originally by: The Observer
9th January 2011
In the US, the Innocence Project has freed 260 people imprisoned for crimes they did not commit – and inspired a new film starring Hilary Swank. In the UK the work is just beginning, but the lawyers who only take the most desperate cases of injustice have a first victory in their sights.
It was, in the words of the judge presiding over the case, a “brutal and undignified death”. A 79-year-old woman, Joan Albert, had been stabbed in a sudden, savage and brutal attack, her body found in the hallway of her Suffolk home on 16 December 2001. The pensioner had, police believed, been murdered during a burglary that had gone wrong.
Following months of investigations and forensic tests, the man charged with the murder was a 25-year-old office worker named Simon Hall. Hall claimed he was innocent: on the night of the murder he had been out drinking seven miles from Albert’s home and he had no motive to kill the pensioner.
The main evidence against Hall was a statement given by the prosecution expert, who claimed that black nylon flock fibres and green polyester fibres found in addresses and vehicles related to Simon Hall were “indistinguishable” from those found at the crime scene and on Joan Albert’s body.
Despite the fact that all the other evidence pointed to Hall’s innocence, including hairs and fingerprints found at the crime scene which did not match and his strong alibi, Simon Hall was sentenced to life imprisonment in April 2003. “Why you chose, in the small hours,” Mrs Justice Rafferty told Hall, “to break into her home and stab her to death may never be known.” The judge assumed, of course, that he was guilty.