FOR SUSAN MAY: No Statute of Limitations on Justice
By Neil Root on 19/11/14Share:
I was very late in the day coming to the Susan May case. It wasn’t until September 2012 that I contacted Susan with a view to writing an in-depth newspaper feature article about her case. We corresponded in the following months and spoke on the phone a handful of times, but then the proposed feature article on her case was delayed as Susan wanted to wait until new forensic evidence being considered by a leading European expert was put before the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CRRC). In February 2013, I contacted Susan again to see how she was doing, and sadly she told me that her cancer had returned, she was having tests, and that she would be in touch as soon as she knew what was going on. In November 2013, I read Susan’s obituary online and, although I had never met Susan face-to-face, I was deeply saddened. The sadness of rage: at the injustice done to her, and that she hadn’t lived to see her murder conviction quashed and her name cleared. When I listened to Susan’s memorial service online, I cried as one of her stalwart supporters, the Guardian Prisons correspondent Eric Allison, read Susan’s favourite poem The Owl and the Pussycat.
Since giving up her job as a hairdresser in 1990, Susan May was the sole carer for her elderly mother and 83-year-old aunt, Hilda Marchbank, and visited Hilda’s house, near Susan’s own in Royton, near Oldham in Greater Manchester, several times every day, preparing meals and generally taking care of her. On the morning of 12 March 1993 at 9.30am, Susan found Hilda murdered, brutally battered about the face and suffocated, with her nightdress around her waist. Drawers both upstairs and downstairs had been pulled out, the contents scattered all over the floor. When questioned by the police, Susan said that she thought that Hilda had been murdered by burglars. It certainly did look that way. And later, some of Susan’s late uncle’s Masonic memorabilia and a chequebook belonging to Hilda were found dumped in a skip nearby. This illuminating fact was not disclosed at Susan’s trial.
Susan was as helpful as she could be to the police, and gave her fingerprints several times - three blood smudges had been found on the wall of the downstairs room where Hilda slept and was found, one of which had the fingerprint and palm print of Susan’s right hand, and another an unidentified left hand fingerprint. The prosecution said that all three were human blood. Another key question would be whether these smears were made at the time of the murder, or were old marks. Three expert witnesses would be consulted regarding these blood smears - Michael Davie said that there was no wet blood around at the time the body was found, so the marks were not made at that time. Wilfred Basley, a forensic scientist, said that just one of the smears was human blood, and Susan’s prints were not on that one. Javaid Hussein (actually not a blood expert, but a fingerprint detection and enhancement expert) said that all three marks were either human or animal blood, and that there was no conclusive evidence whether the marks were made at the same time. Forensic students at Paisley University also analysed the smears, and they concluded that other biological products, not blood, could produce the same effect.
I interviewed Michael Meacher MP in his office at Portcullis House next to the Houses of Parliament in late October 2012 about Susan’s case. Mr Meacher, a former minister, is also Susan’s constituency MP and was a staunch supporter, tabling an early day motion in an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on her behalf, and he stressed how crucial this ‘blood’ evidence is in upholding Susan’s conviction. ‘This really matters. Was it blood, and if so, was it a fingerprint and whose was it?’ Mr Meacher also stated that Susan’s case ‘ultimately hinges on the forensic evidence’. It was this disputed blood smear evidence that was being reassessed by a leading European expert when Susan sadly died.
Eighteen days after she had found her aunt murdered, Susan was charged with Hilda’s murder. ‘Immediately after I had been charged a group of friends rallied round and offered me their support. Over 50 people immediately came forward and gave character witnesses for me. These statements were never heard in court. Since the early 1990s this group of friends has developed into a significant support group – The Friends of Susan May, and includes around 100 MPs.’
Since it passed its November 1999 judgment allowing Susan’s case to go to the Court of Appeal (which rejected her Appeal in 2001 put forward by Michael Mansfield QC while Susan was still in prison), the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CRRC) has been woefully slow in dealing with Susan’s case, despite there being fresh evidence and grounds to appeal to clear her name, now posthumously. Michael Meacher MP put a question in the House of Commons asking for a review of the CCRC, which was set up in 1997 solely to deal with possible miscarriages of justice. Mr Meacher spoke to me in October 2012 about the need for that review of the CCRC, saying, ‘First of all, we want to know that that is going to happen, and secondly who is going to do it, because that person has to be absolutely thoroughly independent’. When I asked him whether he thought the CCRC was fit for purpose, especially in regard to Susan’s case, Mr Meacher said, ‘In my view, it’s been going on a long time and, due to the evidence, it should go’.
It was recently announced that an inquiry into the effectiveness of the CRRC was being launched by the Parliamentary Justice Select Committee. One hopes that this powerful committee will conduct a thorough and wide-ranging investigation and that, whatever the outcome, Susan’s unsafe conviction will be looked into again.
‘My life is now in limbo. I am unable to move on as I remain a convicted murderer. The fight to clear my name dominates every aspect of my life. Although I am home again, I do not feel at all free. The police still have my mother’s jewellery, many photographs and several other personal items. It feels as though they are trying to retain my identity. I have never been able to properly mourn my murdered aunty or my mother, and I am having to learn how to be a grandmother to the 5 grandchildren that were born whilst I was in prison. Knowing that, unless he is dead which I think he may be, the real murderer remains free to do it again, to someone else, both haunts and terrifies me.’
-The late Susan May, from her diary, written after her release from prison in 2005
There is no statute of limitations on justice, and Susan truly deserves justice.