile phone rested with the police. The Met very recently gave us a set of reasons about why they failed to carry out the cell analysis.
"They were all bogus.”
Mr May added: “It does have to be said the original defence team failed. We don’t know why that was.
"But what we do know is they had a suspect who was uniquely saying I wasn’t there.
"How easy would it have been for the police to have blown that out of the water by analysing the phone?”
From the outset, Lady Justice Hallett said it was the court’s intention to discover how Mr Hallam’s name “got into the mix”.
The court heard mention of the “blackmail” of witnesses – some who turned “hostile” – and that potentially crucial evidence from the police investigation was not disclosed to the defence during the original case.
The catastrophic process began with a case of mistaken identity and rumours spreading across the St Luke’s estate off Old Street.
One key witness did not mention Mr Hallam in her first interview but later said he was there.
Another said it was him but later admitted he had said it because he was “looking for someone to blame on the spot, really”.
Mr Hallam was the only white boy he knew, the witness told police, and that once the case reached court he “obviously did not want to lie any more”.
The court heard that Mr Hallam was first named in a phone call to investigating officers by a man who had rung up earlier in the day suggesting it was a different man, also called Sam.
This was not disclosed to the original defence team.
Justice Hallett said the original trial judge had made a “significant misrepresentation” of a witness’s evidence to the jury, during her summing-up.
A police raid on a nearby flat found “a broomstick with a nail in it” and the back of a mobile phone, potentially matching a broken half that was found at the scene.
But this was not disclosed to defence lawyers at the original hearing.
Justice Hallett said the original trial judge had omitted to direct the jury about the pitfalls of “rumours”.
There was no forensic evidence, no CCTV and no cell site analysis linking Sam to the murder in Bath Street.
The court heard how the young Ethiopian victim was set upon by 10 boys, some of whom made off on BMX bikes.
The victim was said to have been protecting a friend from being attacked.
One attacker, it is believed, was carrying a baseball bat with a nail in it.
Justice Hallett offered sympathy to the “brother and father of the deceased”, adding: “They must cope with grief.
"We must do our job according to the law and this conviction was not safe. The appeal is allowed.”
Mr Hallam was not the only defendant – six went on trial.
Also convicted were Bullabek Ringbiong, found guilty of murder, conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm and violent disorder, and Scott White, convicted of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm.
The other accused were cleared of the charges.
Mr Hallam, however, always insisted he was not even at the scene.
A huge grin spread across his face as he sat by his legal team – emphatically not in the dock for the first time – as the day was his.
SAM Hallam and Bullabek Ringbiong, then 20, from Hoxton, were both jailed following the murder of Essayas Kassahun in October 2004.
Scott White, 17, also from Hoxton, was convicted of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm and was sentenced to eight years’ youth detention.
In total, six people went on trial for the killing.