4,837: That is the number of days that Omar Benguit has so far spent in prison for the murder of Oki Shin.
The crime itself is utterly tragic. A young Korean female died after being stabbed on her way home from a nightclub in Bournemouth in 2002. However, what followed can fairly be described as another tragic series of events that has made a mockery of justice.
Dorset police initially focused their interest on men in Oki Shin’s circle of friends, but this changed six weeks into the investigation after the police arrested a crack addict prostitute for shoplifting. Her name was Beverley Brown and she claimed that three men had flagged her down when she was driving her car that night, asking for a lift to a crack house a few miles away.
According to Brown, several car journeys took place that night, including a slight detour to murder Oki Shin; stop-offs at various locations in Bournemouth with the assailant covered in blood inside the car; a quick visit to the crack house; and the disposing of the murder weapon (a knife) and bloody clothes in the river Stour.
No forensic evidence
Brown described in graphic detail how two of the men later that night subjected her to a particularly vicious rape inside the car featuring a variety of tools from the car’s tool box.
In a series of statements to the police it appears that Brown, with the help of the interviewing officers and a good amount of guess work, eventually managed to identify the three men by name. ‘Darius’ was identified as Delroy Woolry; ‘Mike Big’ as Nick Gbadamosi; and ‘Omar Hussain’ as Omar Benguit. These three men were local drug addicts and already known to the police.
There was no physical evidence that could link Benguit or the other men to the crime scene, the victim, the car, the tool box or to Brown. When no evidence was found inside her Volvo, Brown claimed she had in fact been driving a Renault. No evidence was found in this car either. The alleged murder weapon and the blood stained clothes were never found even though extensive searches were carried out.
It is curious to note that Woolry was never put on trial for his alleged involvement in the crime. It has been suggested that he was in police custody on the night of the murder, which would have given him the perfect alibi. Woolry was deported to Jamaica, allegedly because his visa had expired. Gbadamosi and Benguit, on the other hand, were put on trial in 2003.
In the first trial the jury failed to reach a verdict on Benguit’s one count of murder and one count of rape. Gbadamosi was acquitted on two counts of rape, but the jury failed to agree on one count of assisting an offender. Given that one of the three men originally implicated by Brown had been allowed to leave the country, Gbadamosi had been acquitted of the rapes, and the jury had been unable to reach a verdict in relation to Benguit, it would be easy to assume that the story would end here.
It did not.
A retrial took place in 2004 and this time the jury acquitted Benguit of rape and Gbadamosi of assisting an offender. However, this jury also failed to reach a verdict on the murder charge. With two juries finding such problems with the rape charges that they acquitted the defendants, and two juries being unable to convict Benguit of murder, one could assume that this case would end here. It did not.
At this point it had emerged that Gbadamosi had been caught on a speed camera, driving his own car miles away at the time of the murder. Although this should have been considered as conclusive proof that Brown was lying and had in fact committed perjury, as well as made false allegations of rape against both Benguit and Gbadamosi, this farce still did not end.
Three becomes one
With Woolry in Jamaica and Gbadamosi out of the picture, three men had become one, and it would appear that there was no longer any reliable evidence against Benguit. Nevertheless, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) gave his permission to put Benguit through a third trial on the murder charge. The fact that this was allowed is unusual and very disturbing, especially as the star witness had already been caught lying.
This third jury found Benguit guilty of murder in January 2005. The prosecution had lined up a group of drug addicts who alongside Brown also testified against Benguit. Although their perfect memory recall must be questioned, these witnesses provided nothing but circumstantial evidence. One of the witnesses later gave a statement saying that the police had put words in her mouth.
The failure to detect any physical evidence to link Benguit to the murder is extraordinary in itself as this was a crime where such evidence could arguably be expected. The lack of such evidence is also significant as it further contradicts the circumstantial evidence from the witness testimonies that formed the basis of Benguit’s conviction.
In Benguit’s first appeal in July 2005, the court recognised that the case for the prosecution was ‘not supported by any forensic evidence’, but they did not find a problem with the fact that this was Benguit’s third trial on the same charge, or with the reliability of Beverley’s story.
A second unsuccessful appeal took place in 2014. The appeal court again stated that ‘searches and science did not link Benguit to the murder’ but emphasised that ‘the Crown could point to significant circumstantial support’ for Brown’s story.
By now, Brown had appeared on the Jeremy Kyle show and given an account of the murder which was different to that given at trial, and she had sold her story to a magazine. Nevertheless, the appeal court was satisfied that Brown’s credibility had been fully explored before the jury.
Two experts had scrutinised CCTV footage and failed to identify either the Volvo or the Renault at the relevant times. The appeal court’s response to this was that neither expert had excluded the cars. There was also an attempt to suggest that the murder could have been committed by a man who had been found guilty of two other murders, and who lived within a five-minute walk from the crime scene. The appeal court disposed of these arguments altogether.
It is appalling that the criminal justice system allowed Benguit to go through three trials before being convicted of such a serious crime based on nothing but circumstantial evidence. It is a mystery to me how the Court of Appeal can still consider this a safe conviction.
The above is only a very brief outline of the case. It does not even begin to explore how Benguit’s family tirelessly tried to find justice for their son/brother/uncle and in doing so have trusted some cowboy lawyers and those interested in achieving fame and glory through being involved in a case sensationalised by the Italian media.
Two legal advisors who have worked on the case at some stage have since been imprisoned for deception and fraud – one of them currently serving a 14-year sentence. The money the family has spent on legal defence would easily buy a three-bedroom house in a reasonable area of Bournemouth. What did it get them?
Three trials and two appeals later Benguit is still in a category A prison where he will remain past his 20 year tariff as admitting guilt and undertaking appropriate offending behaviour courses are part of the system’s requirements for being re-categorised and eventually eligible for release. This means that people like Benguit, who maintain their innocence, end up serving sentences that are much longer than those who admit guilt for crimes they have committed. Maintaining innocence becomes a double punishment. Not only will the sentence served inevitably be longer, but the knowledge that admitting to a crime that one has not committed would have substantial benefits must add a torturous layer of disbelief. As Omar Benguit says, ‘I would rather die than admit to something I haven’t done.’
Marika is a senior lecturer and the leader of the Criminal Justice Clinic at the University of Portsmouth. She has an interest in criminal law and science, the use and abuse of science in court, and wrongful convictions