The government is pursuing a man whose conviction was quashed at the end of last year as a result of DNA evidence for legal costs over his attempts to win compensation for 17 years in prison. Victor Nealon was convicted of attempted rape in 1997 outside a nightclub in Redditch. The evidence used to secure his conviction was a disputed ID parade and a weakened alibi. His conviction was quashed last December after DNA pointed to another man as the perpetrator.
Not only has Victor Nealon been refused permission to judicially review the decision of Chris Grayling to turn down his application for compensation, but the government is pursuing a man who was released with just £46 to his name and nowhere to stay for £2,500 of legal costs. The former postman, now 53 years old, spent his first night of freedom sleeping on the streets of Birmingham.
‘It is a public scandal that the government has refused to compensate Victor Nealon, but now we learn that Chris Grayling is trying to recover his costs defending a claim from someone who has suffered so much already because he has been treated outrageously by the state,’ commented his solicitor Mark Newby today. ‘Not only does the secretary of state want to deny Victor Nealon compensation for 17 lost years but he wants him to pay the cost of that refusal as well. Victor is determined to fight on for what is right and just.’
Victor Nealon’s challenge is seen as a test case for the new, much restricted regime to compensate the victims of miscarriages introduced under this year’s Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. That legislation further restricted eligibility for compensation to only those who can demonstrate their innocence ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. You can read more about that here.
Baroness Helena Kennedy in a debate in the House of Lords over the 2014 legislation said that to ask people to prove their innocence beyond reasonable doubt was ‘an affront to our system of law‘.
‘It is very difficult for people to prove that they are innocent beyond reasonable doubt: “Prove that you didn’t kill your baby”; “Prove that you didn’t leave a bomb in the pub.”’
Baroness Helena Kennedy
Nealon’s letter before action quoted the secretary of state’s own words in its decision not to pay compensation. ‘The Court of Appeal decided, ultimately that the jury may reasonably have reached the conclusion, based on the DNA evidence, that it was a real possibility that the “unknown male” and not the applicant was the attacker.’
In the secretary of state’s new grounds for resisting the claim, it was asserted that the DNA analysis ‘plainly did not show beyond reasonable doubt that the claimant did not commit the offence… .’
However the minister continued: ‘There is nothing in that conclusion that affects the claimant’s entitlement to be presumed innocent of the offence itself. Nor is there anything in the language of the Secretary of State’s decision applying those criteria [of the new legislation] which infringes that presumption. The Secretary of State has merely applied the criteria set by Parliament governing the limited circumstances that compensation is to be paid.’
West Mercia police recently re-opened the investigation into the attempted rape.
Victor Nealor does not have legal aid. If you want to support this test case which has important implications for victims of miscarriages of justice, email Mark@jordansllp.com for details.
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award