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The Case of Tony Shepherd

The Case of Tony Shepherd

The approach on this London shooting case came from a source which always piques our interest: his solicitor. The letter we received was from James Saunders of Saunders Law, a highly respected solicitor described by the ‘The Legal 500’ directory as a ‘consummate strategist... his judgment on the long view of cases is spot on.’  The letter detailed an avalanche of inconsistencies in the trial case against Tony Shepherd, an East End publican with no history of violence who’d, apparently, 10 years before walked out of his pub and shot a man, that, even on the prosecution’s own case he’d had the merest of contact with, at point-blank range.  

The trial against Tony Shepherd had been conducted in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation with the jury given anonymity and bussed in each morning. This, and the fact that soon after the shooting Tony Shepherd had apparently gone on the run, was not an auspicious start but, as his solicitor pointed out, there was much at odds too with the prosecution case and concerns about police conduct.

The first perplexing issue was what had actually happened on the night of the shooting. Three young men had been out all night in the Bow area of East London, resulting in varying stages of inebriation. A chance encounter with another group of people outside Tony Shepherd’s pub “The Prince of Wales” led to one of the men from the drunken group, Lee Chesaites, racially swearing at one of the women from the pub group. He, in turn, was punched by a man the prosecution would later claim was Tony Shepherd.  

Lee Chesaites walked off before ringing his father from a nearby phone box. It was what happened next which had initially caught the interest of solicitor James Saunders. On arrival at the scene, near to the Prince of Wales pub, Lee and one of his friends had got into his father’s car. They’d driven past the pub before doing a u-turn and driving past again. Mr Chesaites snr would later say at trial his son pointed out the man who had hit him and urged him to retaliate saying “you’re hard Dad... what are you going to do about it? Do something.”  They parked the car and, as Lee Chesaites went to leave the front passenger seat, he was met, apparently by the same man who’d punched him, who shot him at point blank range. He died at the scene.   During the melee Mr Chesaites snr was hit on the head cutting it open, by a flying pickle jar, presumably from the nearby kebab shop. 

This scenario, accepted by the jury, threw up interesting questions for us: Tony Shepherd had no history of violence and no link to weapons or guns. Would he really have had a gun handy and, even if he had, would he have used it over such an apparently minor incident?  A regular at the pub immediately told the police it was he who had punched Lee Chesaites, describing it as a ‘backhander’ for calling the young woman he’d barged into a ‘black cunt’, not Tony Shepherd.  Many customers and staff at the Prince of Wales told the police Tony Shepherd had not been at the pub at the relevant time, having left hours before to sit with his father who was ill.   However, one member of staff said Tony had been there that night; the implication was the others were covering up for their East End mate.

The most damning evidence against Tony Shepherd though came from another woman in his pub, who was outside during the earlier barging incident and claimed categorically that she saw Tony Shepherd walk over to the Chesaites car and shoot the victim dead.

James Saunders had heard of a woman who said the witness who so damningly id’d Tony Shepherd as the shooter had, in fact, be in the queue of a nightclub some distance away at the time of the shooting. If she was there she could not have seen the gunman. A CCTV tape had been seized from the club and was in the unused evidence. Sending it to a new expert James Saunders discovered two things: footage from the night in question had been successfully recorded on tape and preserved. However, the tape stopped soon before the time of the shooting and restarted half an hour later. The expert could not say if the tape had been deliberately wiped or whether the machine had malfunctioned but, as he said, if it had inconveniently broken down just before the shooting, it had magically corrected its own fault soon after.

We picked up our investigation at this stage working particularly with a Panorama and Despatches producer on our Advisory Panel who is an experienced investigator. We went to the scene and met with the Shepherd family.  We met with the staff and regulars at The Prince of Wales who’d told the court Tony Shepherd was not even at the pub that night. We spoke to those less close to him who might be more objective but still knew him well such as staff at his children’s primary school who described a man frequently involved in fund-raisers for the school, a run of the mill parent rather than a gangster.  

We learned two police officers had been questioned over serious allegations of corruption: one officer, unconnected to the case, had inappropriately accessed the police computer on a number of occasions, to search for information about the investigation; another had been questioned in an apparently unconnected hit in another part of London.  As James Saunders puts it: “shortly before the ID parades, a policeman asked a witness to point out Tony Shepherd in a photo. He wasn’t even on the investigating squad and had no legitimate purpose in asking; he didn’t tell the truth when confronted. What was he really up to? A solved crime doesn’t leave questions like these unanswered.”  

We are attempting to answer some of the questions in this case by going back to the physical evidence. The Metropolitan Police have been extremely helpful to us, making available the cartridge case and extracts for new testing which is currently underway. We are working with Intelligence Officers to find out where else the weapon in this case was fired.  This case is a good example of why it is important for us not to take a view on whether a person is guilty or innocent but to search for new evidence and consider what verdict the jury might have handed down if they’d been privy to what we know now.