Raphael Rowe

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Raphael Rowe, born March 11, 1968, is an investigative journalist, best known for his work with BBC Panorama.[1] Rowe was convicted in 1990 of murder as part of the M25 Three. After twelve years in prison, the convictions of Rowe and his two co-defendants, Michael George Davis and Randolph Egbert Johnson, were ruled "unsafe" in July 2000 after a series of failed appeals commencing in 1993.[2]

Early life[edit]

Rowe was born and brought up in southeast London. Described in court as a "career criminal", he had previous convictions, including malicious wounding.[3]

M25 Three[edit]

Original crime[edit]

At some time between 0150 and 0340 UTC, an armed gang of three men wearing balaclavas and driving a stolen green Triumph Spitfire approached a car in Chelsham, Surrey in which Peter Hurburgh and Alan Eley were having sex. The gang dragged the two men from the car and tied them up, then stripped and beat them.[4] The gang then poured petrol over the two men, and Eley lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness, Hurburgh was dead, having sustained five fractured ribs and a fractured sternum, which had bruised his heart leading to death from cardiac arrest.[2]

The assailants abandoned the Triumph at the scene and stole Hurburgh's car, an Austin Princess which they then drove around the M25 to Oxted. Here, at around 0340 UTC, they broke into a home belonging to Richard Napier, then aged 66, who lived with his wife and 40-year-old son Timothy. The gang threatened the family with a knife and two handguns, one of which was described as a revolver. Timothy sustained multiple knife wounds and Mrs Napier was instructed to remove her rings and jewellery. She was told that if she refused her fingers would be cut off. The house was ransacked and after 20–30 minutes, the robbers left, taking Timothy's Toyota Corolla which had been parked near the house.[2] Hurburgh's Austin was found abandoned 100 yards (90 m) from the Napiers' house.[2]

The gang then drove around the M25 to Fetcham, where at 0500 UTC they broke into the house of Rosemary Spicer and her boyfriend Peter Almond, who were threatened with a handgun, tied up and gagged while the house was ransacked.[4] After between forty-five minutes and an hour the gang left in a Renault 5 and a Vauxhall Cavalier stolen from Spicer and Almond; Timothy Napier's Toyota was later found nearby.[2]


Rowe and Davis were arrested on the morning of 19 December 1988 at the probation hostel they shared in Sydenham, London and initially taken to Oxted Police Station.[2][5] Johnson was apprehended on 6 January 1989, at which time he was found to be in possession of a revolver.[2] Some of the items stolen during the Oxted and Fetcham robberies were recovered from the bail hostel. Davis' fingerprints were found on porcelain figures taken during one of the robberies and later discovered in a locked cupboard inside the bail hostel.[2] In total, twelve people at the hostel were arrested.[5] A further suspect, Norman Duncan, was already in police custody.[2]

Case against Rowe, Davis and Johnson[edit]

Griffin and Duncan admitted stealing the Triumph used by the gang that murdered Hurburgh, but testified that they had stolen it at the request of Rowe, on 13 December 1988. They claimed that it had been kept at the bail hostel until the evening of 15 December when Rowe, Davis and a third man, whom they did not know but who was alleged by the prosecution to be Johnson, had asked them for assistance to "bump start" the vehicle, between 2300 and 0000 UTC. They also testified that Rowe had asked for balaclavas. This same group of witnesses claimed that Rowe and Davis had returned on the morning of 16 December in the stolen Renault and Vauxhall with a quantity of items, the proceeds of the robberies, which they helped to unload and hide. They alleged that they were then asked to dispose of the stolen vehicles, with the warning that they were a "bit warm" and that they would have to be burned completely to remove all identification.[2]

Rowe's girlfriend, 16-year-old Kate Williamson, said that at the time the crimes were committed Rowe had left at approximately 0130 UTC and not returned until around 0630 UTC, when he returned wearing different jeans and shoes and carrying a Sainsbury's bag, the same type of which had been taken in the Spicer/Almond robberies. Williamson claimed that Rowe took from the bag a pendant with a gold chain, a watch which was later found to be one taken during the Spicer robbery, and muddied jeans and boots.

Williamson claimed that Rowe gave her two rings, later found to have been taken during the Napier robbery, a watch found to have been taken from the Spicer robbery, and a watchstrap from the Napier robbery. She handed all of the items to the police on 19 December 1988. Police also found a brooch taken in the Spicer robbery in a waste paper basket in Rowe's room. Williamson gave further evidence that when Rowe had left on the Thursday evening he had been wearing a particular type of distinctive footwear, and imprints made by this type of boot were found in a flowerbed at the Napier home and in blood in the Napiers' hall.[2]

Trial and conviction[edit]

The original trial took place at the Old Bailey between January and February 1990, resulting in all three being convicted in March of the murder of Hurburgh, causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Timothy Napier and several robberies. Each was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder and given substantial sentences for the other offences. Davis also pleaded guilty to separate charges of robbery and Johnson to robbery and rape, offences committed during the commission of an earlier burglary several days before the murder.[6]


First appeal[edit]

The first appeal was heard on 23 July 1993. It was then disclosed that reward money had been paid for information leading to the three men's conviction but not the name or names of the recipients, which their lawyers claimed was vital to their case, since those alleged to have received payments might also have been suspects, and had been promised immunity from prosecution in return for information.[7] It later emerged that Duncan had received £10,300 in reward money from the Daily Mail, which was not disclosed to the jury when he gave evidence at the original trial.

The appeal was rejected, with the court stating: "Taking all the evidence relating to the timing and events on the Thursday night and the succeeding days into account we conclude that, on the whole of the material we have reviewed, there is no basis for saying there is even a lurking doubt about the safety of the convictions of Rowe and Davis, the same applies to Johnson. On the contrary, the case against them all was, and remains, a formidable one."

Criminal Cases Review Commission[edit]

In 1997, the Criminal Cases Review Commission appointed an investigating officer from Greater Manchester Police to carry out enquiries into the case, and in January 1999 the investigating officer submitted his report. The report concluded that:

European Court of Human Rights judgment[edit]

In 1994, Davis and Rowe made an application to the European Court of Human Rights. On 16 February 2000 the court returned its judgment in respect of Davis and Rowe, finding that there had been a violation of Article 6 (1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically the failure to disclose Duncan's status as an informant prior to trial together with the fact that he had become eligible for a reward and may have nominated Cooper as one of the robbers before later accusing Johnson.

2000 Appeal Court hearing, convictions overturned[edit]

Commencing on 14 June 2000, at the hearings conclusion, the court stated that:

The three men were released from prison on 17 July 2000 when their convictions were overturned after being ruled "unsafe" by the Court of Appeal.[8] In the ruling, Lord Justice Mantell, Mr Justice Blofeld and Mrs Justice Rafferty were emphatic that although the convictions were unsafe, they were not declaring the men innocent: "[T]he case against all three appellants was formidable. The evidence against Rowe was overwhelming... For the better understanding of those who have listened to this judgment and of those who may report it hereafter this is not a finding of innocence, far from it."[2] On his release, Rowe said:[3]


During his time in prison, Rowe studied journalism via a correspondence course.[1] Following his release, after a year travelling the world, Rowe joined BBC Radio 4's Today programme, as a reporter. He then became a reporter on the BBC Six O'Clock News, and a reporter on BBC Panorama.[1] Rowe is a reporter on the BBC One series The One Show and Sunday Morning Live [1] [2]. In 2018 he presented his first series for Netflix, Inside the World's Toughest Prisons [3] and appeared in the BBC Two series, Pilgrimage: the Road to Santiago [4].

After the arrest and conviction of Barry George at the Old Bailey on 2 July 2001 for the murder of BBC news presenter Jill Dando, George was sentenced to life imprisonment. Concern about this conviction was widespread on the basis that the case against George appeared thin. Two appeals were unsuccessful, but after Rowe filmed a Panorama report which discredited forensics evidence was excluded from the prosecution's case, George's third appeal succeeded in November 2007. The original conviction was quashed and a second trial lasting eight weeks ended in George's acquittal on 1 August 2008.[9]


  1. ^ a b c "Raphael Rowe". BBC Panorama. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l R v. Rowe Davis and Johnson. Transcript of Case Nos: 99/2239/S3 , 99/2240/S3, 99/2241/S3. Royal Courts of Justice. 17 July 2000. Retrieved 11 August 2009.
  3. ^ a b Hopkins, Nick (22 July 2000). "Raphael Rowe was freed as one of the M25 Three. But his fight for justice goes on". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 11 August 2009.
  4. ^ a b Pullinger, Kate. The case of the M25 Three Archived 22 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine.. Innocent.org. Retrieved 11 August 2009.
  5. ^ a b Thompson, Tony (23 July 2000). "'I'm back from the Stone Age'". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 August 2009.
  6. ^ Shaw, Terence (18 July 2000). "'M25 three' are freed as convictions quashed". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 11 August 2009.
  7. ^ Campbell, Duncan (9 April 1999). "M25 Three case goes to appeal back to appeal court". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 August 2009.
  8. ^ "Appeal court frees 'M25 Three'". BBC News. 18 July 2000. Retrieved 11 August 2009.
  9. ^ "George not guilty of Dando murder". BBC News. 1 August 2008. Retrieved 1 August 2008.

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