It has been more than 35 years since Jeremy Bamber was convicted of the infamous White House Farm murders in Essex where he was found guilty of killing his adoptive parents, Nevill and June, his sister, Sheila, and her twin boys Daniel and Nicholas.

He is serving a whole life tariff, which means he has no chance of being released on parole. Although many people believe he is rightly in jail, he has always maintained his innocence and not everyone is convinced he is guilty.

Although the UK enjoys one of the most respected criminal justice systems in the world, there are instances where it has undoubtedly failed, leading to innocent people being found guilty, imprisoned, and, on some occasions, executed. 

But how often – and why – does the system get it wrong?

Mahmood Mattan

Dunfermline Press:

Like many areas of society, the justice system can be corrupted by people’s underlying biases and racism.

A British Somali man named Mahmood Mattan, 28, living in Wales was hanged in 1952 for the murder of Tiger Bay shopkeeper and pawnbroker Lily Volpert. Mr Mattan had an alibi backed up by witnesses and there was no hard proof connecting him to the crime.

But racial biases permeated throughout the case, with the starkest illustration coming from his own defence lawyer, who described him as a “half-child of nature, a semi-civilised savage”. Mr Mattan, who spoke little English, was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to death.

The merchant seaman insisted on his innocence up until his execution and his family, led by his Welsh wife Laura, continued to campaign to clear his name. The conviction was overturned in 1998, more than 40 years after he was hanged.  

The Home Office paid compensation three years later, the first payment of its kind to a family of a person wrongfully executed. However, it would take another two decades for Mr Mattan’s family to receive an apology from the police.

The injustice can be attributed to poor policing and a flawed prosecution. It illustrates how pervasive racial prejudice was at the time in both society and the criminal justice system.

The case highlights the consequences of racism when allowed to infect the justice process, leading to innocent people being convicted of crimes.

The Welsh Criminal Justice Board introduced its Anti-Racism Action Plan in 2022 to eliminate racism throughout the criminal justice system. More than 600 members of the Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities worked together to co-produce the plan, which was created to complement the Welsh Government's Anti-Racist Wales Action Plan. 

Andrew Evans

Misunderstanding mental health can lead to wrongful convictions through false confessions.

Teenage soldier Andrew Evans was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in jail for the murder of Judith Roberts, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, in 1972. 

The 17-year-old walked into a police station and admitted to killing the girl after seeing her face in a dream. Despite no hard evidence linking him to the crime, the detectives agreed he was the person behind the murder.

The court later heard how his anxiety and depression at the time of his arrest caused him to have false memories. But despite retracting his confession, and no forensic evidence or witnesses linking him to the crime, he was ultimately convicted based the answers obtained using a substance called Brietal.

The so-called truth drug has since been discredited for inducing false memories.

Human rights group Justice ultimately took on Mr Evans’ case and in 1997, the Court of Appeal reversed his conviction as the wrongful confession was the only evidence against him.

The Home Office made the decision to compensate him with £750,000 in 2000. His release after 25 years meant he held the unenviable title of having served the longest prison sentence due to a miscarriage of justice. This record has since been broken.

The Mental Health Act of 2007 came into effect in 2008 and gives guidelines for the courts. It continues the government position that, whenever it is safe to do so, mentally disordered offenders should receive specialised mental health treatment rather than punishment.

The main goal of the amendments to the 1983 Act is to enhance the capacity of mental health professionals to treat mental disorders when people need it, as opposed to waiting until a person's disorder has resulted in major self-harm or offenses against others.

In 2020 judges and magistrates were given new guidelines to assist them in sentencing offenders with mental disorders, developmental disorders, or neurological impairments.

Paul Blackburn

Dunfermline Press:

In many cases of injustice, improper police interview techniques can play a role in extracting a false confession – officially called “ coerced compliant confessions”.

Paul Blackburn, then 14, was detained in June 1978 for the sexual assault and attempted murder of a young boy in Warrington. A confession he had made while being questioned by two senior police officers without the presence of his parents or a lawyer was used to convict him.

Mr Blackburn was given a life sentence and bounced around from prison to prison. He maintained his innocence throughout his imprisonment and refused to participate in any sex offender programmes, ultimately prolonging his sentence.

It later transpired that linguistic evidence indicated significant police involvement in the wording of Mr’s Blackburn written “confession” despite the officers involved in the case assuring a court they had not assisted him.

But in 2005, the Court of Appeal declared his trial “unfair” and his conviction “unsafe’ after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) accepted officers had prompted Mr Blackburn in his confession.

Mr Blackburn had been released on license two years prior after serving all of the 25 years imprisonment. Despite his ongoing struggles as a result of his prison experiences, Mr Blackburn has yet to receive an apology from the police.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 was passed, and since then, there have been changes to the rules for questioning suspects and the admission of evidence. In response to a growing perception that the public had lost faith in the criminal justice system, the Act was passed to enhance the treatment of those held in police custody, especially those who are vulnerable.

Robert Brown

Dunfermline Press:

In some rare cases, widespread corruption within a police force itself can lead to miscarriages of justice.

Greater Manchester Police detained Robert Brown, then 19, in 1977 for failing to pay a fine and took him in for questioning.

He was beaten for two days until he signed a confession admitting to killing 51-year-old Annie Walsh. Mr Brown testified at his trial that he had been forced into the confession but was found guilty of murder and given a life sentence.

Decades later, a Court of Appeal heard how one of the investigators in Mr Brown’s case was convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice and accepting bribes.

His conduct had come to light as the result of an enquiry, started in 1979, culminating in what has been referred to as the Topping Report, by Superintendent Peter Topping.

It exposed a culture of corruption and conspiracy to pervert justice over which Detective Inspector Butler had presided in a senior role.

Mr Brown always believed that clearing his name was more important than his freedom and although he qualified for parole in 1992, he refused to admit to a crime he didn't commit.

In 2002 the Court of Appeal declared his conviction to be "unsafe" and ordered his immediate release due to "compelling" evidence.

It was found the prosecution had withheld exonerating evidence, a false confession, and widespread police corruption that tainted every element of the investigation and trial.

Ultimately, Mr Brown spent 25 years behind bars.

He was given compensation however, the justice system then demanded more than £100,000 to pay for his prison living expenses. Mr Brown has still not received an apology from the police and has been calling for reforms in the justice system since his release.

In England and Wales, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is in charge of regulating the police complaint procedure. It sets guidelines for how complaints are handled by the police, directs policing advancements, and looks into the most serious incidents, such as those involving deaths after contact with the police.

These four cases reveal some of the reasons behind miscarriages of justice, but how prevalent are they?

According to The University of Exeter’s Miscarriages of Justice Registry containing 346 cases; 41 per cent of cases involved unreliable witness testimony, 26 per cent involved a false or unreliable confession, 22 per cent involved false or misleading forensic science, and 21 per cent involved inadequate disclosure.

A survey carried out by the Victims’ Commissioner in 2021 found that just 43 per cent of victims would report a crime again based on their previous experiences with the criminal justice system. Just half would attend court again. Ethnic minorities are less likely to feel like they were treated fairly and respectfully by police.

For the justice system to be considered legitimate there must be trust and confidence. Great steps forward have been taken since the hanging of Mahmood Mattan in 1952, but the figures above reveal there is still some way to go.


This article is part of True Crime Newsquest.  A series featuring insight from local journalists who covered the stories first-hand. Subscribe to the True Crime Newsquest YouTube channel to stay up to date with the new documentaries presented by Jody Doherty-Cove and Mark Williams-Thomas.