Socialist Worker

Robert Brown a 'forgotten man'

by Paul McGarr
Issue No. 1814

ROBERT BROWN has spent 25 years in a British jail for a crime he insists he did not commit. The 45 year old Scot is Britain's longest serving prisoner who is now known to be a victim of a miscarriage of justice. His case was finally referred to the court of appeal this summer, but he was denied bail by Judge Roderick-Evans and it could be a year before his new hearing.

Brown should have been released a decade ago. His 'tariff', the maximum time inside recommended by the trial judge, was 15 years. Under Britain's scandalous parole rules he is still inside because he refuses to admit his guilt. Robert Brown was sentenced for the murder of a 56 year old woman in Manchester in 1977.

The case bears all the hallmarks of so many other miscarriages of justice. He shared a cell in Wormwood Scrubs jail for a time with Paul Hill. Paul was one of the Guildford Four, young Irish men wrongly jailed for bombings in the 1970s and who were finally freed after serving 15 years. 'Brown is really and truly the 'forgotten man' of the British judicial system and police malpractice in the 70s,' Paul told journalist Eamonn O'Neill, who has campaigned over the Robert Brown case.

'Everyone knew that this man was innocent. It was a given,' says Paul. 'The prisoners, the staff, the governors and the visitors they all knew he'd been fitted up.' Yet he is still in jail, refused bail even on the compassionate grounds that his mother is seriously ill and may not live to see her son freed.

The case stems from the murder of 56 year old Annie Walsh, found dead in her flat in Manchester on 31 January 1977. Some facts are clear. Annie Walsh was last seen coming home in the late afternoon on Friday 28 January 1977. One witness, Margaret Jones, said she was accompanied by a man who was 'very thin and rough looking. He was in his late 20s or early 30s, and had scratch marks on his face...and looked very scruffy.' Jones later picked out a 37 year old man in a police line-up, but no charges were brought and the man was freed.

Then, in May 1977, Brown was arrested. At the time he was 18, and described as 'youthful' and 'good looking'. The police questioned Brown for 32 hours. He says he was punched in the stomach and forced to do step-ups naked on a chair in Manchester's Moss Side police station.

Journalist Eamonn O'Neill, writing in the Guardian recently, says that he has seen a confidential Home Office document which included a statement from a doctor who examined Brown that May. The doctor said he found 'a little tenderness in the area of the sternum and abdomen and could not exclude the possibility that this was caused by blows.' Brown alleges that a Greater Manchester police serious crime squad detective, Jack Butler, played a central role in proceedings.

Butler was later convicted and sentenced for perverting the course of justice and corruption in an unrelated case.

The story has chilling echoes with false 'confessions' which saw the Guildford Four jailed, and those in other high profile miscarriages of justice from the 1970s such as the Birmingham Six and Bridgewater Four. Paddy Hill was one of the Birmingham Six, Irish men who spent 16 years in jail for 1974 bombings they had nothing to do with.

Hill helped launch the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (MOJO) on his release, and the organisation is now campaigning for the release of Robert Brown. The judge at Brown's trial in 1977 said that 'to believe in Brown's innocence, you have to believe that police officers of all ranks fabricated evidence against him.'

Brown shouted 'I am innocent' as he was taken away. He has maintained his innocence every day since. 'I did not kill Annie Walsh,' he says. 'I know nothing about the death of Annie Walsh. I have been saying that to everybody who would listen for 25 years.' The Miscarriages of Justice Organisation is calling on home secretary David Blunkett to intervene and free Robert Brown immediately. Everyone should support that fight.

More information and petitions from Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (Scotland), Glasgow MAC, 34 Albion Street, Glasgow G1 1IL. Phone 0141 564 1245. Write to Robert Brown 895839, HMP Wymott, Moss Lane, Ulnes, Walton, Lancashire PR26 8LW.

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Sat 24 Aug 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1814
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