I knew I wasn’t guilty, so I never stopped fighting for justice (Picture: Amit Naroop)
Every day for 12 years, handleless doors and gates stood between me and the outside world – with prison officers deciding when I could come and go.
But as the doors of London’s Royal Courts of Justice swung open for me on 17 July 2000, I finally felt like I had won my life back and relief was an understatement.
My supposed crime? Murder. But I knew I wasn’t guilty, so I never stopped fighting for justice and I was eventually freed on appeal.
Now, more than two decades on from that moment, I’m still fighting – but this time, to share the stories of other people wrongfully accused of crimes they didn’t commit.
On 16 December 1988, three armed men wearing balaclavas dragged two men from a car parked in Surrey, tied them up, stripped, beat and then poured petrol on them. As a result, one of the men – Peter Hurburgh – died. The three perpetrators then went on a violent burglary spree.
Three days later, armed police stormed into my house while I was in bed, took me into custody and interrogated me. Over the next few months, I was served depositions from witnesses accusing me of the crime – even though I had an alibi that I was at home in bed with a girlfriend at the time the crimes were committed.
So it was unbelievable to me that I ended up standing in the courtroom dock while being on trial with co-defendants Michael George Davis and Randolph Egbert Johnson (known as the ‘M25 Three’). Bafflingly, victim statements testified to seeing two white men and one Black man, so why were three Black men put on trial?
I honestly didn’t think I’d be found guilty.
Prison was physically and psychologically torturous (Picture: Amit Naroop)
So when the jury handed down the murder conviction and I was sentenced to life in prison in 1990, I was angry, scared and incredulous that this could be happening to me. How could the system get it so wrong?
As a result, prison was physically and psychologically torturous.
Not only was I confined with violent people, I couldn’t accept what I was going through so I resisted participating in programmes that the system expected of prisoners. I knew I wasn’t guilty, so why should I need to?
Throughout my time in jail, I had a dedicated team of lawyers committed to getting my conviction overturned.
Towards the end of the 1990s, we took our case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), who argued I didn’t get a fair trial on the basis that crucial evidence was not disclosed at the original trial. This is because one of the witnesses was a registered police informant, who was eligible for a financial reward at the conclusion of the case.
Remarkably, 21 judges unanimously ruled in my favour in February 2000, which meant that – alongside concerns from the Criminal Cases Review Commission – my case was referred to the Court of Appeal.
I went on to become a very successful journalist (Picture: Amit Naroop)
This was the first time in all my years of being in prison that I had a real hope that my convictions would be overturned.
Sure enough, five months later, three judges declared there had been a ‘profoundly disturbing’ conspiracy to give perjured evidence between police officers and a key prosecution witness.
The improper statement – ‘not a finding of innocence’ – by the appeal judges was a reprehensible effort to minimise the reputational harm my case caused the British criminal justice system.
I stood outside the Royal Courts of Justice and proclaimed: ‘This is a real good feeling. We waited a long time for this.’
I felt euphoria that my convictions had been overturned and that I finally had my life back. Words can’t even describe what it was like falling back into the arms of my loved ones.
I felt angry though, too – and this hasn’t left me in the two decades since my release.
I went on to become a very successful journalist with the BBC and now on Netflix with a show called Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons, which gave me an opportunity to travel the globe and expose similar injustices to what I went through.
I spoke to, Amanda Knox – who wrongly spent four years in an Italian prison for the murder of her roommate (Picture: Laura Smith/W.F.Howes)
All of this led to my latest project called You Are Accused, which explores the frightening world of false accusations. I spoke to a range of people – not necessarily about the details of their cases, but the aftermath and what their lives are like now.
One of those people was Jo Hamilton, who was accused of stealing £36,000 due to a computer system error – one of many affected by the Post Office IT scandal.
The financial impact of this accusation meant that she was forced to remortgage her home, but the psychological damage was just as – if not more – immense.
Alongside this is the heartbreak of the ripple effect on family and friends. For another person I spoke to, Amanda Knox – who wrongly spent four years in an Italian prison for the murder of her roommate – her family and friends stood by her, but they all had their lives completely disrupted due to distrust and suspicion.
Unfortunately for me, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to fully pick up the pieces of relationships and friendships I had to pause while I was incarcerated.
If there’s one thing I want people to take away from You Are Accused, it’s that people who are falsely accused of crimes are just like everybody else.
We deserve compassion, justice and to be believed – even when authority figures say otherwise.
As told to James Besanvalle
You Are Accused (W.F.Howes) is out now and is available to download on audible.
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I honestly didn’t think I’d be found guilty.