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  • Team Free Clive Freeman

Will the CCRC let Clive Freeman die in prison?

Clive Freeman is now into his 36th year in prison for a murder he did not commit, convicted on a theory of murder that is now challenged by the world’s most eminent pathologists

His case represents the UK’s longest-running miscarriage of justice, and this summer, his legal team are launching one last bid for freedom

Like the recent Post Office scandal, Mr Freeman’s case highlights the dysfunction in the Criminal Cases Review Commission

Clive aged 78 and suffering serious ill health is eligible for parole, but is adamant that he will only leave prison with his conviction overturned and his innocence proven after a promise made years ago to his dying wife…


In 1989, Clive Freeman was convicted of the 1988 murder of Alexander Hardie. Hardie, a 49 year old alcoholic, was found dead and partially burned in Clive's flat in Rotherhithe. Clive left London the following day for America.

Circumstantial evidence made the police suspicious and led them to believe that Clive had killed Hardie in an attempt to pass the body off as his own (despite very obvious physical difference between the two men). Police formulated a theory, wrongly, that Clive had attempted to cash in a life insurance policy in the months before the incident, and his travel to the United States gave an appearance of a man looking to disappear.

Although one eyewitness placed him at the scene of the murder, two others - a nightclub bouncer and a hotel receptionist - both placed him in West London, miles away from his flat, on the night of the supposed murder.

But was Hardie’s death murder?

Clive has consistently challenged the fundamental basis of his conviction. He and his supporters have garnered a wealth of scientific evidence that suggests there was no murder at all and that the death of Alexander Hardie was probably attributable to heart failure brought on by alcohol.

Further they argue that the prosecution theory of cause of death presented at the original trial is based on science that is now completely discredited.

At the 1989 trial, the pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd claimed that Hardie’s death was caused by “Burking", a 160 year-old method of asphyxiation which involves lying across on a victim and blocking their nose and mouth. (Burking was used by the infamous duo Burke and Hare in their series of murders in 1828 to provide cadavers for anatomical dissection in Edinburgh.) Arguably, the fact that Dr Shepherd needed to concoct such an unusual cause of death in order to present a theory of murder speaks for itself. Shepherd suggested that Clive’s military background as a veteran of the Rhodesian special forces gave credence to the idea that he was skilled in methods of killing designed to evade detection.

Clive was convicted on this basis and has been in prison ever since.

The retraction of the eyewitness statement

In 1997, the eyewitness who had placed Clive near the scene of the crime retracted his evidence. That evidence had been used at trial to suggest that, despite the fact that Clive had checked into a West London hotel on the night in question, he might have been able to leave the hotel, cross London, commit murder, and return undetected in time for breakfast. The eyewitness, in his retraction, said he had since seen the man in question and that he was now certain that Clive was not the man he saw. The CCRC have dismissed this critical evidence without clear reasoning.

Hidden Evidence

Although Dr Shepherd has become a world-renowned expert pathologist, at the time of the trial he had only two years experience as a forensic pathologist. He referred to himself as a “tyro” or “novice” and admitted that he had seen less than five homicidal asphyxias. His initial conclusion after the first autopsy - which wasn’t disclosed before or at trial - was that the cause of death was probably alcohol and acute pancreatitis. Dr Shepherd changed his mind in a second autopsy but never disclosed this change and was therefore never challenged during evidence as to why this happened. Clive’s team of supporters eventually found Shepherd’s original autopsy report in 2015, and this formed the basis for a Criminal Cases Review Commission submission in 2017. Yet the CCRC decided that this new evidence was not enough to allow Clive to take his case to the Court of Appeal.

New CCRC Submission

But now Clive’s team has garnered fresh pathological analysis which challenges the very basis of the theory of murder.

Based on American research around deaths caused in police custody, a group of world-renowned pathologists have concluded that it is simply impossible to kill another human being in the manner Dr Shepherd described in this case – i.e. by chest pressure alone.

Dr Steven Karch, one of the lead authorities in the research says: “Based upon my own scientific research and case experience, and the total lack of scientific data to the contrary, I totally reject Dr. Shepherd's repeated assertion that a man can be asphyxiated with minimum force quite quickly by kneeling pressure to the low chest alone (where there is no evidence of flail chest (i.e. multiple broken ribs))”

Dr Karch’s conclusion only backs up what eight other expert pathologists have been saying for years in successive CCRC submissions. But, it seems, the CCRC just do not want to listen.

Dr Karch’s evidence is backed up by the world-renowned pathologist, Professor Bernard Knight. He lists a catalogue of errors and failures in Dr Shepherd’s methods and conclusions. He concludes: “Dr Shepherd's assertion that death was caused by a deliberate act of chest compression is untenable and unsafe on the basis of proper forensic consideration of the inconclusive evidence available.” He goes on to explain,“I have often warned of the risks of an inexperienced examiner drawing unreliable and uncorroborated conclusions which then compromise a court's ability to judge the evidence fairly. This appears just such a case.”

Clive has been denied the right to appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission four times. In this context the team behind Clive – led by Dean Kingham at Swain solicitors, one of the leading post-conviction specialists in the United Kingdom – have prepared a final submission based primarily on Dr Karch’s and Professor Knight’s findings.

Dysfunction in the CCRC

With the outcry over the Post Office scandal fresh in people’s minds, Clive’s case further exposes the current dysfunction at the CCRC and adds to a picture of a system that is not fit for purpose.

As Mr Freeman’s solicitor notes in the new submission:

“The recent report by the All Parliamentary Group on Miscarriages of Justice (APPG) examining the CCRC notes the Commission has been too deferential to the Court of Appeal. We urge, as the APPG did for the CCRC to be bolder in applying the current test and adopt a broader interpretation of its power.”

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