SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Not guilty as charged

Sir Peter bottomley during the BBC Radio 5 Live discussion
Sir Peter bottomley during the BBC Radio 5 Live discussion

Do you remember where you were when Princess Diana’s funeral was held at Westminster Abbey on Saturday, September 6, 1997, nearly 20 years ago?

Virginia was there; I was landing in Miami, Florida helping Krishna Maharaj’s team to try to gain him a new trial. He had been convicted in 1987 for a double murder.

There have been constituency cases which required persistence. One of my first was a young man wrongly convicted of attempting to steal from a London Underground passenger’s handbag. He was serving a sentence when I visited him. He decided not to appeal because he wanted to return without delay to work in his bank: they also were convinced of his innocence. Years passed before we discovered that a crucial ‘witness’ had a long record of fake testimony in similar cases. My constituent was cleared.

In our country there have been on average seven murder convictions overturned each year because it became clear that the accused could not have been the killer or because unknown or hidden evidence showed the conviction was not safe.

The result of the effort in 1997 was an order for a re-sentencing hearing: should the death penalty be kept? The defence (defense in the USA) lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith was threatened with prison if I or any other witness argued again that innocence was a good reason not to execute Krishna. The jury decided death should be replaced by a term of years so long it would be until the end of life. A plea for clemency to the State governor failed.

Now, 30 years after the original conviction and 20 years since I became deeply involved, the Federal Court has ordered that the District Court should consider new evidence and reconsider the old evidence.

This week I joined the BBC Radio 5 Live discussion. Adrian Chiles interviewed Marita Maharaj, the brave wife, Clive Stafford-Smith and me. The damning details came easily to mind. Krishna had an interest in the victims living, not dying. Those interested in them being eliminated included Columbian drugs barons. They were angry that the ‘innocent businessmen’ had been stealing the drugs money. The prosecution concealed their knowledge of the pair setting up drugs money accounts around the Caribbean.

A lawyer friend of the first judge in the original trial came to Krishna, saying he would be treated fairly by the judge if for $50,000 she were employed for his defence. That judge was led away in chains during the trial, accused of taking bribes in a different case.

All could have been clear if the clever detective who claimed to have solved the crime had done simple things. A hand gun had been used. Why did he fail to test Krishna’s hand and arm for residues when the arrest was made within hours of the attack? Why did he fail to test the clothes being worn? That evidence would have convicted or cleared Krishna without doubt.

The interviews with each other witness were recorded, transcribed, signed by the witness and confirmed by a lawyer. The only one not recorded, not transcribed at once, not signed by the witness and not confirmed by a lawyer was the one the detective claimed he noted from Krishna.

The story up to 2012 is told in Clive Stafford-Smith’s book ‘Injustice’. It describes a man wrongly condemned to death for murder, a crusading lawyer determined to free him and an investigation that reveals corruption at every turn. Can we be sure that justice will be served at the end?

My team and I put every effort into constituency cases. We cannot guarantee success; we do try and we try not to give up, seeking justice and aiming for fairness.

Sir Peter Bottomley during the BBC Radio 5 Live discussion

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