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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 July, 2003, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
Sailor freed after 16 years
Michael Shirley
Michael Shirley has always protested his innocence
A former sailor convicted of a brutal murder has been cleared by the Court of Appeal.

Michael Shirley has spent the past 16 years in prison after being found guilty of killing Portsmouth barmaid Linda Cook.

Three judges in London quashed Mr Shirley's conviction on Thursday after hearing that new DNA evidence established that he was "probably not" the culprit.

They were told that the recent DNA tests carried out on evidence submitted at the original trial pointed to an unknown man who, the defence argued, was the real killer.

Crushed larynx

Michael Mansfield, QC, defending, presented the court with complex scientific evidence which he said indicated that the DNA found at the crime scene could not have been Mr Shirley's.

"The sensible and realistic appraisal from the scientists is that there was only one contributor to the male DNA; that that person was the attacker, and no jury, hearing the fresh evidence, could be sure that it was Shirley," he said.

Michael Shirley speaking outside the Court of Appeal after his release
Hampshire Police knew how strong the DNA evidence was and could have stopped this ages ago
Michael Shirley

Miss Cook, 24, was raped and murdered as she walked home from a friend's house in December 1986.

Her jaw and spine had been broken and her larynx had been crushed by the heel of the killer, who left the logo of a shoe imprinted on her body.

Mr Shirley, from Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, was an 18-year-old naval rating on shore leave in Portsmouth at the time of the murder.

He was arrested six months later and convicted at Winchester Crown Court in 1988.

Mr Shirley has always insisted he was innocent of the murder, but a 1989 appeal was rejected by the Court of Appeal.

He completed the recommended minimum 15 years of his life sentence, but was refused parole because he refused to admit to the murder.

Lengthy process

The former sailor could now be in line for a substantial compensation award, although he would not discuss that possibility after being released from the court cells in London.

He described life in prison as "hell", and said: "Now I just want to try to get my life back together."

Mr Shirley said the evidence which cleared his name had been available for some time.

"Hampshire Police knew how strong the DNA evidence was and could have stopped this ages ago."

Linda Cook
Linda Cook was walking home when she was attacked
James Plaskitt, the MP for Warwick and Leamington Spa, who spoke outside the Court of Appeal, said he also felt Mr Shirley's release had taken too long.

"The thing I'm angriest about is the length of time it has taken us to get this back into the Court of Appeal.

"We've had the evidence that undermined the original verdict for many, many years."

Mr Shirley said that, were it not for his family's backing, he did not think he would still be alive.

"If it wasn't for my mother and my father and some of my other supporters, I'd be in a coffin right now."

The former sailor added that he was not the only person to have suffered since Linda Cook's murder.

"At the end of the day I'm not the only victim here.

"The family of the girl who was killed are as much a victim in this as I am."

BBC Midlands Today's Bob Hockenhull
"Michael Shirley hasn't yet decided what he'll do with the rest of his life - for now he just wants to go home."

I never doubted him, says mother
03 Jul 03  |  West Midlands
Sailor gets murder appeal date
14 May 03  |  West Midlands
Inmate's bail bid rejected
16 Jul 02  |  England

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