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3:56pm UK, Thursday May 17, 2012
A man who spent seven years in prison for a murder he maintained he did not commit has had his conviction quashed by judges.
Sam Hallam, now 24, was at the Court of Appeal in London to hear the announcement by Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice Openshaw and Mr Justice Spencer that his conviction was “unsafe”.
He was released on bail by the three judges on Wednesday after prosecutors said they were not opposing his appeal.
Mr Hallam, of Hoxton, east London, sat in the public gallery with his mother Wendy Cohen as the judges gave their reasons for their decision.
The conviction was overturned in the light of fresh evidence relating to his alibi and identification.
There was applause and shouts of “justice” as the announcement was made.
Mr Hallam was 18 when he was found guilty at the Old Bailey in October 2005 of the murder of 21-year-old trainee chef Essayas Kassahun.
Sam Hallam pictured outside the Court of Appeal with his mother
Mr Kassahun died after being attacked by a group of youths on the St Luke’s estate in Clerkenwell, London, in October 2004.
Mr Hallam, who lost a conviction appeal in 2007 and was serving a minimum term of 12 years before his release on bail, always denied being at the murder scene.
The prosecution case against him was based mainly on the evidence of two witnesses who said they were at the scene. There was no forensic evidence linking him to the attack.
Since his conviction, Mr Hallam’s family and friends had mounted a high-profile campaign insisting he was innocent.
In a statement read outside court by Paul May, who led the campaign to free him, Mr Hallam said: “I don’t want anyone else ever to suffer what I’ve been through since October 2004.
Justice has long been denied to me but it has now finally prevailed.
“The identification evidence against me was so unreliable it should have never been put to the jury.
“The Metropolitan Police should have followed up leads which would have proved my innocence of the terrible murder of Essayas Kassahun.
“They should have disclosed all the relevant evidence in their possession to my lawyers and they didn’t.
“I now need time to recover with my family and friends from the nightmare I’ve suffered for the last seven-and-a-half years. Justice has long been denied to me but it has now finally prevailed.”
Actor Ray Winstone, whose nephew Bobby Hopwood is Mr Hallam’s best friend, criticised the police and demanded answers.
He said: “So why did an innocent man serve seven years? For me it is the disgraceful unprofessional action of the police involved in this case.
“Action that has caused a terrible stress within the family of the Hallams.”
Actor Ray Winstone has demanded answers over the case
Mr Winstone said Mr Hallam’s family had been left “broken-hearted” by the “tragic suicide of Sam’s father”. Terry Hallam was found hanged in October 2010.
He said: “Sam is free, but has lost seven years of his young life. The family can now hopefully rebuild their lives. But they can’t bring Sam’s dad back.”
He added: “Someone must answer for this outrageous miscarriage of justice.”
The 24-year-old’s case came before the appeal judges after it was referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.
The judges were told on Wednesday that Mr Hallam was the victim of a “serious miscarriage of justice”.
His lawyer, Henry Blaxland, said it had been brought about by a combination of factors, including a failure by police to properly investigate Mr Hallam’s alibi and by a non-disclosure of material by the prosecution that “could have supported his case”.