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More Cases Proceed To The Court Of Appeal As Predicted

Following the successful appeal made by Chris Brown of Fosters Solicitors and his legal team, which saw the murder conviction of Steven Puaca quashed, further murder convictions have been taken to the Court of Appeal as Chris Brown predicted.

The latest of these appeals to follow Steven Puaca’s, is that of the road rage murder conviction of one of the UK’s most notorious criminals, Kenneth Noye.

Steven Puaca was convicted at Norwich Crown Court in November 2002 of murdering his girlfriend, Jacqueline Tindsley, who was found dead in bed at their Lowestoft flat. Mr Puaca always denied any responsibility for Miss Tindsley’s death, but was convicted of her murder on the basis of evidence given by the then Home Office pathologist, Dr Michael Heath.

Dr Heath was a Home Office pathologist for 14 years working on many high profile cases including the death of Stuart Lubbock at Michael Barrymore’s home, the death of Myra Hindley in prison and the murder of Lin and Megan Russell.

Dr Heath’s findings were that Mr Puaca had murdered Miss Tindsley by smothering her. From the outset however, Chris Brown had concerns about Dr Heath’s evidence and argued that Miss Tindsley was known to abuse prescription drugs. Evidence in Mr Puaca’s defence showed that she had been drinking and had a history of drug overdosing. Tests showed that she had taken five different prescription drugs, one at “levels associated with fatalities”. Miss Tindlsey was found in a foetal position face down on the bed and Dr Heath told the jury that her face had been pressed into bedclothes.

Unfortunately, Mr Puaca was convicted but the Court of Appeal quashed that conviction three years later. Chris Brown and his team called a further five pathologists who gave evidence, that there was little pathological evidence to support Dr Heath’s view that Miss Tindsley had been smothered. Far from killing her it appeared that in fact no crime had even occurred. When quashing the conviction the Court of Appeal Judges expressed that they found Dr Heath’s evidence of smothering surprising.

Following the quashing of Mr Puaca’s conviction, Chris Brown expressed concern at how many more similar cases there could be and predicted that further appeals would be made on the basis of Dr Heath’s inadequate pathology work. A Home Office Tribunal was subsequently held which found several charges relating to Dr Heath’s performance and conduct proven, and commented that without Dr Heath’s evidence they could only believe that Mr Puaca would never have even been charged.

Mr Puaca is not the only person to have been charged with murder as a result of Dr Heath’s now discredited findings. Kenneth Fraser was acquitted of murdering his girlfriend Mary Ann Moore, and as was ultimately found in Steven Puaca’s case, Dr Heath’s evidence was the only evidence in that case that there had been an unlawful death.

One of the UK’s most notorious criminals, Kenneth Noye, is now the latest person appealing his conviction for murder. Mr Noye stabbed Stephen Cameron during a road rage incident on an M25 slip road and was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2000. Mr Noye has always denied murder on grounds of self defence, and the Criminal Cases Review Commission has now referred his case to the Court of Appeal. Whilst it was not the only evidence used to convict Mr Noye, Dr Heath’s evidence was once again key in convicting him. Complaints about Dr Heath’s conduct in this case were in respect of evidence he gave about force used by Mr Noye. However, the evidence about the necessary force needed to inflict the two wounds was unsustainable scientifically and forensically.

In due course the Court of Appeal will decide whether Mr Noye, like many others, will have his conviction for murder quashed.

What has clearly been important for these Defendants facing murder charges and life sentences, has been the ability of their legal teams to identify the issues, scrutinise the evidence given by Dr Heath and obtain their own expert pathological evidence to challenge and ultimately discredit his.

This article was produced on the 18th March 2011 by our Crime & Business Defence team for information purposes only and should not be construed or relied upon as specific legal advice.