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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 July, 2003, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
DNA tests cleared accused
Michael Shirley
Michael Shirley has always protested his innocence

DNA tests on evidence used to convict a former sailor of the brutal murder of a barmaid showed he was not the killer, appeal court judges have ruled.

Michael Shirley, from Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, was freed from prison earlier this month after spending 16 years behind bars for a crime he had always denied.

On Tuesday, three senior judges at the Court of Appeal gave their reasons for clearing Mr Shirley of the rape and murder of Portsmouth barmaid Linda Cook in 1986.

At last month's appeal hearing, Lord Justice Laws, sitting with Mr Justice Mitting and Mr Justice Gage, were presented with scientific evidence which the defence said indicated DNA found at the scene could not have been Mr Shirley's.

'Unsafe conviction'

Lord Justice Laws agreed on Tuesday, saying there was nothing relied upon by the prosecution to "dispel the very strong probability that there was only one male contributor to the DNA found in intimate samples taken from the victim".

He said if that was accepted, Mr Shirley "cannot have been that contributor".

Linda Cook
Linda Cook was walking home when she was attacked

Lord Justice Laws added: "In short, in light of fresh evidence obtained from the DNA profiles, this appellant's conviction is plainly unsafe.

"The appeal will be allowed and the conviction quashed."

Miss Cook, 24, was raped and murdered as she walked home from a friend's house in December 1986.

Her jaw and spine had been broken and her larynx had been crushed by the heel of the killer, who left the logo of a shoe imprinted on her body.

'Evidence available'

Mr Shirley, from Leamington Spa, had always insisted he was innocent of the murder, but a 1989 appeal was rejected by the Court of Appeal.

He completed the recommended minimum 15 years of his life sentence, but was refused parole because he refused to admit to the murder.

The former sailor could now be in line for a substantial compensation award, although he would not discuss that possibility after being released from the court cells in London.

Mr Shirley said when he was freed that the evidence which cleared his name had been available for some time.

"Hampshire Police knew how strong the DNA evidence was and could have stopped this ages ago," he said.

The BBC's Peter Wilson reports
"New DNA evidence showed that he was not the rapist"

Sailor freed after 16 years
03 Jul 03  |  England
I never doubted him, says mother
03 Jul 03  |  West Midlands
Sailor gets murder appeal date
14 May 03  |  West Midlands
Inmate's bail bid rejected
16 Jul 02  |  England

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