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Last Updated: Monday, 9 June, 2003, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
'Evidence withheld' in 1949 murder trial
George Kelly's family have always protested his innocence
An attempt to overturn the conviction of a man hanged 53 years ago for murdering a Liverpool cinema manager will not be opposed by prosecutors, a court has heard.

The family of George Kelly, who was hanged in 1950 for murdering Leonard Thomas, is asking three appeal court judges to declare his conviction "unsafe".

The hearing comes after Merseyside Police made a new appeal over the 1949 killing.

George Kelly's case is the oldest ever referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the body that investigates suspected miscarriages of justice.

Orlando Pownall QC, prosecuting, told the hearing in London he would not seek to uphold Mr Kelly's conviction.

He said evidence was not disclosed to the defence at the original trial.

Killing confession

This included a statement made to police by a prosecution witness that another man, Donald Johnson, had confessed to the murder.

Mr Kelly was found guilty of murder at Liverpool Assizes in February 1950 and executed at Walton jail after he lost an appeal and the then Home Secretary refused to grant a reprieve.

The 27-year-old labourer was accused of shooting dead 44-year-old Mr Thomas during a robbery at the Cameo Cinema in Wavertree, Liverpool, in March 1949.

The appeal court was also considering the case of Charles Connolly, who was convicted at Liverpool Assize Court in March 1950 of robbery and conspiracy to rob, in relation to the cinema incident.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and died in 1997.

Mr Pownall told the court the prosecution would be opposing the appeal in Connolly's case.

The Cameo Cinema, Wavertree, Liverpool, in 1949
Mr Thomas was manager of the Cameo Cinema, in Wavertree
The judges heard that cinema manager Mr Thomas, 44, and his assistant, John Catterall, 30, were both shot dead during the course of a robbery.

One man had entered the manager's office with a pistol to steal the takings, and both victims were shot trying to prevent the crime.

Mr Pownall said that Donald Johnson was acquitted of being an accessory, but is later said to have told a man called Robert Graham that he had been responsible for the shootings.

Mr Graham's September 1949 statement to that effect was not discovered until 1991.

He said the Crown "are unable to support the safety of Mr Kelly's conviction".

Integrity questioned

The court heard that in a later statement, in November 1949, prosecution witness Mr Graham claimed that it was Mr Kelly and Connolly who had confessed to him.

Mr Pownall said that the non-disclosure of the earlier statement, naming Johnson, might have undermined the integrity of Mr Graham, the officer he gave that statement to, "and the police investigation as a whole".

The cases of Mr Kelly and Connolly were presented by QCs representing Mr Kelly's daughter Kathleen Hughes, from Liverpool, and Connolly's widow Eileen.

Mr William Waldron QC, for Mrs Connolly, told the judges that it was questionable whether Connolly's guilty plea was voluntary.

He said: "The overwhelming probability is that the choice was dictated, not by guilt, but by fear."

The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday.

Appeal over 1949 double murder
07 Nov 02  |  England

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