James Hanratty

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James Hanratty
James Hanratty.jpg
Born Sunday, (1936-10-04)4 October 1936
Bromley, Kent, England
Died Wednesday, 4 April 1962(1962-04-04) (aged 25)
Bedford Prison, Bedford, Bedfordshire, England
Cause of death
Execution (hanging)
Nationality British
Known for "A6 murder"

James Hanratty (4 October 1936 – 4 April 1962) was one of the last people in the UK to be sentenced to death for murder. He was hanged at Bedford Gaol on 4 April 1962, after being convicted of the murder of scientist Michael Gregsten, who was shot dead in his car near Clophill, Bedfordshire in August 1961. Gregsten's mistress Valerie Storie, was raped, shot and left paralysed in the same incident.

According to Storie, the couple were abducted at gunpoint in their car at Dorney Reach, Buckinghamshire, by a man with a cockney accent and mannerisms matching Hanratty's. The gunman ordered Gregsten to drive in several directions, before stopping beside the A6 at Deadman's Hill, where the offences took place. The prime suspects were Hanratty, a petty criminal, and Peter Louis Alphon, an eccentric drifter. Both these men changed their version of events several times and Storie picked out an innocent man at the first identity parade.[1]

The 'Guilty' verdict was questioned by many who felt the evidence was too weak to justify conviction. However, a DNA test in 2002 was to prove Hanratty's guilt, according to the Court of Appeal, "beyond doubt".

Childhood and adolescence[edit]

James Hanratty was one of four sons born to James and Mary Hanratty, in Farnborough, Kent;[citation needed] the family later moved to Wembley. Hanratty's early years were much troubled; long before his trial for the A6 murder, he had already been described as a retard, a psychopath, and a pathological liar. By the age of 11 he had been declared ineducable at St James Catholic School, Burnt Oak, although his parents steadfastly refused to accept he was in any way mentally deficient and successfully resisted attempts to have him placed in a school for the educationally sub-normal. After leaving Kingsbury High in 1951 aged 15, and still illiterate, Hanratty joined the Public Cleansing Department of Wembley Borough Council as a refuse sorter. In July the following year he fell from his bicycle, injuring his head and remaining unconscious for 10 hours; he was admitted to Wembley Hospital for nine days.

Shortly after his discharge, Hanratty left home for Brighton, where he was to find casual work with a road haulier. Eight weeks later he was found semi-conscious in the street, having apparently collapsed from either hunger or exposure. Initially admitted to the Royal Sussex Hospital, Brighton, he was transferred to St Francis' Hospital, Haywards Heath, where he underwent a craniotomy following the erroneous diagnosis of a brain haemorrhage. The report made there acknowledged his unhappy home background (he claimed he was frightened of his mother and had no filial feelings towards his father) and his mental deficiency. No precise diagnoses were offered, and it has since been suggested that he suffered from either epilepsy or post concussional syndrome, which would have had a marked effect on his personality.[1] Sent to recuperate at an aunt's home in Bedford, a place he and his brother Michael had visited as children on holiday, Hanratty found a job driving a mechanical shovel for a company called 'Green Brothers' which made breeze blocks, and remained with the firm for three years. On 7 September 1954, aged 17, Hanratty appeared before Harrow Magistrates. It was about this time that Hanratty became attracted to Soho, where he frequented various clubs and other haunts of the criminal underworld. Significantly, he befriended Charles 'Dixie' France. [1]

Criminal record[edit]

By the time of his arrest for the murder of Michael Gregsten, Hanratty had already accumulated four convictions for motoring offences and housebreaking. At his first trial at Harrow in 1954, he was placed on probation for taking a motor vehicle without consent, and for driving without a licence or insurance. Shortly afterwards, he began psychiatric treatment as an outpatient at the Portman Clinic. In October 1955 Hanratty appeared at the County of Middlesex Sessions, where he was sentenced to two terms of two years' imprisonment, to run concurrently, for housebreaking and stealing property. Despatched to the boys' wing of Wormwood Scrubs, he slashed his wrists; placed in the prison hospital, he was declared a 'potential psychopath'. After his release, his father resigned his job as dustman with Wembley council to start a window cleaning business with his son in a futile attempt to keep him away from crime. On 3 July 1957, only five months after his release from Wormwood Scrubs, Hanratty was sentenced at Brighton Magistrates Court to six months' (he served four) imprisonment for a variety of motoring offences, including theft of a motor vehicle and driving without a licence. He was sent to Walton Prison, Liverpool,[2] where he was again identified as a psychopath.[2] In March the following year, at the County of London Sessions, Hanratty was again convicted of car theft, and of driving while disqualified, and sentenced to three years' corrective training at Wandsworth Prison thence Maidstone Prison, where conditions were considered among the best in the UK. While at Maidstone, Hanratty came to the attention of a researcher, a 'participant observer' who lived and worked alongside the inmates; he was later to remark upon Hanratty’s 'gross social and emotional immaturity'. After a failed escape attempt, Hanratty was transferred to Camp Hill Prison, Isle of Wight, and thence, following another bid for freedom, to Strangeways Prison, Manchester. Transferred briefly to Durham Prison, he was returned to Strangeways where, having served his full term, he was released in March 1961, five months before the A6 murder.

No defence on the basis of mental history was raised at Hanratty’s trial for the murder.[1]

The murder[edit]

The facts[edit]

At about 06:45 on 23 August 1961, the body of Michael J. Gregsten (b. 28 December 1924)[3][4] was discovered in a lay-by on the A6 at Deadman's Hill, near the Bedfordshire village of Clophill, by Sydney Burton, a farm labourer. Lying next to Gregsten, semi-conscious, was his mistress Valerie Storie (b. 24 November 1938). Gregsten had been shot twice in the head with a .38 revolver at point blank range; Storie had been raped, and then shot with the same weapon, four times in the left shoulder and once in the neck, leaving her paralysed below the shoulders. Burton ran down the road and alerted John Kerr, a student taking a road census; Kerr flagged down two cars and asked the drivers to call an ambulance.

The car Gregsten and Storie had been using at the time of the attack, a grey four-door 1956 Morris Minor registration 847 BHN, was found abandoned behind Redbridge tube station in Essex later that evening. The car had been jointly owned by Gregsten's mother and aunt, and lent to the couple who, according to Storie, were planning a car rally.[1]

Gregsten was a scientist at the Road Research Laboratory at Slough. Storie was an assistant at the same laboratory and had been having an affair with Gregsten, although this did not become public knowledge until Storie wrote a series of articles for a popular magazine in June 1962, five months after the trial.[1] Gregsten lived with his wife Janet (d. 1995) and two children at Abbots Langley,[5] whither he had returned in December 1960 after living with Storie for an unspecified period.

Testimony of Valerie Storie[edit]

Late in the evening of Tuesday, 22 August 1961, Valerie Storie was sitting alongside Gregsten in his car in a cornfield at Dorney Reach, Buckinghamshire. A man tapped on the driver's door window; when Gregsten wound it down, a large black revolver was thrust into his face, and a cockney voice said, "This is a hold-up, I am a desperate man, I have been on the run for four months. If you do as I tell you, you will be all right." The man got into the back of the car and told Gregsten to drive further into the field, then stop. The man then kept them there for two hours, chattering to them incessantly. At 23:30, the man said he wanted food, and told Gregsten to start driving. They drove around the suburbs of North London, apparently aimlessly. The gunman knew the Bear Hotel, Maidenhead. Gregsten was ordered to stop at a milk vending machine and sent into a shop to buy cigarettes, and then to stop at a petrol station for more fuel. Although Gregsten and Storie offered to give him all their money and the car, the man appeared to have no plan and seemed to want them to stay with him.

The journey continued along the A5 through St Albans, which the gunman mistakenly insisted was Watford, before joining the A6. At about 01:30, the car was on the A6, travelling south, when the man said he wanted a 'kip' (sleep). Twice he told Gregsten to turn off the road and then changed his mind, and the car returned to the A6. At Deadman's Hill the man ordered Gregsten to pull into a lay-by. Gregsten at first refused, but the man became aggressive and threatened them with the gun. The man then said he wanted to sleep, and that he would have to tie them up. Storie and Gregsten pleaded with him not to shoot them. The man tied Storie's hands behind her back with Gregsten's tie and then saw a bag in the rear of the car with some rope. He told Gregsten to pass the bag but, as Gregsten moved, there were two shots. Gregsten had been hit twice in the head and died instantly. Storie screamed, "You bastard! You shot him. Why did you shoot him?" The gunman replied that Gregsten had frightened him by turning too quickly.

After ignoring her pleas to shoot her as well, or let her get help for Gregsten, the gunman told her to kiss him. She refused and, having managed to free her hands, tried to disarm him but was overpowered; after he threatened to shoot her, she relented. He then retrieved a cloth from the duffle bag, covered Gregsten's bloodied head with it, and ordered Storie to clamber into the back of the car, over Gregsten's body. When she refused, the man got out and forced her out of the car at gunpoint, pushing her on to the back seat, where he ordered her to undo her brassiere and remove her knickers before raping her. He then ordered Storie to drag Gregsten's body out of the car to the edge of the lay-by 2 or 3 metres away, before ordering her back into the car to start it for him and demonstrate the operation of the gears and switches. It was clear he either had not driven before, or was unfamiliar with a Morris Minor.

Storie then left the car and returned to sit beside Gregsten's body. The gunman got out of the car and approached her; pleading for her life, she took a pound note from her pocket, screaming, "Here, take this, take the car and go." He took several steps back to the car before turning and firing four bullets at her, then reloaded and fired again. Of approximately seven bullets fired, five hit Storie; she fell to the ground next to Gregsten and pretended to be dead. Evidently satisfied he had killed her, the gunman drove off southward with much crashing of gears, in the direction of Luton. It was now approximately 3 am, six hours after the ordeal had started at Dorney Reach. After vainly screaming and waving her petticoat to attract the attention of passing motorists, Storie lost consciousness.[1]

The investigation[edit]

The first policeman on the scene was handed a census form on which Kerr had written down Storie's gasped account of what she recalled at that moment; the document was never seen again.[citation needed] Storie gave another statement to the police later that morning, just before she underwent surgery in Bedford Hospital. Storie recalled what the man had said about being on the run for four months, yet he was immaculately dressed in a dark three-piece suit and with well-shone shoes.[citation needed]

The gun was discovered on the evening of 24 August, under the back seat of a 36A London bus, fully loaded and wiped clean of fingerprints. With the gun was a handkerchief which was to provide DNA evidence many years later. The police issued an appeal to boarding-house keepers to report any unusual or suspicious guests. The manager of the Alexandra Court Hotel reported a man who had locked himself in his room for five days after the murder, and the police picked him up. The suspect falsely identified himself as Frederick Durrant; he was actually Peter Louis Alphon, a drifter surviving on an inheritance and the proceeds of gambling. He claimed he had spent the evening of 22 August with his mother, and the following night at the Vienna Hotel, Maida Vale; the police quickly confirmed this and Alphon was released.

On 29 August, Valerie Storie and another witness, Edward Blackall, who had seen the driver of the Morris Minor, compiled an Identikit picture which was then released. However, only two days later, Storie gave a different description of her assailant to the police.[citation needed]

On 7 September, Meike Dalal was attacked in her home in Richmond, Surrey, by a man claiming to be the A6 murderer, whom she later identified as Alphon in an identity parade on 23 September.[citation needed] The investigation then stalled until 11 September, when two cartridge cases were found in the guest basement bedroom of the Vienna Hotel, which were matched with the bullets that killed Gregsten and to the ones in the gun found on the bus. The hotel manager, William Nudds, made a statement to police naming the last occupant of the room as 'James Ryan'. At the trial Nudds also stated that the man, upon leaving, had asked the way to a bus stop for a 36A bus, though his statement to police had merely mentioned the 36 bus. Nudds' statement also said that Alphon had stayed in the hotel as he claimed, and had remained in his room, Room 6, all night. The police raided the hotel, and questioned Nudds again, who then changed his story, claiming that Alphon had in fact been in the basement and Ryan in Room 6 but, for reasons unknown, had swapped rooms during the night. Nudds also now added that Alphon had left the hotel 'calm and composed'.

The police then took the unusual step of publicly naming Alphon as the murder suspect. Alphon subsequently surrendered himself, and was subjected to an intense interrogation. However, Valerie Storie failed to pick him out in an identity parade, and he was released four days later after being detained on a charge of assaulting Meike Dalal. Alphon was recorded by PC Ian Thomson as saying "there can't have been any fingerprints in the car otherwise mine would have given me away".[citation needed] Police went back to Nudds, the hotel manager, (who himself had a criminal record for fraud), who now said that his second statement was a lie, and his first statement, implicating Ryan, was in fact true. His reason for lying was that he had seen that Alphon was the police's prime suspect, and had wanted to assist their case. After some investigation, 'Ryan' turned out to be James Hanratty, a 25-year-old petty criminal with four convictions for car theft, larceny and burglary.

Hanratty telephoned Scotland Yard, saying he had fled because he had no credible alibi for the date in question, but repeated several times that he had nothing to do with the A6 murder. He was eventually arrested in Blackpool at the Stevonia cafe on 11 October, and on 14 October Valerie Storie picked him out in an identity parade, after each of the men in the parade had repeated the phrase used by the murderer, "Be quiet, will you? I'm thinking." Hanratty was then charged with the murder of Michael Gregsten.

The trial[edit]

The trial started at Bedfordshire Assizes on 22 January 1962; it was originally to have been heard at the Old Bailey, as requested by Hanratty's defence counsel, Michael Sherrard QC, later CBE. It is not known why the trial was moved to Bedford, just nine miles from the murder scene, and where there was, unsurprisingly, strong local feeling against the defendant. Among the prosecution team at the trial was Geoffrey Lane, who was subsequently appointed Lord Chief Justice. The trial was to last 21 days, the longest in English legal history up to that time[6]

Hanratty's initial defence was that he had been in Liverpool on the day of the murder, but then, halfway through the trial, he changed part of his story, claiming that he had in fact been in Rhyl, North Wales. At that time there was no conclusive forensic evidence to connect Hanratty with the car or the murder scene. Although Hanratty's blood group was the same as the murderer's, it was a common blood type shared by half the British population, and there was no evidence that Hanratty had ever been in the Maidenhead area. Whilst he was a professional thief, he had no convictions for violence, and apparently had never possessed a gun, although he later admitted to the police that he had attempted to obtain one after his last release from prison in March 1961. Moreover, the murderer drove badly, whereas Hanratty was an experienced car thief.

First defence – The Liverpool alibi[edit]

Hanratty claimed that he was staying with friends in Liverpool at the time of the murder, where he had also gone to see one of his criminal friends and former cell mate Terry McNally from Dingle to sell some jewellery. Hanratty claimed that his suitcase had been handed in to Lime Street Station by a 'man with a withered or turned hand'. At the trial the prosecution called Peter Stringer, who had an artificial arm, but who denied ever having seen the suitcase or Hanratty. However, there was another person called William Usher, who did have two fingers missing from one hand, which looked withered. Usher admitted remembering Hanratty and the suitcase, and partly remembered the name of the man as 'Ratty'; he was located by private detectives working for the defence, but was never called as a witness.[citation needed]

Hanratty said he had called into a sweetshop in Scotland Road and asked directions to 'Carleton' or 'Tarleton' Road. The Police tracked down a Mrs Dinwoodie, who did indeed run a sweetshop in Scotland Road, and who recalled a man like Hanratty asking for directions. However, she was unsure whether it was Monday 21st or Tuesday 22nd. On the other hand, there was plenty of evidence that Hanratty had been in London all day on Monday 21st: in the morning he had collected a suit from a dry cleaners' in Swiss Cottage; he had been to his friend Charles France's house on the Monday afternoon, and visited the Vienna Hotel in the evening.[citation needed] Hanratty's defence therefore claimed that he could not have travelled to Liverpool to the sweetshop and then returned in time to commit the murder at 9 pm on Tuesday. However, there was still doubt where Hanratty spent the evening of Tuesday 22nd. Just before the defence opened its case, Hanratty changed part of his alibi.

Second defence – The Rhyl alibi[edit]

Hanratty confessed to his defence barrister that he had invented part of the Liverpool story as he was unsure he could prove where he was. He then stated that he had in fact been in the Welsh coastal town of Rhyl. Within a few days, the defence had checked and assembled a new alibi for Hanratty. According to this, Hanratty had gone to Rhyl to sell a stolen watch to a 'fence'. He had arrived there late in the evening of Tuesday 22nd and had stayed in a boarding house near the railway station, in the attic room, which had a green bath. Private detectives tracked down a Mrs Grace Jones, a landlady with a guest house whose layout matched the description given by Hanratty, including the green bath in the attic.[citation needed] She remembered a man resembling Hanratty, and was sure it was during the week of 19–26 August.

Following the prosecution's dropping of the book's leaves in the court, her hotel registers and accounts were in chaos, and little information could be extracted from them.[citation needed] The prosecution produced a string of witnesses attesting that all the rooms were already occupied at the time and accused Mrs Jones of lying to gain publicity for her guest house.[citation needed] Counsel for the defence showed that the attic was empty on the night of the 22nd, and a bedroom exactly as described by Hanratty was free on the 23rd.[citation needed] Eventually, the jury retired, and after six hours returned to ask the judge for the definition of 'reasonable doubt'. They returned to the court and entered a unanimous verdict of guilty, after nine hours. Hanratty's appeal was dismissed on 13 March, and despite a petition signed by more than 90,000 people, Hanratty was hanged by executioner Harry Allen at Bedford on 4 April 1962, still protesting his innocence.

Evidence[edit]

Prosecution evidence anomalies[edit]

  • In the first identification line up, Valerie Storie picked out with total certainty an innocent airman, instead of the police suspect Alphon.[citation needed]
  • In the second line up, in which Hanratty was included, Hanratty stood out as his hair was bright orange; the police were so concerned about this they considered acquiring skullcaps.[citation needed]
  • In this line up, Valerie Storie picked out Hanratty, although she admitted she only ever saw the face of her attacker for a second or two when it was illuminated by a passing car's headlights while he raped her.[citation needed]
  • In her original statement, Valerie Storie states the man who abducted and raped her was in his 30s, whereas in her second statement she changed this to 'mid 20s'. James Hanratty was 25 but Peter Alphon was 31.[citation needed]
  • John Skillet picked out Hanratty as the driver of the Morris Minor as it sped down Eastern Avenue, but his companion, Edward Blackall, who had a closer view of the man, did not.[citation needed]
  • James Trower identified Hanratty as driving the Morris as it turned into Redbridge Lane, but Trower's companion was adamant that Trower couldn't have seen him from where they were standing.[citation needed]
  • Another prosecution witness was Roy Langdale, who was serving time in prison with Hanratty, and claimed that Hanratty confessed to him, but two others Hanratty exercised with said he consistently denied any involvement.[citation needed]
  • Charlie France, Hanratty's erstwhile friend, testified that Hanratty had once said to him that 'the back seat of a bus was a good place to hide something'.[citation needed]

Defence response[edit]

  • No witnesses, with the exception of Valerie Storie, were able to place Hanratty in the vicinity of Dorney Reach.[citation needed]
  • Elsie Cobb, who lived near the cornfield at Dorney Reach, stated that around 14:30 on 21 August she saw a man passing her house whom she described as aged 27 to 30, 5-foot 6 with dark hair brushed back and a thin nose. Her neighbour Frederick Newell added that the man had a sallow complexion.[citation needed]
  • The gunman said "I've been in institutions since I was eight": Hanratty is unlikely to have used words like "institutions".[citation needed]
  • Mary Lanz, proprietor of the Old Station Inn, Taplow, where Gregsten and Storie had last been before driving to the cornfield, was later able to identify Alphon as having also been there.[citation needed]
  • On Thursday 24 August at 20:40 Hanratty sent a telegram from Lime Street, Liverpool, in which he purported to be in London.[citation needed]
  • Although the cartridge cases were found in the Hotel Vienna, no one ever adequately explained how they came to be there.[citation needed]
  • Hanratty disposed of his suit jacket six weeks after the crime; Alphon disposed of his raincoat straight away.[citation needed]
  • Unlike the gunman's description of himself, Hanratty had never lived in a house with a cellar (let alone been locked in one and given only bread and water), was not coming up for PD, had not served five years for housebreaking, and had already been in prison on the Isle of Wight.[citation needed]
  • Valerie Storie had said that Jim was obviously not the gunman's real name despite what the gunman claimed.[citation needed]
  • Juliana Galves said she saw Alphon with a pair of black gloves on his suitcase during his stay in the Vienna.[citation needed]
  • Peter Alphon wrote to the Daily Express in 1962 saying he believed Hanratty was innocent and he supported a reprieve.[citation needed]
  • Alphon wrote to the Home Secretary in 1962 saying "I killed Gregsten".[citation needed]

A6 Defence Committee[edit]

The 'A6 Defence Committee', a self-appointed group of people including Paul Foot and Joan Lestor, attempted to assist Hanratty in his defence, and later to try and disprove his conviction. It was instrumental in uncovering new allegations of evidence, albeit too late.[citation needed] Twelve years after the execution, the Committee discovered the original statement made by Valerie Storie, which was neither referred to nor available at the trial or the appeal.[citation needed]

By 1968, the A6 Committee had found six witnesses to testify that Hanratty had been to Rhyl.[citation needed] They had also found a fairground worker called Terry Evans who admitted to letting Hanratty stay at his house early in 1961, and to fencing a stolen watch for him.[citation needed] Another man, Trevor Dutton, had just made a payment into his bank account, and consequently his bank book was stamped with the correct date, 23 August, when minutes later he was approached by a man with a cockney accent in a smart suit, trying to sell a gold watch.[citation needed]

Who killed Gregsten?[edit]

During 1962, the case caught the interest of London businessman Jean Justice, the son of a Belgian diplomat and partner of barrister Jeremy Fox. [3] Justice encouraged the initially reluctant Fox to help him expose what he believed to be the fabrication of the case against Hanratty. The pair tracked down Peter Alphon in February 1962, and began a long friendship with him for the purposes of establishing the truth. Justice attended the trial every day, being driven there by his chauffeur, and Alphon accompanied him from time to time. Slowly, over the months, Alphon began to confess, drawing diagrams of the murder scene and demonstrating precise knowledge of details of the events on Deadman's Hill.[citation needed] Justice took the precaution of making thorough notes, and recording all telephone conversations with Alphon. When Alphon found out, he flew into a rage. As it got closer to Hanratty's execution date, Alphon's behaviour became more and more bizarre.[citation needed] He started to bombard his own solicitor with threatening phone calls and letters.

Charles France was also the recipient of highly unpleasant anonymous phone calls. France, who had suffered from bouts of severe depression for many years, committed suicide by gassing himself (his third attempt) about two weeks before the execution. He wrote a suicide letter to Hanratty; it was full of spite and venom, but at no point actually accused him of committing the murder. He also wrote a letter to the coroner, in which he referred to the great harm done to the family by Hanratty. France also left behind several letters for his family, the contents of which have never been made public. At the time of France's second suicide attempt in January, one of the letters he left was addressed to the coroner, in which he wrote 'I am of sound mind and body. I do this act in the knowledge that it will clear my family's character of any act or wrong'. The circumstances of Hanratty's introduction to France's family, and the reasons for the crippling sense of guilt harboured by France for the harm he felt Hanratty had inflicted on them, so great that it could only be expiated by suicide, remain a mystery.[1]

Alphon's account[edit]

Alphon's continued confessions formed a picture.[citation needed] According to him, a man had paid him a sum of £5,000 to end the affair between Gregsten and Storie. Another man obtained a gun for Alphon, and Alphon had set off and hijacked the pair. According to Alphon, he gave Gregsten two chances to get away but "each time the bloody man kept coming back". He claimed the gun went off by accident. There was a plan for this eventuality: Alphon says he travelled to Southend and gave the gun to Charles France, who was to dispose of it.[citation needed]

On 22 August 1962 Alphon visited the Hanratty family and offered to compensate them for their son's death.[citation needed] They threw him out of their house and in a fracas the following day, Alphon assaulted Mary Hanratty.[citation needed] A BBC Panorama programme in 1966 included extracts from the Jean Justice tapes. In May 1967 there was a bizarre press conference, in which Alphon confessed to the world media and related the full story of the gun, the £5,000 and France's involvement.[citation needed] Alphon stuck to his confession and continued to repeat it until about 1971, when he withdrew his claims.[7] Sceptics noted that Alphon had apparently been paid considerable sums of money by Justice, and had recanted after he had secured his payments[citation needed]. However, Bob Woffinden writes that there was only one occasion when Justice and Jeremy Fox supported Alphon financially, when Fox paid a hotel bill for him.[8] Alphon was also to decline money and publicity when invited to be interviewed on national TV by David Frost on 16 November 1967.[citation needed] Fox split from Jean Justice in the 1970s, but continued the fight to clear Hanratty until his death in 1999, three years before the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction on the basis of the DNA evidence retrieved from Hanratty's corpse.

The A6 Committee made a list of claims which, they contended, indicated that Alphon was the murderer:

  • Alphon resembled the Identikit pictures more than Hanratty did;
  • When stressed, Alphon lapsed into Cockney;
  • Alphon never produced a convincing alibi;
  • He provided a more credible motive than Hanratty could;
  • He was a poor driver;
  • Paul Foot obtained a copy of his bank account, showing that Alphon received payments in cash totalling £7,569 between October 1961 and June 1962. Alphon was unable to account for £5,000 of these payments.[citation needed]

The A6 Committee have claimed that the police refused to investigate Alphon's confessions and credibility in the light of this material.[citation needed] In the London Review of Books, 11 December 1997 (p. 37), Paul Foot warned "against jumping to hasty conclusions, in particular about Peter Alphon... he really didn't know as much as he pretended. He certainly didn't know what he alleged – that Mrs Gregsten was the prime mover in commissioning the murder."

Official Inquiries[edit]

Three Home Office inquiries have been set up. Detective Superintendent Douglas Nimmo reported on 22 March 1967, Lewis Hawser QC reported on 10 April 1975 and Detective Chief Superintendent Roger Matthews reported on 29 May 1996. The Home Secretary Roy Jenkins received the first two and Michael Howard received the third. On 19 March 1997, the Home Office referred the case to the new Criminal Cases Review Commission where Baden Skitt chaired the investigation. The Hanratty family acting through their solicitor, Sir Geoffrey Bindman, repeatedly called for further inquiries into the case.[9]

DNA evidence and appeal in 2002[edit]

The case for Hanratty's innocence was pursued by his family as well as by some of the opponents of capital punishment in the United Kingdom, who maintained that Hanratty was innocent and sought to draw attention to evidence that would cast doubt on the validity of his conviction. However, following an appeal by his family, modern testing of DNA from his exhumed corpse and members of his family convinced Court of Appeal judges in 2002 that his guilt was proved "beyond doubt".[10] Paul Foot and some other campaigners continued to believe in Hanratty's innocence and argued that the DNA evidence could have been contaminated, in view of the fact that the small DNA samples from items of clothing, kept in a police laboratory for over 40 years in conditions that, as they argue, "do not satisfy modern evidential standards", had had to be subjected to very new amplification techniques to yield any genetic profile.[11] However, no DNA other than Hanratty's was found on the handkerchief in which the murder weapon had been found wrapped (the other piece of evidence tested, a sample from Valerie Storie's underwear, provided two different sets of male DNA, one that corresponded to Hanratty, and one which the Court of Appeal interpreted as coming from Gregsten).[12]

Hanratty's family continue to press for a review of his conviction.[13]

In 1991 Bedfordshire Police allowed Bob Woffinden access to their previously undisclosed files on the case.[citation needed] The CCRC report had also revealed the recorded mileage on the Morris Minor which invalidated Skillet's sighting in Brentwood and Trower's in Redbridge Lane.[citation needed] Woffinden writes there is no evidence they even saw the same Morris Minor. These anomalies were considered sufficiently significant to justify an appeal against the conviction on behalf of Hanratty's family.[citation needed]

While some of the original items of physical evidence were destroyed, the sample from Miss Storie's underwear was discovered in 1991, while the handkerchief was found in the possession of the Berkshire police in late-1997.[12] DNA was donated by Hanratty's relatives, which they expected to exonerate him when compared with material on surviving evidence. Results from testing in June 1999 were said to be equivocal.[who?]

Hanratty's body was exhumed in 2001 to extract DNA.[14] This was compared with mucus preserved in the handkerchief within which the murder weapon had been found wrapped. It was also compared with semen preserved in the underwear worn by Storie when she was raped. DNA samples from both sources matched Hanratty's DNA. At the subsequent appeal hearing Michael Mansfield QC, the barrister acting for the Hanratty family, admitted that if contamination could be excluded the DNA evidence demonstrated that Hanratty had committed the murder and rape. He argued that the evidence may have been contaminated because of lax handling procedures. Among the surviving evidential items a vial had been broken which Hanratty's counsel argued could account for contamination (the decision by the Court of Appeal included a discussion of the handling of the various items of evidence involved).[12]

The argument for contamination was dismissed as "fanciful" by the judges, who concluded that the "DNA evidence, standing alone, is certain proof of guilt".[12]

Hanratty's family and their supporters have continued to contest this conclusion.

Peter Alphon died in January 2009 following a fall at his home. The following month Richard Ingrams, a close friend and colleague of Paul Foot, wrote a brief article about Alphon's part in the case in The Independent. Ingrams said that Alphon, in conversations with Foot and others, had spoken obsessively about the case, frequently incriminating himself.[citation needed] Ingrams said that Foot continued until his own death to believe in Hanratty's alibi, despite the DNA tests of 2002.[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Blom-Cooper, L. (1963). The A6 murder: Regina v. James Hanratty; the semblance of truth. London: Penguin Books, 142pp.
  2. ^ The case against Hanratty
  3. ^ GRO Register of Births: MAR 1925 3a 660 BARNET. Michael J. Gregsten, mmn = Oulet
  4. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: JUN 1962 4a 7 AMPTHILL. Michael J. Gregston [sic] aged 34
  5. ^ The Times, (17 October 17, 1961). Man in Court on A6 Charge; p. 6; Issue 55214; col D
  6. ^ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/9717126/Michael-Sherrard.html
  7. ^ Colin Evans, Murder two: the second casebook of forensic detection, John Wiley & Sons, 2004, p.105.
  8. ^ Woffinden, R. (1997). Hanratty: The Final Verdict. p. 332. Macmillan ISBN 0-333-71015-0
  9. ^ Bennetto, Jason (27 January 1997). "I'm dying tomorrow, please clear my name". The Independent (United Kingdom). p. 8. 
  10. ^ Joshua Rozenberg,"DNA proves Hanratty guilt 'beyond doubt'", The Daily Telegraph, London, 11 May 2002.
  11. ^ John Steele, "Hanratty lawyers reject DNA 'guilt'", The Daily Telegraph, London, 23 June 2001.
  12. ^ a b c d England and Wales Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) Decisions. Neutral Citation Number: [2002] Crim 1141. Accessed on 11 November 2013 at: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Crim/2002/1141.html
  13. ^ "Hanratty family in new appeal against murder conviction" BBC News, 30 December 2010.
  14. ^ John Steele, "Hanratty's body is reburied after DNA testing", The Daily Telegraph, London, 28 June 2001.
  15. ^ Richard Ingrams, "We will never know the truth about the A6 killer", The Independent, 7 February 2009.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Eric Ambler. James Hanratty, an essay contained within The Ability To Kill (1963) London: The Bodley Head.
  • Louis Blom-Cooper. The A6 Murder, Penguin Books, (1963) OCLC 6124111
  • Jean Justice. Murder vs. murder – the British legal system and the A6 murder case (1964) OCLC 450377
  • Lord Russell of Liverpool. Deadman's Hill – was Hanratty guilty? (1965) OCLC 4707421
  • Jean Justice. Le Crime de la Route A6 (1968) Laffont ASIN B0000DQ7SP
  • Paul Foot. Who Killed Hanratty? (1973) ISBN 0-586-03813-2
  • Bob Woffinden. Hanratty: The Final Verdict (1999) Pan Books ISBN 0-330-35301-2.
  • Leonard Miller. Shadows of Deadman's Hill (2001) ISBN 1-902878-22-1.

External links[edit]