High Court compensation battle for man who had murder conviction quashed
30-year-old tells how he has struggled to piece his life back together since murder conviction was quashed in 2012
11 May, 2018 — By Tom Foot
Sam Hallam, pictured outside the High Court this week
A MAN whose murder conviction was sensationally quashed after he spent almost eight years in prison was at the High Court this week bringing a legal bid for compensation.
Wild celebrations greeted Sam Hallam back on the Arden estate after he was released by the Court of Appeal in May 2012. But it has not been a fairytale homecoming for the out-of-work 30-year-old who sleeps on the sofa at his mother’s flat, struggling to piece his life back together following his ordeal of being wrongly imprisoned.
“I just can’t believe I’ve had no compensation, I just think it’s wrong,” he said. “I lost my years 17 to 25. I won’t get that back. What kept me going was knowing I had my friends and family out there supporting me. I can’t express the feeling of getting out that day. But it’s been difficult, for sure – there’s been no official support for me.”
His mother, Wendy, said: “I would have thought there would be support for him but also for all of my family, and me.” She said the past few years had been “harder than when he was inside”.
Mr Hallam has always insisted he was nowhere near the fight between rival gangs in 2004, in Hoxton, when Essayas Kassahun, 20, a trainee chef, was hit on the head by a sharp object.
Sam Hallam outside the High Court with his mother Wendy, Patrick Maguire and Paddy Hill, and Paul McLaughlin, co-project manager at Miscarriages of Justice Organisation
He fell into a coma and died two days later. There was no DNA or CCTV evidence linking Mr Hallam to the attack but a young woman told police he was one of the killers. She later said this was based on a rumour going around the estate that a “Sam” had been involved in the attack.
The young woman’s friend, during evidence in the trial, said that Mr Hallam had not been there. But he was still convicted by the jury.
The Tribune has supported the Hallam campaign since it began almost 14 years ago with the protests led by the actor Ray Winstone, and visiting Sam in prison on his 21st birthday. The Tribune also covered a play about his campaign at the King’s Head, and was there at a raucous party on the day he was released.
An appeal of his conviction in 2012 – triggered by the work of Legal Aid-funded lawyers – found Mr Hallam had been identified by hostile witnesses and that his alibi has not been properly investigated by detectives. Crucially, there was also a “non-disclosure” of key evidence by the police, which led the Court of Appeal judges to rule his conviction as “unsafe”.
But under section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act – a change introduced by the Coalition government – miscarriage of justice victims’ compensation is now only paid if the applicant can prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that they did not commit the offence.
Some of the country’s top barristers, including Dinah Rose QC, Heather Williams QC and Henry Blaxland QC, are arguing that by flipping the burden of proof for compensation to applicants, their basic human rights have been breached and the view, enshrined in European law that “every person charged with a criminal offence should be presumed innocent until proven guilty”.
The basic counter-argument from the Ministry of Justice is that these rights are not applicable to compensation claims.
The Tribune’s front page after Mr Hallam was released in 2012
Seven Supreme Court judges will make a final call on Mr Hallam’s case, which has already been appealed and rejected in the lower High Court.
Ms Williams told Monday’s hearing that “the vast majority of the most notorious cases where wrongful convictions were set aside after lengthy periods of imprisonment” would not have been compensated under the scheme. This translates to some of the most famous miscarriage of justice victims – including Patrick Maguire of the “Maguire 7”. and Paddy Hill of the “Birmingham Six” – would not have been received a penny.
Both Mr Hill and Mr Maguire were at court on Monday morning to support Mr Hallam. Mr Hill said: “Under this appalling new test the Birmingham Six would have been denied compensation. We can’t allow this young man to be treated in this way.”
Mr Maguire has written a book about how he went off the rails “like a canonball” after coming out of prison, following his wrongful conviction for IRA pub bombings. Now an established artist, his work reveals the pain of a lost childhood.
“My biggest sentence started when I was released – and Sam will have to go through this too,” Mr Maguire said on the day Mr Hallam was freed.
Mr Hallam’s father killed himself while his son was in prison. Ironically, it was a photo of the father and son together on the night of the murder that was not disclosed by police. The photo message – in the early days of the technology – showed he was almost two miles away from where the murder was committed shortly before it was carried out.
After complex legal debate on Monday morning, Mr Hallam – who named his son Thierry after Arsenal football hero Thierry Henry – brightened up when talking to the Tribune about his life after prison, and the subject is Arsenal.
“I’ve been Wenger Out for two years. I’m glad he’s gone, it was time for change. It would be good to have someone like Vieira on board,” said Mr Hallam. “Fergie left Man U as champions, Wenger left us as sixth place – we could end up 16th. I haven’t been for two or three years, it’s not a good atmosphere. If you make a noise, people get the hump with you.”
The case concluded on Tuesday but a decision is not expected for several months.