On Wednesday 18th March 2009 Sean Hodgson was released from prison after serving 27 years for the murder of a barmaid, Teresa De Simone, in Southampton. Hodgson’s conviction was ruled to be unsafe based on a new assessment of evidence, using DNA technology not available at the time. The media had a feeding frenzy as a shaky looking Hodgson, now 57, tottered from the Court of Appeal and out into the Strand a free man.
But despite the furore, and the hands raised in triumph, the big applause and the basking glow of the flash photography, Sean Hodgson is not Edmond Dantes. He is not Steve McQueen in Papillon. This is not the story of an innocent man finding himself chewed up by the hulking, insensitive machinery of justice. He is not Franz Kafka’s Josef K. Hodgson did not wake one morning to find himself unfairly persecuted by the police. Hodgson was not the victim of a conspiracy. He was not fitted up. There was no Jack Regan or Gene Hunt leant over Hodgson’s broken spirit, kipper ties askew, sleeves rolled up, forcing a shaky signature on a witness statement of confession covered in blood and snot. Sean Hodgson was convicted on the best evidence available at the time. Including his own confession.
There is a myth, perpetuated by the media, ravenous for a story to peddle, that anyone released through a miscarriage of justice is automatically innocent. It makes for a better feature. It has elements of tragedy and provides a plot arc with the hero battling through adversity. The spit in the porridge. The beatings in the shower. The makeshift shank in the exercise yard. The snooty refusals by the appeals courts. But the fact is that they’re not. Not everyone who gets released through a miscarriage of justice is innocent. Underline this fact in your mind and paint it in big neon-bright letters. They’re not. Not automatically. Not necessarily. The one (a miscarriage of justice) does not necessarily render the other (innocence) a certainty. This is the misapprehension fostered on the public eye by the hypocritical, short-sighted press. The media creates confusion between those released from prison because they were innocent and those who cannot be proved to have been guilty.
Stephen Downing. The Birmingham Six. The Guildford Four. Colin Stagg. Barry George. Stefan Kiszko. All written up the same. Each case unique.
Stefan Kiszko was convicted in 1976 for murdering 11 year-old Lesley Moleseed in Rochdale the previous Autumn. Straight up and down – he didn’t do it. He could never have done it. Lesley was stabbed multiple times. A semen sample was swabbed by police from her corpse. The semen was examined and found to contain sperm. Kiszko was infertile. David Peace’s West Yorkshire Police, who investigated Kiszko, apparently knew this at the time. The West Yorkshire police chain smoking a confession out of blubbering, bloodied suspects in dimly lit, windowless interview rooms knew this. You did it, Stefan, didn’t you? You dirty bastard. Wanted to poke that young lass, didn’t you Stefan? But you couldn’t, could you? You couldn’t. Because you’re a nancy boy, aren’t you? A dirty fucking nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. You’re a nancy boy. Tell us you’re a nancy boy, Stefan. A dirty fucking nancy boy. But you don’t like it, do you? You don’t like being a nancy boy, do you? Bish bash bosh. Fucking have that, you cunt. Bish bash bosh. You did it, didn’t you, Stefan? You did it, didn’t you? You did it, didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? The police knowingly prosecuted an innocent man and let the guilty remain free. Perhaps to kill again. Stefan Kiszko’s case truly was a miscarriage of justice.
Kiszko, like Hodgson, confessed to a crime he didn’t commit. But under different circumstances. Kiszko, unlike Hodgson, didn’t confess systematically. There was no structure to his confession.
In 1979 the Yorkshire Ripper was the North’s bogeyman. He lurked in the shadows with a ball-pein hammer and a knife. He had already killed nine women. Who, contrary to popular opinion, were not all prostitutes. In 1979 George Oldfield, the leading detective on the case, received two letters and a tape from a man purporting to be ‘Jack’. A third letter was sent to the press. The police were convinced. Dubbed Wearside Jack he diverted the investigation. He drained police resources in a wild goose chase. He delayed the police cottoning on to Sutcliffe. In the meantime another four women were murdered. Their heads beaten open and their bodies eviscerated. All because of Wearside Jack. In 2006 John Samuel Humble was convicted of four counts of perverting the course of justice. Humble was an alcoholic with a history of mental problems. Humble was Wearside Jack. Do you feel sympathetic towards Humble? His alcoholic mind a blizzard of fantasies and mischief. Do you care that he’s in prison? Josephine Whitaker, 4th April 1979. Barbara Leach, 2nd September 1979. Marguerite Walls, 20th August 1980. Jacqueline Hill, 17th November 1980. Humble effectively gave Sutcliffe a hand with those. He laid on an artful shimmy. He created some space for Sutcliffe to run with the ball.
Hodgson’s lawyers are looking to put together a claim for compensation. Compensation? For what? For lying? For perverting the course of justice? For allowing a murderer to evade capture for more than a quarter of a century? Based on what the police had to work with at the time, the conviction was sound. And what’s the difference between Hodgson and Wearside Jack? Hodgson confessed. He said he’d done it. Wearside Jack confessed. He said he’d done it. Hodgson came out with a string of details which the police hadn’t released to the press which gave weight to his confession. How could he know? When he made his confessions Hodgson was not coerced. He was not beaten. He simply stood up – several times – and said: I’ve done it. So why should he be compensated? Let me say it again: HE CONFESSED! Should Hodgson be a common or garden, everyday victim – which he is portrayed as my the media and which he isn’t – he would have to fill in a Criminal Injuries Compensation Application in order to receive money. The form would ask whether Hodgson had contributed to what had happened to him. Erm, just a bit. Let’s say it again: he bloody confessed. No, Hodgson doesn’t deserve compensating. If he is innocent of the killing, then he has perverted the course of justice. He has denied the victim justice. He has gifted freedom to the killer. To whoever left the DNA behind at the crime scene.
And in all this wringing of hands and shaking the liberal tambourine, the victim is forgotten. Teresa De Simone was 22 years old when she was raped and murdered in 1979. But the victim is expendable. The victim adds colour. In the case of Stephen Downing the press vilified the victim, Wendy Sewell. Sewell was attacked with a pick axe in Bakewell cemetery in 1973, sexually assaulted and left to die. She became the Bakewell Tart. Chortle chortle. It served a purpose. Simple Jack fitted up by the old bill over some slapper. They were probably poking her themselves. Corrupt bastards. Downing wasn’t cautioned before he confessed. Downing wasn’t offered a solicitor. Downing was freed by the Court of Appeal after 27 years. No one else has ever been charged with the murder of Wendy Sewell.
DNA has made massive advances in detection. Wearside Jack was pinned down thanks to him using his saliva to gum down the envelope he sent to George Oldfield back in the 70s. His DNA and traces of Ben Shaws Dandelion & Burdock were found on the envelope. This was matched by Police to a sample taken from Humble, AKA Wearside Jack, in 2000 as part of an unrelated incident. In November 2007 Ronald Castree was convicted of the murder of Lesley Moleseed. Castree came to the police attention after a DNA sample was taken from him when he was arrested in 2005. It’s worth noting that Castree was not charged with this matter. Under the recent ruling by European Court of Human Rights, Castree’s 2005 DNA sample would have been destroyed when he was released without charge. It would not have been held on the database and searched against existing crime scenes. He would still be a free man. A free man driving through your neighbourhood. A free man looking at the child walking along the street alone.