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A Media Witch-Hunt and the Imprisonment of an Innocent Teenager? The Ongoing Case of Luke Mitchell

Luke Mitchell

This article relates to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), the 2nd such post-appeal body to be established after the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC). In it, Dr Sandra Lean, a prominent expert on wrongful convictions, provides a compelling critical analysis of the ongoing struggle by Luke Mitchell to overturn his conviction for the murder of 14-year-old Jodi Jones. Regular readers of CCRC Watch will relate to the facts of Luke Mitchell's alleged wrongful conviction, which tallies with other cases featured on this site in terms of a failure to conduct a full, comprehensive, fair and transparent investigation into the facts of the murder of Jodi Jones. CCRC Watch supports the call for an independent and impartial review of Mr Mitchell's conviction and for truth and justice to prevail.

“Appeal judges would later refer to this 'interview' being a 'hostile and overbearing interrogation' and branded the behaviour of the officers involved 'outrageous and to be deplored'. They did not, however, conclude that a miscarriage of justice had occurred as a result of such outrageous and deplorable behaviour”

When 14 year-old Jodi Jones was found murdered on the night of June 30th 2003, police suspicion immediately fell on her boyfriend, Luke Mitchell, who was also 14. The foundation of that suspicion was based on a mistaken belief by the first officers at the scene that Luke, and Luke alone, had found Jodi’s body, in darkness, in a woodland strip behind a large stone wall. What those officers failed to realise was that there had been another three searchers with Luke looking for Jodi, and three of the four had been over the wall to where Jodi lay. That critical error, within 15 minutes of the searchers finding Jodi, was to set the scene for a blinkered, tunnel-visioned approach to a case, which would ultimately turn into a modern day witch hunt involving a 14 year-old schoolboy.

Initially, investigators were confident that DNA results would prove their 'main line of enquiry' (as stated by a police spokesperson at the time). But, when those results came back, there was no forensic evidence linking Luke Mitchell to the murder or the crime scene. There was, however, other male DNA – a full profile from Jodi’s t-shirt originated from her sister’s boyfriend, Steven Kelly (who was also one of the searchers who found Jodi). A condom, filled with what scientists called 'fresh' semen was found 20 yards from the body, but the full profile from this did not match anyone in the national database. Police handling of the crime scene was appalling – Jodi’s body was left out, uncovered, in the rain for more than eight hours. The original forensics officer was unable to climb the wall and left the scene in the early hours of the morning. In the meantime, other offices cut down overhanging branches, moved Jodi’s body onto a plastic sheet (still without covering it), moved other items at the crime scene and gathered up Jodi’s clothing, which was strewn around where her body lay.

There are no records of who authorised these actions, or how they were carried out. There were no forensics officers present while all of this was happening. A purse was found, 12 days into the investigation, under a large rock which had been used as a stepping stone for those going over the wall – it is still unclear how that purse entered what was supposed to have been a secure crime scene, almost two weeks into the investigation.

Specialist dogs were brought in from Yorkshire in an effort to discover which way the murderer had escaped, but were unable to carry out their work because the crime scene had already been bleached. Again, there are no records to say when the scene was bleached, or who authorised the bleaching.

Meanwhile a massive, relentless and entirely negative media campaign was in full swing. Luke Mitchell’s home was searched and he was taken in for questioning in a blaze of publicity on July 4th, just four days after Jodi was murdered. Six weeks later and just three weeks after he turned 15, he was again paraded through the media as he was again taken in for questioning. In Scotland in 2003, what were known as 'Section 14 interviews' were legal – anyone, including children, could be taken by police and held for six hours for questioning without access to legal advice or assistance.

Appeal judges would later refer to this 'interview' being a 'hostile and overbearing interrogation' and branded the behaviour of the officers involved 'outrageous and to be deplored'. They did not, however, conclude that a miscarriage of justice had occurred as a result of such outrageous and deplorable behaviour. For almost ten months, the media named and pictured Luke Mitchell, until he was finally arrested in April 2004. Then, they referred to a 'youth who could not be named for legal reasons' – but only for three months – when Luke turned 16 that July, they were free to name him again, as he was no longer a minor.

The trial – the longest of a single accused in Scottish history at that time - threw up some stunning information. The three searchers with Luke that night were Jodi’s sister, the sister’s boyfriend and Jodi’s grandmother. They all said, in statements for the first month, that Luke’s dog started jumping up and scrabbling at the wall, which was what alerted the searchers that there might be something behind the wall. By the time they came to give evidence at trial, their stories had changed.

The dog, they said, did nothing – Luke just went straight through a V-shaped break in the wall, indicating (according to the prosecution) that he already knew where Jodi’s body lay. Two boys who had been seen riding a moped close to the murder scene at 5pm, and whose vehicle was propped against the break in the wall without them at the exact claimed time of the murder (5:15pm) were Jodi’s cousin and his friend. They had taken five days to come forward at the beginning of the investigation – one of them said his grandmother (also Jodi’s grandmother) had told them not to go to the police. Later still, in 2006, the owner of the condom was traced – James Falconer, who was 20 at the time, claimed he had gone into the woodland strip to masturbate, because he had no privacy at home. He said he saw and heard nothing that night, even though the route he described taking in the woodland strip would have taken him right up to – and perhaps past – where Jodi’s body lay. In January 2005, Luke Mitchell (now 16) was sentenced without limit of time, with a minimum punishment period of 20 years.

He has always protested his innocence and, over the years, more and more evidence has been uncovered supporting his stance. Both Luke and his mother passed polygraph tests, independently of each other.

Medical records revealed a person with close links to Jodi was extremely psychotic at the time of the murder and had been known to attack people with bladed instruments.

He was never considered a suspect and, on closer inspection, the alibi provided by his mother does not stand up to scrutiny. A number of witnesses have come forward to say the police would not take statements from them about other people behaving suspiciously.

Many witnesses, who were only children at the time, have told how they were bullied and terrorised by police investigators trying to force them to agree with incriminating statements about Luke.

At the end of 2021, with a further application being prepared for the SCCRC (Scotland Criminal Cases Review Commission) and the intention to apply for samples for re-testing with more modern methods being public knowledge, it was discovered that police had begun secretly destroying evidence – evidence the law says should have been preserved until at least 2026. The destruction was halted, but to date Luke’s lawyers have not been informed as to why the destruction was ever authorised, or by whom, nor have they had any indication of what was destroyed and what still remains.

A petition containing over 25,000 signatures was delivered to the Scottish parliament on November 16th 2021, calling for an independent review of the case. On December 29th it was reported that the Lord Advocate had rejected the petition, saying: 'COPFS considers that there is currently no basis for a review of this conviction', claiming that extensive work by investigators and prosecutors had tested the evidence. The Lord Advocate, Scotland’s highest legal authority, is the wife of the man who prosecuted Luke Mitchell. As of January 2022, the fight to have this case independently reviewed continues – the person calling most stridently for all of the forensic evidence to be re-tested is Luke Mitchell himself.

Dr Sandra Lean

Dr Sandra Lean's goal is to help share stories of people who have suffered injustice and in so doing, to alert an unsuspecting public that the same could happen to any one of them. Since 2003, she has researched and written about cases of wrongful conviction and factual innocence. She has tried to assist a number of people over the years and campaign, write articles, etc, wherever she is able to help. Following the completion of her Honours degree in Social Sciences (Psychology and Sociology) in 2000, she obtained a Specialist Paralegal Qualification in Criminal Law in 2010, via Criminal Law Training and Strathclyde University. She completed a PhD in 2012, (the thesis title being "Hidden in Plain View,") which studied the factors which lead to wrongful convictions and why ordinary people are completely unaware of these factors. Her first book, "No Smoke, the Shocking Truth about British Justice," was published by Checkpoint Press, Ireland in 2008. Her second book, "Innocents Betrayed" was published by NGU Books in 2018. She is currently working on her third book.

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