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Monday, 17 July, 2000, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
Long wait for justice
M25 Three graphic
One of Britain's last high profile miscarriages of justice was finally recognised this week when the M25 Three walked to freedom after the Court of Appeal quashed their convictions for murder. Last summer BBC News Online's Chris Summers visited one of the men in prison.

Injustice can do strange things to the mind.

Faced with a life sentence for a crime you are innocent of, many of us would fall into a pit of despair and never come out.

Others would become consumed with anger and would spend years in violent confrontation with the penal authorities.

Raphael Rowe, while tempted to follow both routes, finally chose a third path - the at times obsessive, search for justice.

Rowe, 31, Michael Davis, 32, and Randolph Johnson, 33, have spent 12 years in jail for a crime they did not commit.

On the night of 15 December 1988 Peter Hurburgh, a 57-year-old gay hairdresser died of a heart attack after being beaten and doused with petrol by a gang who discovered him in a field in Chelsham, Surrey with his 20-year-old lover.

Colour blind

The three masked assailants stole his car and carried out two violent burglaries close to the M25 in Surrey before dumping two stolen vehicles in Sidcup, Kent.

"Once the police make certain assumptions they become blind to glaringly obvious facts which undermine these assumptions."

Raphael Rowe
Rowe, Davis and Johnson - who are all black - were jailed for life in 1990 despite several witnesses describing the gang as comprising two white men and only one black man.

Last summer, a year before his eventual release, Rowe granted BBC News Online an exclusive interview at Kingston prison in Portsmouth, a jail reserved for "lifers".

Polite and well-spoken but with little time for smalltalk, Rowe said that immediately after his conviction he seethed with anger at the injustice done to him, and was in regular trouble with the prison authorities.

In 1997 he spent 16 days on hunger strike in an attempt to highlight his plight.

But gradually a layer of steely determination and level-headedness replaced the bitterness, although it clearly remains just beneath the surface.

A month before the visit the European Court of Human Rights had ruled that the trial had been "compromised" by the prosecution's use of public interest immunity (PII) certificates.

Rowe told BBC News Online: "The judges know that once a case is put right it will be used to beat the system again and again and will bring the criminal justice system into further disrepute."

Pauline Smith, a former prison visitor who got to know Raphael at Maidstone jail, and became the M25 Three Campaign spokesman, said Rowe was baffled as to why he did not get bail when the case against him was clearly falling apart.

But she said at the time: "The establishment knows they are innocent.

"But the timing, in light of the Macpherson Report, just wasn't right for their release."

'Police made assumptions'

Rowe said: "I just can't get my head around the fact that 30 European judges say we did not get a fair trial and yet one British judge says there are no grounds for bail pending the appeal."

Rowe, who is studying journalism and sports science in the hope of carving out a new career after his release, says: "As highlighted in the Stephen Lawrence case, once the police make certain assumptions they become blind to glaringly obvious facts which undermine these assumptions.

"The police decided that I and my co-defendants were guilty of murder. From then on they set out to confirm this.

"There are people who wish this case would just go away. This is not going to happen."

Raphael Rowe
"The Greater Manchester Police inquiry shows clearly the extent to which leads pointing in other directions were either ignored or diminished in significance."

He says: "The killer of Peter Hurburgh remains at large. No fair-minded person could possibly remain satisfied that the M25 Three are guilty.

"But there are people who wish this case would just go away. This is not going to happen. It will continue to haunt them until the truth has been revealed."

Campaigners say although the case against the M25 Three is quashed, it will be almost impossible to find the real killers because so much of the evidence was destroyed shortly after they were convicted.

Among these items were two cigarette ends which, if analysed with modern DNA techniques, could have linked the killer to the scene.

Hurburgh's lover, Alan Ely, who passed out at the scene, told police one of the attackers was smoking.

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05 Jul 99 | UK
'M25 Three' denied bail
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