Page last updated at 08:57 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Timothy Evans family's 60-year conviction wait

Timothy Evans, Mary Westlake, baby Geraldine and Beryl Evans outside Rillington Place
Mary Westlake (pictured holding baby Geraldine) visited her half-brother Timothy Evans and his wife Beryl at Rillington Place shortly before the murders

By Neil Prior
BBC News

The case has been the subject of three judicial reviews, featured in at least three books, two films and a folk ballad, as well as occupying countless parliamentary debates and newspaper column inches.

Broadcaster Sir Ludovic Kennedy wrote his most famous book about it causing a national outcry.

It is the story of one of the last century's most infamous serial killers; and, more pointedly, how, Timothy Evans, an innocent 25-year-old from south Wales went to the gallows in his place exactly 60 years ago today.

On Tuesday, Mary Westlake's thoughts will not be too far from the events of that ill-fated morning on 9th March 1950 when her beloved half-brother was wrongly hanged for the murder of his wife and baby daughter Geraldine.

Both had been strangled in a bath house at an address that would a few years later become notorious with murder - 10 Rillington Place.

John Christie
At his trial, Christie admitted that he had murdered Mrs Evans

Mr Evans blamed his neighbour John Christie. No one would believe him.

Christie went on to give evidence which would convict Mr Evans, but just three years later Christie himself was found guilty of a string of murders at the address.

The remains of Christie's wife Ethel and those of five other women had been found in the house.

At his trial, Christie admitted that he had murdered Mrs Evans and later indicated that he may have been responsible for murdering Mr Evans's daughter as well.

In 1966, Mr Evans was given a posthumous royal pardon but attempts to formally quash his conviction have failed.

His half-sister Mary Westlake, now 80, is still waiting for justice.

For the first time since her brother's execution, Mrs Westlake has finally agreed to speak to the media feeling it may be her last chance to tell her story.

"We never once doubted Tim's innocence, the whole investigation was rotten through," she said.

"They made Tim out to be a simpleton, a drunk and a wife-beater.

"Okay, he couldn't read, because he missed a lot of schooling, but he was bright enough to drive a van all around London, and make deliveries to the right people, even though he couldn't read the signs or a map."

Timothy Evans and his half sister Mary on the day of their confirmation
My Tim was a scamp, so loving and caring, but overall so much fun
Mary Westlake, pictured with her half brother

And of the daughter he was convicted of murdering?

"He loved Geraldine so much, always playing with her, and bringing her back little presents off his rounds on the van... a little teddy bear and a yellow play suit come to mind especially.

"He and Beryl did have their problems, but what couple didn't then? Living with no money after the war."

Born in Merthyr Vale in 1924, Mr Evans spent his early years in south Wales, with his mother, step-father, older sister, step-brother and younger half sister Mary - his only surviving sibling.

The family moved to London during the 1930s, though Mr Evans and Mary briefly returned to Merthyr during World War II.

After returning to London, he fell in love with and married Beryl Thorley in 1947, and the couple moved into the top flat of 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill.

Unbeknown to them, in the ground floor flat, John Christie had already murdered two women and buried their bodies in the back garden.

The couple's daughter Geraldine was born in October 1948. But just over a year later, Beryl and Geraldine were killed in their home, and Mr Evans stood accused of their murders.

On 30 November 1949 he returned to Merthyr and, clearly distressed and confused, confessed to murdering Beryl, but crucially never mentioned Geraldine.

In so doing he set in train a police investigation which was never prepared to entertain the possibility that anyone other than Mr Evans could have carried out the murders, despite evidence to the contrary.

It took two bungled searches of Rillington Place for the police to uncover the strangled bodies of Beryl and Geraldine in a rear outhouse.

Sir Ludovic Kennedy
Sir Ludovic Kennedy campaigned tirelessly for Tim's conviction to be overturned
Mary Westlake

But even then they failed to unearth Christie's two previous victims.

Under intense and aggressive questioning Mr Evans changed his story several times, readily acquiescing to every fresh allegation put to him.

Inspector Jennings, who led the inquiry, took his conflicting stories to be a sign of dishonesty and further proof of his guilt, but Mrs Westlake explains that just a little research into his background could have thrown light on the mystery and saved her brother's life.

She said: "When Tim was a little boy of about eight he cut himself playing in the Taff, and he got a tuberculosis in his foot. He was in and out of hospital for the next 10 years.

"To cope with the boredom and pain he began to make up little stories to keep him amused, a bit like an imaginary friend I suppose - 'storyfying' he called it.

"But it was all in good fun, we knew when Tim was spinning a yarn, and he knew we knew.

"I can only imagine that to cope with the shock and pain of Beryl's death he went back to his childhood, and made up a story to explain something which made no sense to him.

"We went to Notting Hill Gate police station and explained all this to Jennings, but the police chose to take him at his word.

"They made the evidence fit the stories, even though they were so outlandish they couldn't possibly have been true."

Mrs Westlake says her family's pain has continued over the years, as each media report and fresh judicial review picked apart his character and scrutinised every aspect of his life and death.

She says even those who believed in his innocence tended to place undue emphasis on his shortcomings, in order to highlight the bullying tactics of the police.

"Sir Ludovic Kennedy campaigned tirelessly for Tim's conviction to be overturned, and he did do a great job of drawing attention to how feeble the case against him really was," she said.

"But I don't recognise the Tim he describes in his book, '10 Rillington Place'."

Timothy Evans (pictured around 18 years of age)
It is 60 years to the day since Timothy Evans was hanged for the murders

"My Tim was a scamp, so loving and caring, but overall so much fun. I remember when we were living back in London, when him and Penry (his step brother) were getting ready for a dance.

"The pair of them had us in stitches, clowning around the living room with a chair each, trying to teach themselves to dance. I pity the poor girls they ended up with that night."

"But there was another sensitive side to Tim, which worried about how people felt. Once when his foot was playing him up, and I noticed pus and blood on his sheets, he made me swear not to tell mam, because he didn't want her to worry."

She and her family have spent a lifetime stoically defending Tim's memory, and fighting for justice, while trying to lead as normal a life as possible under the glare of the world's press.

Her son David explained: "At the time of the second, Brabin Inquiry I was 11 or 12 years old, and, up to then, knew nothing about Tim or the case.

"Mam and dad did not want me to find out about the case from masters or boys at school who may have picked up press reports and made the connection with my name.

"So, one evening, they sat me down in the living room and began to explain it all to me.

"Mam ran out of the room, crying, after just a few minutes, leaving dad to give me a broad outline of events. He then brought mam back in, still crying.

"She explained that she had been afraid that, when I found out about the case, I wouldn't love her, or her side of the family, anymore.

"Growing up mam and dad insisted I didn't tell anyone about Tim in case I was bullied, but when it came to serious girlfriends, they felt that it would be unfair for any lass to become my long-term partner or wife, without knowing that part of our family's history. Talk about mixed messages."

Despite widespread acknowledgement in court and the media, that Mr Evans was a totally innocent man, the wait for justice has no end in sight, and Mary now fears that she won't see his conviction formally quashed in her lifetime.

The last judicial review in 2004 called it "an historic and unique injustice" but decided it would not bring any "tangible benefit" to the family or the public to refer his case to the Court of Appeal.

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