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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Hanratty trial was 'fatally flawed'
A6, Bedfordshire
The victims were shot in a lay-by on the A6
James Hanratty, who was hanged for murder 40 years ago, was the victim of an unfair and "fatally flawed" trial, a court has been told.

The 25-year-old was sent to the gallows on 4 April, 1962 and was one of the last people to die before the abolition of capital punishment in the UK.

Hanratty was convicted of murdering scientist Michael Gregsten on the A6 in Bedfordshire by shooting him twice in the head - but claimed he was 250 miles away in north Wales.

James Hanratty
James Hanratty claimed he was in Rhyl

On Monday, four decades later, Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice and two other judges sat in the Court of Appeal in London to re-examine the safety of Hanratty's 1962 conviction.

Opening the court bid to clear his client's name, Hanratty's barrister Michael Mansfield QC said the "distortion" of the original trial process was in "large measure" due to the actions of the senior police officer in the case.

He said: "Put shortly it comes to this - 40 years ago, almost to the day, James Hanratty was executed and he was executed at the end of a near month-long trial.

"And, we say, the problem that is at the root of this appeal ...is that the material that provided the foundation for the conviction ...was in fact fatally flawed.

"It was fatally flawed in the sense that there was extensive and inexcusable non-disclosure."

Mr Mansfield told the judges that what happened was "a distortion of the trial process", which could largely be attributed to the actions of the senior police officer in the case, Detective Superintendent Robert Acott.

The police officer had since died, the court heard.

Paralysed

It was alleged at the time that Hanratty came across the 36-year-old victim, Mr Gregsten and his 22-year-old girlfriend, Valerie Storie, inside a parked Morris Minor in August 1961.

They were confronted by a man with a gun who ordered them to drive to Deadman's Hill.

With the car parked in a lay-by, Michael Gregsten was shot dead.

Valerie Storie was raped, shot five times and left for dead. She survived but was paralysed from the waist down.

Hanratty was arrested, tried and convicted for murder.

The jury did not believe his story that he was in Rhyl at the time of the attack - despite the landlady of a B&B backing his claim.

In the years after his execution, numerous witnesses have come forward to support that story.

His conviction was based largely on Miss Storie's recollection of the voice of her attacker.

Mr Mansfield, however, will argue over the course of the appeal that she saw him for only a few seconds during the six-hour ordeal, and failed to pick him out of the first police identity parade.

In 1999, the Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case to the Court of Appeal and DNA samples were taken from members of Hanratty's family.

Contaminated

They were checked against samples found on Miss Storie's underwear and a handkerchief wrapped around the murder weapon.

The results showed there was a 2.5m to one chance that the samples came from someone other than Hanratty.

In March 2001, DNA sample extracted from Hanratty's exhumed body was matched by forensic experts to two samples from the crime scene.

Hanratty protested his innocence until his death. On the eve of his execution, he told his family: "I'm dying tomorrow but I'm innocent. Clear my name."

They have been trying ever since.

The family believed that the DNA sample could have been contaminated and that proving Hanratty's guilt in this way was a "logical impossibility".

The appeal is expected to last 10 days. It is being contested by the Crown.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"It has taken forty years for the campaigners to get to this point"
Solicitor Geoffrey Bindman
"We are optimistic of getting a thorough examination of the case"

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