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Why the CCRC would not have referred the case of Kevin Callan even though he was innocent of murder

Kevin Callan with his Mother and Father outside the Court of Appeal when he overturned his wrongful conviction

Kevin Callan achieved a remarkable feat in overturning his conviction for murder just before the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) came into existence. It is my contention that had he applied to the CCRC today they would refuse to refer his case to the Court of Appeal (CoA). The reason for this is that Callan’s case has near-identical circumstances to the case of Clive Freeman (see here, here and here) and the CCRC has refused to refer the case of Clive Freeman four times. Both cases revolve around issues of the competence of pathologists and flawed forensic evidence. Kevin Callan was supported by the testimony of four forensic experts; Clive Freeman has nine forensic experts who have said that in his case no murder took place, and the original pathologist came to a mistaken conclusion under pressure from the police to change his finding from accidental death due to alcohol abuse to murder.

Kevin Callan became nationally famous when his conviction for murder was overturned on 6 April 1995. A former truck driver who had left school without qualifications, he had been convicted of shaking to death Amanda Allman, his helpless step-daughter who was four-years old and who suffered from cerebral palsy and spastic diplegia.

Amanda died on 15 April 1991, and Kevin was arrested the next day. Ignoring his protestations that he could not have harmed Amanda, the police constructed a case against him, even finding someone who claimed he had overheard Kevin in a police cell admit to shaking her.

Amanda’s mother, Lesley Bridgewood, constantly assured them that Kevin loved her children and was infinitely patient with Amanda, teaching her to walk and speak despite her severe disabilities. But since the experts were convinced Kevin was guilty, they ignored the other possible causes of Amanda’s death (accidental falls and neglect by medical authorities) and so Kevin and Lesley were left without time to grieve with no adequate explanation of why Amanda died.

At his trial, overwhelming evidence had been given by two experienced pathologists, Jeffrey Freeman and Geoffrey Garratt, who agreed that Amanda had been shaken to death while she was in Kevin’s sole care. Kevin’s own lawyers failed to produce any evidence to the contrary. Kevin collapsed in court, numb with shock at the guilty verdict.

Kevin Callan spent four years in jail, convicted of shaking four-year-old Amanda Allman to death. In fact her fatal brain injuries were caused by falls - she suffered severe cerebral palsy.

Mr Callan, 36, was convicted largely on the evidence of Dr Geoffrey Garrett, a retired Home Office pathologist, who said the child must have been violently shaken because there was no sign of external injuries - such as a fracture - to indicate trauma. But after combing pages of medical textbooks and corresponding with the world's leading neurosurgeons, four experts supported what Mr Callan had always maintained - that Amanda had died as a result of falls.

Incarcerated in Wakefield prison, he badgered library staff to provide him with the books that enabled him to become an expert in child neuropathology, and to correspond with other acknowledged experts, Philip Wrightson and Helen Whitwell. They agreed that Amanda could not have been shaken to death.

The Crown Prosecution Service then brought in its own experts who confirmed that the girl must have died from her earlier falls.

On the basis of their reports, Salford solicitor Campbell Malone applied for leave to appeal. But leave was refused by Lord Justice Tucker. The application was renewed, and in response the Crown Prosecution Service commissioned two counter-reports from Professor Michael Green and Mr Myles Gibson. But the Crown’s own experts only confirmed what Kevin’s experts said, and in addition heavily criticised the work of Dr Garratt. The CPS announced they would not contest the appeal.

Formally clearing Mr Callan, Lord Justice Swinton Thomas, paid tribute to him and his solicitor, Campbell Malone, for their "tireless" research.

"It is a matter of regret to this court that he (Callan) was convicted in the first place." And in declaring his conviction a miscarriage of justice, the judge expressed concern that no expert in neurology had been called at the original trial.

The judge had heard criticism of Dr Garrett's performance in the witness box and the manner in which he had conducted the post-mortem examination.

Michael Green, professor of forensic pathology at Sheffield University, said in a report:

"His absolute dogmatism in his view that death was due to shaking and not to anything else would be difficult to justify."

He added that a failure to preserve the brain had been "inexcusable and impossible to justify", and a failure to take samples was against good pathological and forensic practice. "There are regrettable numerous breaches of protocol," said Professor Green.

The Court of Appeal heard that:

“Dr. Garrett’s evidence, that the injuries must have been caused by shaking rather than direct trauma…have been contradicted by every other doctor consulted”

The toll of imprisonment evident on his strained and pale face, Mr Callan emerged from the court into the arms of his mother and father. He said:

"I am, of course, very relieved to be once again a free man. I have been in prison for four years convicted of the murder of a child I love, and it has been a devastating experience for myself and my family."

In common with a number of other innocent people jailed for offences they did not commit, Kevin’s life after release was troubled and he died of liver failure on 5 August 2003. Kevin’s many fine qualities were wasted and lost as a consequence of what was done by so-called expert pathologists, the police, the criminal justice system and the prison system.

I submit that the CCRC would never have permitted Kevin Callan to get as far as the Court of Appeal. Their approach is to refer the forensic or scientific issue to the original pathologist and inevitably that pathologist will refuse to budge and insist that they arrived at the correct conclusion.

This is even the case when the experts supporting the prisoner are far more experienced that the original prosecution expert witness. A similar situation exists in the case of Robin Garbutt, convicted on the testimony of a biologist who estimated time of death. (see here).

In its existence since 1995, the CCRC has not only failed to get to grips with the issue of erroneous expert witness testimony, it has actually made it even harder for innocent people to secure justice. I have no doubt that Kevin Callan would have died in prison an innocent man if he had to rely on the CCRC to work on his case.

By Bill Robertson

Bill Robertson has researched alleged miscarriages of justice for around 20 years and advised on several cases, including the most recent application to the CCRC by Jeremy Bamber.

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