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Monday, March 29, 1999 Published at 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK


Hanratty family wins fight for appeal

The A6 lay-by where the murders took place in 1962

Lawyers for James Hanratty, hanged for the notorious A6 murder 36 years ago, have won their battle to have the case referred to the Court of Appeal.

Emma Simpson reports on a major breakthrough in the campaign to clear Hanratty's name
James Hanratty was hanged in 1962 after being convicted of murdering government scientist Michael Gregsten and his mistress, Valerie Storie the previous year.

Hanratty's family has campaigned tirelessly for a posthumous pardon, maintaining that he was nowhere near the scene of the murder, Deadman's Hill in Bedfordshire.

[ image: Hanratty:
Hanratty: "I'm innocent. Clear my name"
The move follows DNA tests last year in a new investigation by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the body set up to investigate miscarriages of justice.

Campaigners have produced witnesses that Hanratty was in north Wales at the time of the murder, and there have been suggestions that he may have been framed.

The case has sat alongside that of Derek Bentley in the British public's collective conscience.

Michael Hanratty: I promised I would go on for 37 years
Both were sentenced to death in post-war Britain by order of the state, following murder convictions. But questions persisted about the safety of the judgments.

The case of Derek Bentley was finally laid to rest earlier this year when his conviction was quashed, 45 years after the teenager went to the gallows.

Now the family of Hanratty will be hoping for a similar outcome.

James Hanratty was 25 when he was hanged - one of the last three people to go to the gallows in Britain before capital punishment was abolished in 1965.

[ image: Derek Bentley: His conviction was quashed earlier this year]
Derek Bentley: His conviction was quashed earlier this year
Hanratty, a petty crook, had been convicted of an horrific and apparently random attack on an innocent couple.

The couple were together in Mr Gregsten's Morris Minor, which was parked in a cornfield near Maidenhead in Berkshire, when they were interrupted by a man with a revolver. It was the night of 22 August 1961.

The lovers were forced to drive at gun-point 60 miles to a lay-by on the A6, between Luton and Bedford, known as Deadman's Hill.

At the end of the two-hour trip, Mr Gregsten, 36, a research scientist, was shot dead. Miss Storie was then raped, shot five times at close range and left for dead.

Death sentence

Remarkably however, the 22-year-old laboratory assistant lived, although she was permanently paralysed.

[ image: Valerie Storie: Admitted her memory was fading]
Valerie Storie: Admitted her memory was fading
Hanratty was arrested two months later. He was charged, convicted at Bedford Crown Court and sentenced to death.

The intervening 36 years have seen a wealth of evidence produced to support claims of a miscarriage of justice.

Probably the most dramatic turn came in 1967 when Peter Alphon allegedly confessed to the crime, saying he was asked by someone close to Gregsten's family to frighten the couple. He has since denied making any such remarks.

Evidence, in the form of 14 witnesses, has also slowly emerged to support claims that Hanratty was 250 miles from the scene of the crime, in Rhyl, North Wales, on the day in question.

Evidence questions

Supporters of Hanratty also point to the fact that Ms Storie only saw her assailant for a few seconds and only identified him in a second line-up. She later admitted her memory of the attacker was fading.

Moreover, no forensic evidence was found in Mr Gregsten's car linking Hanratty to the crime.

The case has spawned a number of books and television programmes exposing alleged flaws in the prosecution's case.

These culminated in the launch of the inquiry by the recently-formed CCRC.

Campaigners for Hanratty will be encouraged by the fact that in all cases so far referred by the commission, the conviction has been quashed or the sentence reduced by the Appeal Court.

Hanratty denied his guilt to the end. The day before he went to the gallows on 4 April, 1962, he wrote to his brother Michael: "I'm dying tomorrow but I'm innocent. Clear my name."

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