My compiling of cases of false rape allegations continues. I pause awhile to bring you the case of Victor Nealon, former postman. Most of the false allegation cases in my compilation relate either to events which never happened, or to consensual sex which was later claimed to be non-consensual. In this case, however, there has been no suggestion that the complainant was untruthful or that her claims were inaccurate. This is a case of simply convicting the wrong man. Though the story starts in 1997 it is not until mid-2015 that this case reaches its final appalling conclusion…..
I quote from the blog of solicitor advocate Mark Newby: “In January 1997 Victor Nealon began a discretionary life sentence which would see him serve 17 years in custody. Last Friday he started his new life, on the streets of Birmingham and with nowhere to stay after the State had washed its hands of him. What does it say about our society that we simply turn out men like Victor Nealon onto the street after 17 years…..he will now face the prospect of mounting a claim for compensation in an atmosphere in which the Secretary of State for Justice is seeking to narrow the test for compensation. We should have a system in place for cases like this where those released are fully supported and receive urgent interim financial support. Disturbingly the State will instead put every hurdle in the way of Victor Nealon as he fights to have his life restored. The judgment and the back story behind this case serves as a depressing epitaph for the criminal justice system and its complete lack of progress since the notorious miscarriages on the late 1980s and early 1990s”.
Mr Nealon, a postman, had been unjustly convicted of attempted rape and wrongfully imprisoned for life. He had been in jail for 17 years. In 2014, after his conviction was finally quashed, Mr Nealon was discharged from Wakefield prison with £46 and nowhere to stay. He spent his first night of freedom as a homeless man on the streets. Makes you proud to be British, doesn’t it?
The victim was subjected to an attempted rape outside a nightclub. The attacker had been seen in the night club hours before and was described as having a noticeable lump to his forehead and a strong Scottish accent. After the attack he made his escape.
Victor Nealon had never been to the nightclub in question. Mr Nealon is of Irish extraction and has a strong Irish accent. Although he has a facial disfigurement, this is due to serious acne. He has no ‘lump’. His misfortune was to be living in the area and to have, in the past, been convicted of offences. So he was arrested.
Some weeks after his arrest Nealon was asked to stand in an ID parade which he readily volunteered to do. The ID parade failed to follow the required procedures. The police officer leading the case was present at the ID parade and spoke to at least one of the witnesses. This contravenes procedure because of the possibility of influencing the witness, deliberately or accidentally. Oddly, the complainant herself did not attend the ID parade. One witness picked out Mr Nealon but stressed that the man involved had a strong Scottish accent. Other witnesses failed to pick out the applicant, including the victim’s friend who helped compile an e-fit picture.
Mr Nealon was at home with his partner and daughter at the time of the offence. He thus had an alibi, but the prosecution mounted an attack on this alibi in court over the alibis’ error in correctly naming the videos they had watched that night. The defence team were unaware of this evidence before trial and so had not the opportunity to present their own version of the issue.
But the most serious failure was in respect of DNA evidence. Mr Nealon had provided DNA samples to the police officer involved with leading the case and understood this was to facilitate testing against the woman’s clothing. Not only did that testing not occur but the exhibits, apart from a skirt, remained in their sealed evidence bags. Staggeringly, the court was not given the true position over the lack of forensic testing in the case.
The DNA testing was finally done only in 2009, twelve years after Mr Nealon had been convicted and sent to prison. The DNA present in all key intimate areas was that of an unknown male and not Victor Nealon. It would be another five years before he would be exonerated by the Court of Appeal. Finally, in 2014, the Court of Appeal concluded in its judgment: ‘the jury may reasonably have reached the conclusion, based on the DNA evidence, that it was a real possibility that the “unknown male” – and not the appellant – was the attacker.’ If the DNA testing had been done in 1997 then a man would not have lost 17 years of his life. But in 1998 and 2002 the Criminal Cases Review Commission had refused to carry out the DNA tests.
Quoting Mark Newby, “All of this conduct – the failure to undertake the DNA assessments, the misleading of the court, the collection of late rebuttal evidence and presence of the officer at the ID Parade – are all indicative of a disturbing approach to building a case against Victor Nealon at all costs. Had those involved with the case chosen instead to investigate the case in a fair and open manner then the result would have been very different.”
The euphoria of his release now some years past, Victor Nealon’s life is grim. His parents died while he was in jail and his partner and daughter moved on. He lives alone. Prospective employers treat him with suspicion. He lives on benefits.
He sees his doctor once or twice weekly and gets medication to help him through the nightmares. His medical problems stem from his treatment in prison. “It’s one thing to lose your friends, family, freedom, money and job. It’s quite another to be told that if you don’t confess to the crime you’ll never be released,” he said. He maintained his innocence even though it cost him an extra seven years in prison.
He had three hours’ notice of his release, was given a train ticket and £46.