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January 24, 2014

Claire Tiltman murder: Prosecutors mull charges in notorious English crime

Claire Tiltman murder: Prosecutors mull charges in notorious English crime

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Almost exactly 21 years after 16-year-old Claire “Tilt” Tiltman was stabbed to death near her Kent, England home, Kent Police have passed a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Cquote1.svg We hope to reach a decision as soon as is practicably possible Cquote2.svg

—CPS

The case has been the subject of speculation sadistic killer Robert Napper was responsible, but the file is reported to concern longtime suspect Colin Ash-Smith. Wikinews contacted Kent Police and the CPS but neither were willing to confirm how many suspects were covered by the evidence file.

“We have presented a file of evidence to the CPS for their consideration in relation to the murder of Claire Tiltman,” said Detective Superintendent Rob Vinson of the Kent Police cold case team in a statement provided to Wikinews. “Claire’s murder has been subject to an ongoing investigation by Kent Police who have never given up on justice for Claire.”

The CPS gave Wikinews a statement confirming they are “currently considering a file of evidence submitted by Kent Police in relation to the murder”. The statement added “We hope to reach a decision as soon as is practicably possible.”

Tiltman was stabbed in excess of 40 times in an alleyway in Greenhithe as she took a shortcut to visit a friend. The Dartford Grammar School pupil, who had celebrated her birthday four days before, aspired to be a firefighter and was a familiar face at her local fire station. Her death in 1993 sparked an investigation that amassed over 16,000 documents without success in spite of the fact she was killed between 6:00 and 6:30pm, as commuters returned from work.

Cquote1.svg Claire was 16 years old at the time of her murder with her whole future ahead of her. That evening someone took that future away Cquote2.svg

—Detective Superintendent Rob Vinson, Kent Police cold case detective

On Saturday the Justice for Claire campaign group marked the 21st anniversary of the murder. A band played in nearby Dartford and, including a raffle, the event raised over £3,000 for the group, which includes some of Tiltman’s friends. Wikinews attempted to contact Justice for Claire but their website is unavailable and previous contact details are no longer valid. Last year they organised a candlelit memorial walk to mark the 20th anniversary.

The victim’s parents have both since died. Her mother died of cancer after care at EllenorLions Hospice, one of two beneficiaries of the money raised by Justice for Claire last week. The other was the Fire Fighters Charity. Founding member and friend of Tiltman’s Lisa Gribben said “We want to hold onto the amazing memories we have but also create so many more so they can be remembered in a good way and not for what happened […] The evening is to remember Tilt and her parents for both the amazing friend she was and the wonderful, loving family they all were. […] Its saddens me that our memories are tarnished because of such evil. Hopefully now when someone reads about Tilt they can read about happier times too.”

Claire Tiltman’s hometown of Greenhithe as it appears today.
Image: Clem Rutter.

Vinson told local journalists at the time that officers were “absolutely committed” to catching the killer and “actively investigating this case”. “Claire was 16 years old at the time of her murder with her whole future ahead of her. That evening someone took that future away.”

Colin Ash-Smith is serving multiple life sentences for other attacks on women, including stabbing Charlotte Barnard, 22, in late 1995. The Barnard attack, for which he was convicted of attempted murder two years later, was yards from where Tiltman died. His other crimes include another attempted murder, kidnap, and attempted rape.

His former home in Dartfield, where his parents live, has been searched at least three times by police. The most recent was in September, when forensic officers spent several hours at the building. His father Aubrey received a twelve-month prison term for perverting the course of justice; shortly afterwards his mother was arrested after admitting on TV she asked for a knife to be destroyed during the initial investigation into her son.

Following the latest search of the property Kent Police said “Officers have obtained a large amount of items which will be examined in the coming weeks.” The former milkman’s father says he’s convinced his son did not murder Claire Tiltman.

Robert Napper, meanwhile, has been linked to the crime by criminologists and by former Metropolitan Police constable Vincent Wright. Wright went to an Inspector in 2000 to put forward his case that Napper killed Tiltman and also killed Rachel Nickell in London in 1992. In December 2008 Napper admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility for killing Nickell six months before Tiltman’s death. Like Tiltman, Nickell was stabbed more than 40 times.

Wright began investigating after Napper was convicted in the deaths of mother-and-daughter Samantha and Jazmine Bisset, who were killed ten months after Tiltman’s death. Samantha Bisset was stabbed 60 times. Wright discovered Napper was freshly released from an eight-week prison sentence for weapons offences when Tiltman died and was a known voyeur. In 1995 Napper admitted raping one teenager at knifepoint and attempting to rape another within eight days of each other in 1992. Wright produced a timeline for the inspector in 2000, and has been in touch with Kent Police as well. In 1998 Operation Enigma, a reexamination of cold murders, suggested the Tiltman and Nickell crimes could be down to the same offender.

A modern view of a path on Wimbledon Common. Rachel Nickell was fatally stabbed on the common by Robert Napper in 1992.
Image: Derek Harper.

“Napper could have been stopped,” Wright said after Napper was finally convicted in the Nickell case. “It was down to poor investigatory procedure that he wasn’t.” The Metropolitan Police lured innocent suspect Colin Stagg into a honeytrap and he was charged with murdering Nickell but later cleared when the case collapsed in court.

Professor David Wilson, a Birmingham City University criminologist, wrote in The Daily Star last March he believes Napper “was probably the murderer of 16-year-old Kent schoolgirl Claire Tiltman in January 1993, and of business executive Jean Bradley, 47, in west London two months later.” That month he repeated his theory in his Channel 5 documentary series Killers Behind Bars.

In addition to the “blitz” style of knife assault on Napper’s victims, Wilson hypothesised Tiltman was linked to Napper by Napper’s regular use of public transport. The Tiltman murder scene is twenty minutes by rail from Napper’s former home and her killer is believed to have headed towards a nearby train station.

Dr Laurence Allison, a professor of forensic psychology at Liverpool University, is co-author of a book titled Killer in the Shadows – The Monstrous Crimes of Robert Napper that looks at not just Napper’s convictions but also cold cases he may be connected to. In addition to Tiltman and Bradley, Allison identified Napper as a suspect in the death of Penny Bell, stabbed 50 times in west London. All three victims were to the west of Napper’s home area and all died within five minutes of train stations.

Allison told Wikinews, “we now know Napper was not sufficiently [investigated over] Rachel Nickell after it was established that he murdered Samantha Bissett”, noting “these sorts of murders are so rare that one needs to carefully consider an offender with track record as a plausible and worthy suspect”. However, Allison made clear this does not mean Napper is the only viable suspect: “Napper needs to be looked at [but] I wouldn’t be so bold as to favour one person over another either.”



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December 8, 2012

Solicitor of presenter Stuart Hall denies indecent assault

Solicitor of presenter Stuart Hall denies indecent assault

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

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Louise Straw, a solicitor representing UK television and radio presenter Stuart Hall, has said Hall is innocent of charges of indecent assault. In relation to complaints about alleged events between 1974 and 1984 involving three females between eight and seventeen years of age, Hall was charged with three counts of indecent assault after being arrested Wednesday.

Hall, who has been released on bail, is expected to appear at Preston Magistrates’ Court on January 7.

Saying Hall was not able to provide any additional comment at present, Straw criticised the apparent “systematic, measured leaks to the media, which have given a misleading impression of what this case is about.” She stressed it was “a matter of concern” given the recent release of the Leveson Report. Straw also said because police arrested Hall at his residence in the town of Wilmslow in Cheshire, he “was not afforded the opportunity to attend voluntarily at the police station. In due course, the decision that he should be arrested will be the subject of some scrutiny”.

John Dilworth of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said there was “sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and … it is in the public interest to prosecute this case.” Stating Hall was innocent, Straw explained: “There will be a trial and his defence will then be in the public domain.”

Hall — who has recently been featuring as an association football commentator on BBC Radio 5 Live — will not be working at the BBC as police inquiries continue because of “the very serious nature of these charges”, a spokesperson for the corporation has said.

Hall, who notably presented UK game show It’s a Knockout, was given an OBE at the New Year Honours for services to charity and broadcasting. His broadcasting career has lasted some fifty years.



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December 5, 2012

UK police charge presenter Stuart Hall over indecent assault allegations

UK police charge presenter Stuart Hall over indecent assault allegations

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

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In the United Kingdom, Lancashire Constabulary have charged television and radio presenter Stuart Hall with three counts of indecent assault offences. The charges relate to complaints about alleged events between 1974 and 1984 involving three females between eight and seventeen years of age. Hall has been released on bail and is expected to appear at Preston Magistrates’ Court January 7.

Cquote1.svg [T]here is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and … it is in the public interest to prosecute this case Cquote2.svg

—John Dilworth, Crown Prosecution Service

Lancashire Constabulary described the nature of the allegations as “historic” and said the suspect was being interrogated at a police station today. They arrested Hall at his residence. John Dilworth, from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said “there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and … it is in the public interest to prosecute this case.”

Hall notably presented UK game show It’s a Knockout. He has recently been featuring as an association football commentator on BBC Radio 5 Live, although the corporation said he was not scheduled to present at the station this weekend. Hall was awarded an OBE in the last New Year Honours for services to charity and broadcasting, having had a broadcasting career lasting fifty years.

Dilworth stated the following information about the ages of the alleged victims and the dates between which these incidents allegedly occurred: one aged 16–17, between September 1 and December 31, 1974; one aged 13, between July 1 and September 27, 1984; and one aged 8–9, between January 1 and December 31, 1983.


 
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July 14, 2012

Chelsea F.C. captain John Terry cleared of racial abuse charge

Chelsea F.C. captain John Terry cleared of racial abuse charge

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

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In England, John Terry, captain of the Chelsea football team, has been found not guilty of a racially aggravated public order offence. Terry had been accused of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers (QPR) defender Anton Ferdinand, another football player, as a match between Chelsea and QPR was in progress.

File photo of John Terry from June 15, 2012.
Image: Ilya Khokhlov.

Terry, who had said he was “angry and upset” about the allegations, was alleged to have said the words “fucking black cunt” in an insulting manner to Ferdinand. During the trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Terry stated he had been repeating words Ferdinand had accused him of saying.

Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle said that although there was “no doubt that John Terry uttered the words ‘fucking black cunt’ at Anton Ferdinand”, the evidence for the prosecution’s side was “not strong” and there was a possibility “that what [Terry] said was not intended as an insult, but rather as a challenge to what he believed had been said to him.” Therefore, “[i]n those circumstances, there being a doubt, the only verdict the court can record is one of not guilty”, Riddle concluded.

Although Terry refused to make any comment as he departed from the court, some Chelsea F.C. supporters cheered him. Both of Ferdinand’s parents also refused to comment, with his father Julian saying only: “I have nothing to say to you at all.” As the verdict was declared, there was cheering in the court’s public gallery.

Speaking outside the courtroom, Dan Morrison — John Terry’s lawyer — stated Terry “consistently explained his position to the FA, the police and to the court.” Terry “did not racially abuse Mr Ferdinand and the court has accepted this”, Morrison said. Bruce Buck, the Chairman of Chelsea F.C., commented: “We are pleased that John can now put his mind back to football, return to training and do what he has been doing for many years.”

Alison Saunders, London Chief Crown Prosecutor, justified the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to take this case to court by saying “[t]he very serious allegation at the heart of this case was one of racial abuse.” The CPS believed “this was not ‘banter’ on the football pitch and that the allegation should be judged by a court”, Saunders clarified. She called Terry’s not guilty verdict “justice being done and we respect the chief magistrate’s decision.”

A spokesperson for the Football Association (FA) said the association “notes the decision in the John Terry case and will now seek to conclude its own inquiries”. The FA intends to resume its inquiry into the events next week.



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May 24, 2011

London policeman charged over G20 protest death

London policeman charged over G20 protest death

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

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Tomlinson after being pushed over, shortly before his death
Image: Anonymous.

An officer with London’s Metropolitan Police has been charged with causing the death of a man caught up in the G20 protests in 2009. PC Simon Harwood is accused of the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson, who died after Harwood hit him with a baton before pushing him to the ground.

Homeless paper-seller Tomlinson was pushed from behind outside the Bank of England as he walked back from work. He died within minutes. The death was filmed and attracted international media attention.

Last year, Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales, announced that no charges would be brought due to conflicting medical evidence. That decision was placed under review after an inquest jury ruled last month that Tomlinson had been unlawfully killed.

Starmer met with the Tomlinson family today, informing them of his changed decision before the Crown Prosecution Service released a statement by him. In it, he explained that the inquest evidence had changed his position.

He named two areas in which the inquest has had an impact: One is extra medical evidence and the other is questioning in court to assess conflicting medical evidence from different sources. “But for the inquest, the significant conflicts in the evidence that had previously existed could not have been addressed; and the inquest process, which is less confined than a criminal trial, has allowed a degree of clarity to emerge,” said Starmer.

He adds that “the position in relation to the medical evidence about the cause of death has clearly changed,” although he cautioned that the prosecution will remain difficult owing to conflicting medical evidence. Starmer continued, saying that “it is clearly in the public interest that criminal proceedings be brought. Accordingly, a summons charging PC Harwood with the manslaughter of Mr Tomlinson has been obtained …. He will appear before [City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court] on 20 June 2011.”



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November 19, 2010

London cop fired for rape despite \’insufficient evidence\’ to prosecute

London cop fired for rape despite ‘insufficient evidence’ to prosecute

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Friday, November 19, 2010

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An officer with London’s Metropolitan Police (‘the Met’) has been fired for raping a woman, despite the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) declining to prosecute after saying there was insufficient evidence to prove the offence. The CPS would have to back the case up beyond reasonable doubt before a court, but the Met’s internal hearing considered only the balance of probabilities.

The policeman, whose name was not released as he has not been charged, met the woman — who is in her early twenties — after she became unwell following a night drinking with friends at a hotel party in Russell Square. The officer took her to a nearby pub where he had been drinking; later, he said he got her a glass of water, after which she vomited. CCTV footage showed the pair embrace. They then went to St Pancras railway station, where the officer was to sleep in a police locker room before going on duty that morning.

She would later claim to have little recollection of events, but that she awoke to find herself being raped. She told police in March last year, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) launched an investigation. The accused man stated at interview the sex was consensual. The IPCC’s file was passed to the CPS.

Met Commander Mark Simmons said “[t]his officer acted in an intolerable way and it is only right that once such dreadful behaviour was found proven the man was dismissed from the Met.” IPCC Commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said “[t]he actions of this officer will rightly appal the public as they have appalled me. His behaviour was in my view predatory and he exploited the vulnerability of a young woman. He… took her to police premises and had sex with her without her consent. … His conduct would be contemptible from anyone — from a police officer it is nothing short of despicable.” A Women Against Rape statement called the woman “…very courageous. It is very difficult to report a police officer to the force that the rapist belongs to and we know of a lot of women who are too scared to do that.” The group called the CPS’s actions “outrageous”.



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November 13, 2010

Court jails Gloucestershire, UK cop who left freezing man to die

Court jails Gloucestershire, UK cop who left freezing man to die

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

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Worcester Crown Court in England, UK has yesterday jailed a policeman after he abandoned two men unconscious on a freezing night, one of whom died. David Driver of Gloucestershire Constabulary also lied about the state he found the pair in.

Driver, who admitted misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice, has already resigned from his position as a constable. In February last year he discovered Steven Hathaway and another man apparently asleep in Bourton-on-the-Water, but failed to help them, whilst patrolling in the early hours of the morning. Ten minutes later, a member of the public found them and dialed the 999 emergency number.

Two different police officers were on-scene by 1:50 a.m. and they were able to rouse one of the men; Hathaway’s pulse could not be found. Nineteen minutes later an ambulance joined the scene, but its crew too were unable to revive Hathaway and a paramedic declared him dead at 2:35 a.m. on February 19.

Following the emergency call a control room requested police officers assist; five were present in nearby Stow Police Station and heard this, amongst them Driver. According to three officers, Driver said he had already seen and tried to wake the men but left them there when he could not. These officers reported this and Driver was placed on restricted duties pending a misconduct investigation. The Independent Police Complaints Commission launched an investigation.

A post mortem would later reveal Hathaway, 25, had consumed alcohol, steroids and opiates. A contributing factor was identified in the cold weather. Driver gave a statement saying he spoke to both men, helped Hathaway to his feet and watched the duo walk away. Later, he confessed to inventing this and a notebook entry saying the same thing. He would also claim a sergeant forced him to make claims regarding the night’s events; the sergeant in question denies this.

Driver also lied by claiming he had not been trained in how to respond to drunken, incapacitated people when the force was able to demonstrate he had, and by saying he had not examined the electronic police log’s entry on the death. In reality, log records show he examined it repeatedly later the same morning. In light of this evidence, the Crown Prosecution Service decided to charge him and he was suspended. He resigned upon admitting the offences.

“This police officer owed a duty of care to the public and failed to exercise it when he found two young men unconscious on a very cold night,” said IPCC Commissioner Rebecca Marsh. “He compounded this by repeatedly lying about the events of that night and offered a false account of his actions.” In sentencing Driver for what was described as “panic borne of stupidity”, Judge Alistair McCreath told him “[t]his young man may have been beyond help, but what you did was to create a risk of death or real harm.”

Gloucestershire Constabulary’s Assistant Chief Constable Kevin Lambert apologised to Hathaway’s family outside the court and said force procedure had been reviewed in light of the death. Marsh praised the actions of the trio of officers who reported Driver’s actions.

Driver was sentenced to twelve months in prison.



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August 12, 2010

Wikinews obtains new details on UK prisoner\’s murder

Wikinews obtains new details on UK prisoner’s murder

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

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Wikinews has obtained new details from police investigating the murder of a convicted sex offender in his prison cell. 44-year-old Robert Coello was, apparently, kicked to death in his cell at Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Grendon, Buckinghamshire, England.

File photo of HMP Grendon.
Image: Andy Gryce.

Prison staff found Coello lying in a pool of blood on the first of this month; he was rushed to hospital, but died later that day. He was serving a minimum sentence of seven years for sixteen sex offences against a child, including four rapes. The death is thought to be the first in the history of Grendon, a prison that was set up in 1962 as a therapeutic experiment. It is generally held to be one of Britain’s safest, responsible for holding and treating up to 235 inmates with antisocial personality disorders. Prisoners at the facility must show a “genuine desire” to change their ways.

Immediately after the murder, concern was raised that budget cuts may have played a factor. Colin Moses, chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association, was quoted as saying “…staff there [Grendon] are concerned about the kind of people who are now being put into Grendon. They are taking a much more unsuitable kind of prisoner.” Calling for an investigation, he said; “[w]e don’t want any kind of shoddy cover-up. We want to know what effect these massive budget cuts will have so we do not have a similar tragedy again.”

The prison service denied any problems at the time, stating “[t]here has been no change to the type of prisoner held there in recent months, and no change to the vetting process.” Wikinews tried to identify if two men arrested within days of the attack – a 25-year-old for murder and a 28-year-old for assisting an offender – arrived at the prison recently, and if they remained there; Thames Valley Police refused to comment, referring enquiries to the UK’s Ministry of Justice.

Police also said they could not release the names, or convictions, of the men arrested. Spokesman Pierre du Bois, citing Association of Chief Police Officer (ACPO) guidelines, said: “Thames Valley Police does not release information which could confirm the identity of a suspect, unless that person is an adult and has been charged with an offence.” However, the police did confirm that the suspects were inmates and told Wikinews they had been released on bail until September 13, until which time they remain in the prison system; the Crown Prosecution Service has yet to press charges.

Cquote1.svg …our enquiries continue and both the subjects are in prison after all, which makes things easier Cquote2.svg

—Thames Valley Police spokesman speaking to Wikinews

The Telegraph reports it is believed one of the men arrested for murder is serving a sentence for a prior murder conviction.

A post-mortem has been performed, Wikinews has learned, but the police are not commenting on the results pending the written report from the Home Office pathologist who conducted it. Whilst the method by which the suspects gained access to the deceased’s cell remains under investigation, police are not investigating if prison officers assisted inmates in gaining access to Mr Coello, stating that “[t]he authorities at HMP Grendon are co-operating fully with our investigation.” An attempt to identify what activities were occurring in the prison at the time was referred to the Ministry of Justice.

In response to further enquiries, du Bois said today, “[w]e just don’t know,” when police will receive the written post mortem report from the pathologist, adding, “[i]n the meantime our enquiries continue and both the subjects are in prison after all, which makes things easier.”



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January 26, 2010

UK mother cleared of attempted murder of ME-suffering daughter

UK mother cleared of attempted murder of ME-suffering daughter

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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Bridget Gilderdale, a mother from Stonegate, East Sussex, has been found not guilty of the attempted murder of her daughter, Lynn Gilderdale—a 31-year-old sufferer of chronic fatigue syndrome (more commonly known as ME)—after her daughter was found dead at their home on 4 December, having been killed using a concoction of pills and morphine. The case has called into question the United Kingdom’s assisted suicide laws.

Cquote1.svg There is no dispute that you were a caring and loving mother and that you considered that you were acting in the best interests of your daughter Cquote2.svg

—Mr Justice Bean

Bridget Gilderdale had already admitted to aiding and abetting her daughter’s suicide, but the jury decided, unanimously, to acquit her of a charge of attempted murder. The presiding judge, Mr Justice Bean, had already questioned the accusation’s suitability, asking prosecutor Sally Howes “why it was considered to be in the public interest”. Once the verdict was delivered, he said, “I do not normally comment on the verdicts of juries but in this case their decision, if I may say so, shows common sense, decency and humanity which makes jury trials so important in a case of this kind. There is no dispute that you were a caring and loving mother and that you considered that you were acting in the best interests of your daughter.”

Gilderdale was given a 12-month conditional discharge. The case stands in contrast to the life sentence received last week by Frances Inglis, who killed her severely brain damaged son Tom by injecting him with heroin. Tom had, however, never expressed any wish to die, and his mother had ignored medical advice, while Lynn had previously attempted suicide. When this attempt had failed, her mother had assisted her in ending her life.

Cquote1.svg at present the law is a mess. Cquote2.svg

—Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying

The case has brought into the limelight the debate over a person’s “right to die” and the United Kingdom’s laws on assisted suicide. Some claim that, with a new draft policy clarifying the law in the pipeline, Bridget Gilderdale should not have been prosecuted at all. A spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service defended the decision to prosecute, saying that “It was not clear cut: there was a sequence of events and the toxicologist could not prove which of these stages resulted in death,” and that it was not certain whether Lynn Gilderdale had died from assisted suicide. Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, says that there is a “clear ethical difference” between asisted suicide and murder, and that the law does not take this into account. She said, “Ultimately, the Government needs to review the law in this area, as this case highlights at present the law is a mess.”



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September 17, 2009

UK teens cleared of school massacre plot

UK teens cleared of school massacre plot

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

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Two teenagers in the United Kingdom have been acquitted of planning a high school massacre similar to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in the United States. Police and the Crown Prosecution Service have been criticised for bringing the case to trial.

Matthew Swift, 18, and Ross McKnight, 16, were cleared of accusations they planned a copycat attack at their school in Manchester to coincide with the April 20 anniversary of the original mass shooting. They had been charged with conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause explosions likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property. Swift and McKnight have spent the last six months behind bars on remand, Swift in prison and McKnight a young offenders institute.

Police had thought they had found a criminal plot when they were alerted after a girl received a drunken phone call from one boy talking about a school shooting. They discovered a second girl had received a text saying “If I ever text you not to come into school don’t question it, just don’t go in.” The pair were found to be in possession of The Anarchist Cookbook and a BB gun . No guns or explosives were found even though the prosecution alleged to have video footage of the pair manufacturing explosives.

The prosecution case further focused on diary entries and plans talking of how they would perpetrate the “greatest massacre ever.” “Audenshaw high,” wrote Swift “will be no more. Unlike Columbine, my propane bomb will actually fucking explode and I will walk from classroom to classroom killing the fuck out of everybody, then maybe people will learn.”

The 2007 plans were alleged by prosecutors to have included a diversion bomb away from the school, which was the main target, even though they also suggested attacks on several other buildings. Swift explained that his writings were “naive and pathetic ways to channel my teenage angst. I was 16 with a vivid imagination.” The defense had focused on the notion that the plot was pure fantasy.

Supporting this was testimony, including that of McKnight’s police officer father Ray, that the duo had plenty of other weird and wonderful schemes. Much as the shooting idea had come from Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine, so too had they discussed living off the land in Alaska after watching Into the Wild. Other ideas included a winter mission to climb Ben Nevis and launching a dinghy service on local canal routes.

The five men and seven women that comprised the jury agreed, and took just 45 minutes to reject the charges. They even waited for defence counsel so they could wave and smile at them. It was, according to McKnight’s lawyer Roderick Carus QC, perhaps the “quickest acquittal of this apparent gravity” he had ever witnessed. He said the case was a weak one that should never have gone to court. One of the lawyers on the case described the teens as victims of an “unnecessary, heavy-handed prosecution” that was a waste of several hundred thousand pounds.

British officers working the case flew to the United States to speak with those that worked upon the Columbine massacre. Later, the former head of the Columbine investigation traveled to the UK.

Ray McKnight did not comment on the decision to try the case, but he did say both defendants had experienced “purgatory” and “absolute agony” while imprisoned. “We are all just incredibly relieved,” he said, stating that he never doubted his son’s innocence for a moment. His son read the following statement outside Manchester Crown Court: “I would like to make it clear that at no time was any person put at risk. This was just a fantasy. This was never a reality. I would just like to say that during my time in custody, I have taken my GCSEs. I hope that my wish to join the army has not been harmed.”



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