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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
50-year inmate 'unfit' for trial
John  Straffen
John Straffen has been in prison for 50 years
Britain's longest-serving prisoner was not fit to stand trial, according to a psychiatrist who has examined documents in the case.

John Straffen was 22 when he was convicted by a jury at Winchester on 25 July 1952 and sentenced to death for the murder of five-year-old Linda Bowyer .

The finding of the forensic psychiatrist, who has not been named, was revealed by solicitors who have taken up the case of Straffen, who has been in prison for 50 years.

Maslen Merchant, of Hadgkiss Hughes & Beale solicitors, said: "We have now had a report from an eminent forensic psychiatrist who says that there is no way that Straffen was fit to stand trial in 1952.

'Feeble-minded person'

"He has looked at medical reports prepared before the trial and also when it was being considered whether he should hang.

"Basically this report by a psychiatrist who has been practising psychiatry for almost 50 years confirms our suspicions that this man should not have gone on trial."

He had been declared a 'mental defective' in 1947 and committed to a 'colony for mental defectives'

Straffen's solicitors
In 1952 Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, the then home secretary, reduced Straffen's sentence to life imprisonment on the grounds that he was a "feeble-minded person", according to his solicitors.

Straffen, from Bath, had previously appeared at Somerset Assizes in October 1951, charged with the murders of nine-year-old Cicely Batstone and six-year-old Brenda Goddard.

He was found unfit to plead and sent to Broadmoor high-security hospital.

On 29 April Straffen escaped for four hours. Linda Bowyer's body was found the following morning.

Legal counsel

His solicitors said: "Mr Straffen's trial for Linda Bowyer's murder took place in spite of the fact that medical experts who gave evidence in these proceedings opined that Mr Straffen had a mental age of nine-and-a-half years and that the physical development of his brain was abnormal as a result of illness suffered in the early years of his life.

"He had been declared a 'mental defective' in 1947 and committed to a 'colony for mental defectives'."

The psychiatrist's report will be passed to legal counsel, who are expected to ask the Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal.

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