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  "It still doesn't sink in now that I was actually convicted for 12 years for a murder and robbery I didn't commit."
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Raphael Rowe
Raphael Rowe: Jailed in 1990 at the age of 20

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  " I got myself in all sorts of situations: solitary confinement, straight-jackets, you name it."
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  "A completely different me walked out of that appeal court. I knew then that I'd been given a bit of my life back."
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Raphael Rowe
Raphael Rowe (left) and Michael Davis were freed in July 2000
Raphael Rowe
What happens to the victims of miscarriages of justice when they fade from the headlines? How do you pick up the pieces of your life after spending 12 years in jail for a crime you did not commit? If Raphael Rowe, freed in July 2000 by the Court of Appeal after his conviction for the murder of hairdresser Peter Hurburgh, is anything to go by it is not easy.

Audio Video: “I never in my wildest dreams expected to be convicted” Raphael Rowe   Real 56K

Mr Rowe was one of the M25 Three - a trio of black men jailed for life for the murder and a violent spree of robberies along the M25 in Surrey on the same night in December 1988, despite several witnesses describing two of the killers as white.

The judge criticised a "conspiracy to perjure" between Surrey Police and a key prosecution witness, Norman Duncan. The jury had been unaware he was a police informant and had been paid £10,000.

Mr Rowe was released from prison in a blaze of publicity with only £47 in his pocket and no idea of how to handle life on the outside. He spent his first few days sleeping on a friend's floor. Now he has his own flat in south east London, has renewed contacts with his family and has even revived his relationship with the girl he left behind when he was jailed in 1990.

A changed man

But the mental scars are deep and he has been referred by his GP to a psychotherapist in an attempt to overcome his problems. Mr Rowe told BBC News Online: "It's really difficult, because I'm not the same person that I was when they put me in prison and people expect me to be the same. They knew you as one person and I'm a completely different person now - and that's difficult for me, my family and my friends.

"We can't communicate in ways we once did because I've learnt different things and I see things differently… and that makes life difficult, it really does."

Just before Christmas, Raphael managed to get away from it all by going on holiday to Jamaica. It was the first time he had ever been on holiday and was a chance, he said, to "make new memories". He is also writing a book about his nightmare ordeal.

He explained: "In prison, during association period, people always had a story to tell. But I had none of that. Mine was prison conversation, what jail I'd last been in or my experiences in certain blocks in another prison. Now when I talk I want to be able to talk about my holiday, rather than prison."

Wild with anger

Mr Rowe's ordeal began when fingerprints on a stolen car left at the murder scene led police to a man who claimed he had stolen it for Raphael Rowe and his co-defendant Michael Davis.

Mr Rowe's alibi - that he was in bed with a girl when the crimes were committed - was undermined when she told police he had left her for a couple of hours during the night. She later wrote to him in prison and admitted she had lied because she had found out he had been two-timing her with another girl.

In February 1990 Mr Rowe, Mr Davis and a third man, Randolph Johnson, were jailed for life at the Old Bailey.

Mr Rowe explained what it was like when the jury returned the guilty verdict: "I never expected to be convicted, not after the victims have given their descriptions of the actual perpetrators and all the evidence in our favour.

"So when the jury did find us guilty we were devastated. I was numb for two or three days. It just couldn't sink in, it never did in all the years I was in prison."

Now a softly-spoken and articulate 32-year-old, Mr Rowe says he was wild with anger and injustice when first jailed.

"I grew up in such a short space of time, I was a teenager when I went into prison, you know just turned 20 - and within a year I was a grown man with a serious attitude because of the anger that was in me. The first four or five years I was very volatile because of my situation. I got myself in all sorts of situations, solitary confinement, straight-jackets you name it."

"But then I challenged that anger and used it positively, and by fighting my convictions, trying to unearth new evidence, accumulating new material to get an appeal, to win an appeal brought out a different side of me and I suppose it was like a self-education," he said.

Sympathy for victims

Mr Rowe admits he was a petty criminal at the time of his arrest. He said: "I don't shy away from that, but to be arrested and charged with things as serious as robbery and murder is something I just couldn't believe. You know, it still doesn't sink in now that I was actually convicted for 12 years for a murder and robbery I didn't commit."

Gradually his campaign began building momentum but there were disappointments along the way, such as the failed appeal in 1993. Finally, on a gloriously sunny day in July last year he walked to freedom from the Court of Appeal.

Looking back on that day, he said: "It was like every burden, every emotion just rushed out of me, it all sort of swept out of me. A completely different me walked out of that appeal court. I knew then that I'd been given a bit of my life back, or I'd won my life back with the help of many people."

Mr Rowe says he feels sympathy for the relatives of Mr Hurburgh and the other victims of that night in December 1988 and added: "The police failed the victim terribly in our case because they knew they were convicting innocent people."

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