This article, written for the 1995 lecture brochure, followed up the case of Neil Edginton which had been originally written about in 1989. Its main source was documents smuggled out of jail.
"TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN, I have been convicted for a murder I did not do. However, I believe I shall not be able to prove my innocence until some time after I might qualify for parole. I therefore intend to admit I did the murder in exchange for freedom on parole. I shall then have a better chance to prove my innocence. I hereby withdraw that confession to guilt. My solicitor is not aware of the content of this letter. He is instructed to keep it sealed and safely locked away until I request it be presented to the appropriate authorities."
Fanciful? Not at all. A young man hoping for a parole hearing after 12 years in jail is contemplating writing such an "exculpatory letter".
Neil Edginton, then 21, was convicted of murder in Leeds in 1982 after a second trial that ended with a majority verdict.
The murder had taken place in Honley near Huddersfield. The victim, Joy McKenzie, 23, was murdered whilst jogging at about a quarter to five on the afternoon of Sunday, 12th of July 1981.
The route Joy took went along a tree-covered valley. To her right was a wooded slope falling away to a stream. She was wearing a dull dark-
blue athletic singlet with white edging around the arms, a pair of denim shorts, and white track shoes. Her dark hair was in a bun. The next day she was found in the stream, strangled. She still wore her running vest. Her torn knickers were around her right leg. But the denim shorts were gone.
In a flattened area of the undergrowth near a lay-by on the road the police found some bloodstains. It seemed Joy had been murdered there, then dragged down to the stream. Internal injuries indicated forceful sexual intercourse; a thin stick was found, covered with blood for five inches. It seemed that this had caused the girl's internal injuries.
The police found four key witnesses. Just before Joy vanished, Paul Rushworth and his family went along the road in their car. Near the lay-by, Mr. Rushworth passed a motorbike parked on its stand. It had a white "top box" on the back with an L plate. His eight year old son Tony also noticed the L plate on the white "top box". They also saw the motorcyclist - within a few yards of where Joy McKenzie was probably attacked five minutes later. Tony Rushworth said the man was wearing jeans, a black bomber jacket and black gloves.
The other two important witnesses were teenagers Paul Moorhouse and Julie Haigh. They too saw a motorbike - in the lay-by. They also saw a man in the undergrowth. He looked up, then crouched down again. He was wearing a lime green cagoule. Paul was keen on motorbikes and could give the police a particularly vivid description of the bike. It was a Yamaha with a white "top box".
Two months later a woman motorist in Oldham reported a motor-cyclist who followed her home one Sunday on a Yamaha. The bike was traced to Neil Edginton - who lived only half an hour from Honley.
It was the Yamaha that interested the police. They visited Edginton and saw that it was very like the "murderer's bike" Moorhouse had described. Edginton explained that the woman in Oldham had nearly run him over at a roundabout. He had followed her simply to complain, but was too frightened to confront her. This did not satisfy the police.
However, whenever the police discovered damning evidence, a reasonable answer to it emerged later. But by then they had already moved on to further "damning" evidence. This is a common characteristic of miscarriage of justice cases, but Edginton's case is a textbook example of the syndrome.
Edginton admitted he owned a cagoule such as two of the witnesses had described. But when the police later took possession of it, they found it was reversible - dark blue on one side and yellow on the other. Hardly lime-green, nor a black bomber jacket.
Edginton apparently lied when he claimed had been due to work on the Sunday of the murder. He said he had - but his bike had let him down. He had driven it around to test it. His employers said he was not due in.
The employers were mistaken - and they later apologised. But by then Edginton was admitting he had tested his bike along the Honley road and stopped to mend it. He said he left the valley at about 4 p.m. - and was home by 4.30 p.m. This was before Joy McKenzie had begun her jog. Questioned further, Edginton elaborated his story. He remembered seeing a girl jogger in Honley, in a green running vest with green shorts. Only later did it emerge that the road Edginton described was not on Joy's route - and she had not worn green.
Worse, the police discovered that other witnesses in Honley had seen other female joggers - even on Joy's route. One had long dark hair wearing light coloured shorts and a tee-shirt. Another had shoulder length dark hair and a tee-shirt. Neither of these joggers was Joy McKenzie - who had her hair up in a bun and wore a vest - nor did the descriptions match the jogger Edginton mentioned.
Even the evidence of the Yamaha fell down. It transpired that Edginton had not owned his Yamaha at the time of the murder. He had owned a Honda - which looked a lot different to the Yamaha. Paul Rushworth was quite certain that Edginton's "top-box" was not the one he had seen on the "murderer's" bike.
These "false starts" only served to make the police more determined. They now set about proving that his Honda had been at the scene of the murder. They claimed to have found the impression of an Avon Roadmaster tyre in the muddy layby: Edginton's Honda had such a tyre.
But the evidence surrounding the suspicious tyre track indicated it was from a front tyre. Edginton's Roadmaster was on the rear.
So what convicted Neil Edginton? Most observers think it was the blood on his cagoule. The jury was shown large chalk marks outlining blood on the dark blue side of Edginton's cagoule. It was of the same group as Joy McKenzie's - and limited to only 14% of the population.
Edginton proved he had suffered a nose-bleed whilst wearing the cagoule - and tests revealed that he had the same rare blood group as the murder victim.
There was another point about the blood. The murder had been a particularly bloody one. The defence expert said the blood on the cagoule was a 'sprinkling'. The jury looked at the cagoule and believed otherwise.
Edginton appealed against his conviction. The judges agreed that no single item of evidence was enough for a guilty verdict, but it was all sufficiently persuasive when taken together.
But since then new evidence has turned up. Edginton told the police he had seen " an orange coloured van.... like an old G.P.O. van" on the Honley road. It has now become clear that there was such a van on the road that afternoon - just as Edginton described it. A local man, Brian Whitehead, was on the "murder road" at 3:30, returning home at 4:30 - in his mustard coloured Toyota Hiace van - very like an old G.P.O. van. The van had been where Edginton had claimed to have seen one. What's more, Whitehead left an hour and a half before the murder. So Edginton's earlier timing - ignored by the judge and the jury - appears to be corroborated.
It has also emerged over the years that there were at least three motorcyclists in the area even though the trial judge though there was just one.
The three are: a) Edginton, b) the man with the Yamaha - and now c) a third motorcyclist who was seen by a milk lorry driver, Kenneth Duggan. He was at the end of the valley furthest away from Honley when he saw a motorbike. It had an L plate on a white "top box" - just as the Rushworth family described the "murderer's bike". It was going off towards the scene of the crime at the right time. And significantly, this bike was not on Edginton's route. It approached the murder scene from the opposite direction.
Perhaps the most important point from Duggan is the 'L' plate. All the witnesses say the "murderer's bike" clearly had an L plate on a white "top box". Edginton's "top box" was silver and had no L plate.
It also now seems that the jury may well have been misled by a photograph. Edginton told the police that he had stopped to mend his motorbike "where the wall ends". He showed them where this was - on a bend in the road where a wall rises to stop people falling down the slope.
The jury learned from the police evidence that Joy was attacked near the lay-by "where the wall ends". But this wall was some 300 yards from the wall Edginton had mentioned. It was a retaining wall that could only be seen by someone further down the slope - in fact from where the police found the body.
The police photographs did not make this clear - in fact they confused it further by making it appear that the two places were in fact one. The jury did not visit the scene.
Edginton has some reason to believe that he may yet produce even more new evidence. And that is what is behind his latest dilemma - for further, conclusive, proof may be in the pipeline.
The blood in Edginton's cagoule has been under analysis in the Oxford University Laboratory of Professor Edwin Southern, one of the key pioneers in DNA research since he heard of the Edginton case at an earlier TOM SARGANT MEMORIAL LECTURE. The preliminary examination of the cagoule showed that there was very little blood on it. It now seems clear that the defence's "sprinkling" of blood" was the more accurate description. But it is the DNA test that could be crucial. The only way to distinguish between Joy McKenzie's blood group and Neil Edginton's is by the DNA. Unfortunately, conventional DNA extraction methods have so far failed. The chemical within the cloth comes out with the DNA and ruins the sample. In California there is a research project currently underway on this very problem. But the work may take years.
So, should Edginton wait in the hope that the DNA will prove him innocent?. Or should he confess to obtain parole? There have been many complaints in the past few years that Parole Boards will not release prisoners who do not show proper "contrition" by confessing to their crime. Whether true or not, prisoners are quite convinced that such are the rules of the game.
The novel "solution" of the "exculpatory letter" might be a way around the problem. If the DNA later proved Edginton's innocence, his "confession to obtain parole" would be forgotten - particularly when the "exculpatory letter" was revealed.
The problem with this idea is not simply that it could adversely affect Edginton's credibility with the Home Office. The Appeal Court might be worried about the implications that acceptance of the "exculpatory letter" might have for other cases.
It's another form of plea bargain. Edginton is, in effect, deliberating about whether to plead guilty in order to buy himself more time to prove himself innocent.
It is now almost ninety years since Parliament introduced into our legal system the novel concept that 'truth' depends on which moment in time it is assessed. The creation of the Court of Appeal effectively accepted that administrative deadlines such as trial dates could exclude important evidence from the judicial process. Parliament decided that what had been 'true' at trial could be later changed, on appeal, to a different 'truth'.
However, there was one underlying principle. It was assumed that all relevant evidence that was reasonably available, had been presented at the trial - but that 'new' evidence might emerge with the passage of time, so changing the 'truth' of the matter.
A plea bargain such as Edginton is contemplating might modify this principle. How would the Court of Appeal react if appellant counsel demonstrated that, after writing an "exculpatory letter", a defendant had deliberately lied and opted for a lighter sentence in a plea bargain - so as to have more time and resources to prove his innocence once the deadline of the trial had passed? Positive proof of innocence would surely overcome any legal objection.
It may seem a ridiculous situation, but for Neil Edginton it is a very real one. If he gets his chance before the parole Board in the next few months he must decide what he will tell them.
- Peter Hill
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