ISHTIAQ AHMED has spent 13 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. KEVIN OVENDEN visited Ishtiaq in HMP Coldingley before his appeal, which began in London this week.
'It has been a battle just to get to the stage of this appeal,' says Ishtiaq. 'We have had to come up with new evidence to get the appeal court to hear the case. But the truth about the murder in Reading of David Pickering in 1989, of which I am accused, is devastating. My barristers are presenting a tape of a phone call from a key prosecution witness in the original case to my sister.'
On the tape the former witness allegedly names another man as the murderer. Ishtiaq Ahmed's case is littered with one scandal after another. There was no evidence against him until two new officers were brought to the investigation. They requestioned witnesses for hours on end. The key prosecution witness was interviewed four times but even then did not name Ishtiaq.
It was only on the fifth occasion, after she travelled with a police officer from Newcastle back to Reading, that she named him. Ishtiaq had no motive for the murder. Others, who had motives, were virtually ignored in the original investigation.
The jury was told that ambulance staff tried to revive David Pickering when they arrived on the scene at 7.58am on 17 October 1989. But the court was also asked to believe a witness who said she discovered the corpse some two hours earlier. If that was true, and it was crucial to implicating Ishtiaq, there is no way paramedics would be trying to resuscitate the body two hours later.
One of the ambulance workers complained of 'pressure' from the police over her statement. Ishtiaq was convicted in January 1991. His complaints against Thames Valley police led to an investigation in 1994. 'They brought in the Bedfordshire police to investigate,' says Ishtiaq. 'It was the police investigating the police. Bedfordshire police failed to interview or even find a key witness who had originally given evidence that damaged my reputation but who had since gone on video tape to retract it. My defence team found that person easily, but not the police.
'My appeal in 1995 was a farce. The prosecution got Public Interest Immunity certificates to withhold large numbers of documents from me and my legal team. A lot of those surround what happened to the main officers in the investigation after my conviction. That is evidence I want heard in court. And I will be raising it after my appeal, no matter what happens. There is a huge scandal surrounding the Reading police.'
Over 80 MPs have backed Ishtiaq's campaign for justice. So have the local community and paper in Reading. That kind of pressure forced the Crown Prosecution Service to allow defence lawyers to inspect embargoed documents, but gave them only a week to do so before this week's hearing.
'There is clearly no justice here,' says Ishtiaq. 'It's not just me. So many people are in prison for things they did not do. It is about the powerful getting away with whatever they want and the rest of us being the victims. But I refuse to be silent. My family has supported me tremendously. That has given me the strength to push to get this appeal hearing. My lawyers, who include Mike Mansfield QC, say the evidence on my side is overwhelming. But that does not necessarily mean the appeal court judges will free me. Part of that is down to the level of support I have.
'My sister did an interview in Socialist Worker a couple of years ago. A week later I started getting lots of supportive letters and I wondered where they were coming from. Then I realised so many of them said they had read about my case in the paper. I cannot tell you what a difference that makes. Prison is almost designed to make you go mad. I will prove my innocence. And then I will move on to expose who put me in prison. I cannot forget. Why should I forgive?'
You can write to Ishtiaq at Ishtiaq Ahmed, WV2288, HMP Coldingley, Shaftesbury Road, Bisley, Woking, Surrey.