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Wednesday, December 3, 1997 Published at 13:56 GMT



UK

Murder conviction quashed after 25 years
image: [ Andrew Evans leaving court:
Andrew Evans leaving court: "Today is the first step to a life beyond injustice."

A man convicted at the age of 17 of killing a schoolgirl has been freed after 25 years in jail.

Three judges at the Appeal Court in London ruled that the murder conviction of Andrew Evans was "unsafe". He was allowed to walk out of court immediately.

On the steps of the Law Courts in the Strand, his lawyers and family persuaded him to make a brief statement.

"This verdict means that my long nightmare is finally over," he said.

"For more than 25 years I have been held responsible for a crime I did not commit.

"I will always be in debt to those who fought to bring me justice, never doubting my innocence, and supporting me through some dark times.

"My family and myself can now begin to be together, and start to heal the wounds caused by my wrongful imprisonment."

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, Mr Justice Jowitt and Mr Justice Douglas Brown allowed Mr Evans's appeal and quashed his murder conviction.

Low self-esteem

Mr Evans was convicted in 1973 of killing 14-year-old Judith Roberts, who was battered to death near her home in Tamworth, Staffordshire.


[ image: The victim: Judith Roberts was dragged from her bicycle]
The victim: Judith Roberts was dragged from her bicycle
Lord Justice Bingham said that in June 1972 Mr Evans was a soldier serving at Whittington Barracks just outside Lichfield, just a few miles away from where the schoolgirl's body was found.

"He had an unsuccessful childhood and adolescence, suffering from low self-esteem and a sense of failure. He had joined the Army ... in the hope of making a successful career and proving himself."

But he was discharged on medical grounds after suffering an asthma attack.

He filled in a routine form saying where he had been between 6pm and 10.30pm on June 7, the night before his discharge. He said he had stayed in the barracks and named three fellow soldiers who could verify that.

In October 1972 police called at his grandmother's house to ask him further questions because they had discovered that two of the soldiers had left the barracks before June 7 and they could not trace the third.

Fantasist

The following morning Mr Evans, who was taking a prescribed drug because of depression, told his grandmother that he was going to the police station because he wanted to see a photograph of the murdered girl.


[ image: Andrew Evans as he was then]
Andrew Evans as he was then
Lord Bingham said: "He went to Longton police station, shaking and stuttering, and said he kept dreaming about the girl."

Mr Evans told police he wanted to see a photograph of her and said: "I keep seeing a face. I want to see a picture of her. I wonder if I've done it."

Asked if he had ever been to Tamworth, he said: "I don't know. I don't know. I could have been. I forget where I have been."

Asked if he had murdered the girl he said: "This is it. I don't know. Show me a picture and I'll tell you if I've seen it."

During interviews, he described how he had dragged the victim off her bike and that they had rolled on the ground in the field.

He later made a signed statement under caution. Lord Bingham said: "In this he clearly implicated himself as the murderer. Many of the details in this statement accorded with the facts as then known or later established, but some did not."

Emotional breakdown

The fight to prove his innocence began in 1994, when he wrote to the campaigning organisation Justice. Its solicitor, Kate Akester, took up his cause.

During the appeal hearing, his counsel, Patrick O'Connor, said that the police for a long time treated Evans as a "fantasist" and the confessions, mounting in certainty as he was interviewed, were not to be treated as credible.

When questioned by police he was never offered a solicitor, was often not cautioned when he should have been, and despite his physical and emotional breakdown no doctor was called to see him.

If a solicitor and doctor had been called Evans would have been diagnosed as unfit to be interviewed and would never have made the confessions, he said.








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