Page last updated at 17:52 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 18:52 UK

Mother defends secret witnesses

Charlene Ellis (l) and Letisha Shakespeare
Charlene Ellis (l) and Letisha Shakespeare were shot in Aston

The mother of one of two girls killed outside a New Year's party in 2003 has said the use of anonymous witnesses in trials is vital.

Marcia Shakespeare's daughter, Letisha, and her friend Charlene Ellis were killed when a gun was fired from a car in Aston, Birmingham.

An anonymous witness gave evidence in the trial of four men for the killings.

Ms Shakespeare said a recent ruling questioning the validity of anonymous evidence may jeopardise future trials.

Charlene Ellis, 18, and Letisha Shakespeare, 17, died when a sub-machine gun was fired outside the Uniseven hair salon on 2 January 2003.

Four men were convicted of murder with anonymous testimony a key weapon in the prosecution.

'War on crime'

However, on Tuesday, an unconnected murder trial was halted after Law Lords ruled defendants should know the identity of those testifying.

This led to solicitors for three of the four men convicted for the Aston shootings to confirm they may appeal against their convictions.

Marcia Shakespeare said: "It is a war on crime we are actually facing now.

"People are too scared to come forward and speak about the crimes they saw."

She agreed the use of anonymous witnesses was "a difficult line to define" but said: "If someone is going to go and randomly kill someone in broad daylight then people will be scared.

"We need to protect the people who see the crime because the person who did it has no fear."

She added the evidence given by the anonymous witness in the Aston case was "vital because in the community, although a lot of people saw the crime, a lot were scared to come forward".

Earlier, Letisha's aunt, Sandra Shakespeare, told the BBC the families realised the four men may "jump on the bandwagon".

She said: "We've just got to hope that common sense prevails and also justice prevails because, more importantly we cannot have those murderers back on the street.

"It's our worst nightmare happening again.

"We cannot expect a witness to go on the stand and say, with no protection for themselves or their families, 'I saw that person commit that crime'."

'Matter of urgency'

The potential for an appeal in the Aston killings case was prompted by the Law Lords ruling that a man convicted of a gun killing on the basis of evidence given by anonymous witnesses, did not receive a fair trial.

Ian Davis was jailed in 2004 for murdering two men at a New Year's Eve party in Hackney, London, after three witnesses said he was the gunman.

Davis can now appeal against his conviction.

However the solicitor for two of the men, Marcus Ellis and Rodrigo Simms, said he would be asking the Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer the case to the Court of Appeal "as a matter of urgency".

On Tuesday, a solicitor for a third man, Nathan Martin, said he anticipated he would be doing the same.

Home Secretary Jacquie Smith said she did not see any legal problems with anonymous evidence.

In the 2005 trial into the killing of Charlene and Letisha the jury heard from witnesses other than the anonymous ones

They were also given details of a mobile phone which appeared to link the four men to the purchase of a car from which shots were fired and appeared to place them close to the scene at the time.

The gun used in the shootings has not been traced.

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