"Your case was almost mentioned...but not quite (yet!). I hope that in the end, it will be realised how much we all owe to the memory of Charlotte Kiszko - a great woman indeed! As I understand, she planted a tree in her garden for each year her son spent in prison. I wonder if the trees are still there?"
He was referring to a story that was recently shown on the Guardian website. Here is the story...
Stark reminder of how an innocent man can be railroaded into spending years in jail
The context has changed since the case of Stefan Kiszko, but not the risk
Saturday November 11 2006
There is an understatement on the gravestone that marks the burial place in Rochdale cemetery of Charlotte Kiszko and her son, Stefan. "A loving wife and a very devoted mother," reads the inscription commemorating Mrs Kiszko.
No one could possibly have been more devoted than Charlotte Kiszko, who campaigned tirelessly for 16 years to prove the innocence of her son, Stefan, convicted, after a bungled police investigation, of the murder of 11-year-old Lesley Molseed in 1975. This week, many years after both she and her son were buried in the vast old cemetery, a man has been charged with the murder.
It is 30 years since Stefan Kiszko, an Inland Revenue clerk with the mental and emotional age of a 12-year-old, was found guilty, and 13 since he died after a brief taste of freedom. His mother died a few months later. Could a case as shocking happen today?
The man who helped to prove Kiszko's innocence, and who acted as his mother's ally, believes we are now just as much in danger of ignoring equally egregious miscarriages of justice.
"In the current climate more miscarriages will take place," said Campbell Malone, the solicitor who took over the case and saw it through its successful appeal. "It is nonsense to suggest miscarriages of justice are less likely to happen now. We are more at risk - the climate is just as bad as it was in the 1970s when you had all the Irish cases. I am profoundly gloomy about the situation."
Mr Malone accepted that changes in the law through the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace) had removed some of the dangers. Kiszko was, for instance, initially questioned without a lawyer and made his confession after being told that, if he did so, he would be allowed to go home.
In recognition of the large number of potential wrongful convictions, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) was established by law in 1995. The commission, which has a staff of around 110, receives more than 900 applications annually and refers about 40 cases to the appeals courts.
"The CCRC are under pressure and have had their resources cut back," said Mr Malone. He cited the government's many attempts to reduce compensation paid to victims of miscarriage of justice. "In the early 1990s there was a willingness to investigate. That is no longer the case."
Two highly regarded television series, the BBC's Rough Justice and Channel 4's Trial and Error, also used to put the resources into researching such miscarriages. "Trial and Error is just a memory and the Rough Justice programmes are as rare as hen's teeth," said Mr Malone. "It's getting harder and harder to have cases reopened. It's scary."
Few new lawyers were entering the field, as such cases were time-consuming and may have been worked pro bono. Michael Mansfield QC, who has acted in many of the best known miscarriage of justice cases, agreed that there were now serious risks of the wrong people being convicted, although the reasons may have changed.
"In the 70s and 80s, there were the usual allegations of fit-up, verbals [alleged admissions] and fabricated confessions. Since Pace, that has dwindled to almost non-existent. But forensic science can be equally suspect because of the desire to convict."
He cited the case of Angela Cannings, cleared on appeal in 2003 of the murder of her two baby sons. "If that had been carefully analysed it should never have led to a conviction," he said. "There are other cases where scientific evidence is not being scrutinised carefully."
The rules on fingerprinting had been loosened rather than tightened. "Most solicitors are very reluctant to get tied up in cases of this kind and a lot of lawyers shy away from this [forensic issues] because it's very specialised," he added. He said television in the past had been able to lay out budgets that led to new information being turned up, as with cases like the Birmingham Six. A new series about miscarriages of justice, The Innocence Project, was, coincidentally, launched this week by the BBC. It is a fictional account of students investigating potential miscarriages of justice, as happens in real life at Cardiff, Bristol and Leeds universities.
A CCRC spokesman acknowledged budget cuts. "As a result of reduced funding the commission has needed to make savings without compromising the quality of the service that we provide. We are working hard to erode our backlog of cases and extra resources would obviously speed that process up."
He added: "New problem areas have emerged in recent years, such as expert evidence, disclosure and critical errors in the directions given by judges. While still rare, miscarriages of justice are still occurring and will continue to do so."
Rochdale is not short of famous sons and daughters: Lord Byron, Gracie Fields, reformer John Bright. Stefan Kiszko will be remembered not for what he did but for what he didn't do - and what was done to him. Along with his modest grave, with its vase of plastic roses, a fitting memorial might be an acknowledgement that a frightened, vengeful society can still lock up the wrong man.
Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited