Sunday, October 30, 2011

Secrecy surrounds dubious British conviction

Ian Hitchings, one of Britain’s foremost true-crime writers and author of more than 40 crime-related books, has been refused access to the 1961 inquest records of a murder victim by the coroner for the City of Birmingham, Mr Aidan Keith Cotter.

His latest book will feature the death of Christakis Phitides who was brutally stabbed to death in a local café, Elasanda, in Birmingham. His assailant was local Jamaican construction worker Kenneth Black, who was convicted of the tragic crime and received the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment at Birmingham Assizes in 1961. Mr Black is now a frail 74-year-old and out of prison.

“Throughout his prison sentence Kenneth Black vigorously protested his innocence and he continues to do so to this very day,” says Hitchings, who has interviewed him many times. “There was a lot of racial tension around in those days, which is backed up by investigations by Scotland Yard’s Anti-Corruption Unit.

“During the period 1961 – 1967 the Midlands Police was shown to have had amongst the highest rates of corruption throughout the country. So no matter how damaging this may now appear, back in the 1960’s these were ‘accurate’ facts,” he said.

“While carrying out my research into this particular crime with the view to compiling a manuscript, I have yet to see one shred of evidence which could even get close to suggest Mr Black was the actual perpetrator in this case,” he said.

“What’s even more suspicious is that Mr Black’s entire court papers including transcripts of his trial, have been embargoed for 80 years from the date of his conviction and aren’t currently available. I certainly haven’t come across this before,” said Hitchings.

“I contacted the coroner Mr Cotter and he said ‘deaths that are the result of murder and prison deaths are completely closed to the public and not for viewing.’ I carefully explained to Mr Cotter’s personal assistant Lynne Hart, that I was a professional true crime writer and author, but this was to no avail. Yet, I receive inquest reports from other coroners relating to deaths while in custody, together with victims of murder.”

What Hitchings finds even more suspicious is that Mr Black’s court papers including transcripts of his trial, have been embargoed for 80 years from the date of his conviction by the National Archives office and aren’t currently available for public consumption until after 2042.

“My original application to access his file was refused, and there is currently an on-going appeal in process under the Freedom of Information Act. This is being supervised by my solicitors, with a view to seeking a judicial review should my appeal fail,” he said.

The writer, from Bristol, and who was born in Rhymney, was recently added to the Welsh Academy of writers – the only true crime author to feature in their Literature Wales database. His last book, Portrait of a Prison Killer, just published, was about 29-year-old Manchester born Robert Stewart, Britain’s most dangerous psychopathic prison killer.

He is now committed to delving deeper to find out the truth about what he feels is Kenneth Black's wrongful conviction.

He said: “Mr Black’s whole entire historical case is shrouded in secrecy. I find this remarkable in this day and age. I won't rest until I have uncovered the truth. It won't be easy due to this embargo, but I will try.”

Original report here

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