Stephen Lawrence murder trial commences.

Legal history was made in 2006 when William Dunlop became the first man to face a retrial under the double jeopardy rule. Now, 18 years on, two men will face a retrial charged with murdering Stephen Lawrence.

It was Stephen's case and others like it that prompted the government into reviewing the 800 year old double jeopardy rule which prevented someone being tried again for the same offence if they had previously been acquitted. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 meant that the law was eventually changed allowing a retrial if there is “new” and “compelling” evidence in the case of serious crimes such as murder armed robbery rape and some drug offences. The Act came into force on April 4th 2005 but, as in the case of Stephen Lawrence, can be applied retrospectively.  The trial of Gary Dobson and David Norris in this high profile murder trial has commenced at the Old Bailey, London.

 

Legal history was made in 2006 when William Dunlop became the first man to face a retrial under the double jeopardy rule after his case was referred to the Court of Appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, QC. Dunlop pleaded guilty in September 2006 to the murder of Julie Hogg in 1989. The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, said: "The Criminal Justice Act of 2003 brought about a significant and welcome change in our criminal justice system, by giving the Court of Appeal the power to quash an acquittal and order a retrial for a serious offence when there is new and compelling evidence relevant to the guilt of the acquitted person.


"It is in the interests of justice, and of the public, for such retrials to take place. As this verdict shows, if acquitted of a serious crime, offenders will no longer be able to escape responsibility for their act should new and compelling evidence come to light. At last there is justice for Julie. And for her family, especially Ann, (the victim's mother) who fought so hard for this day, even coming to Parliament to tell me why we had to change the law. She was right."

On the 13th December 2010 Mark Weston was found guilty of the murder of Vikki Thompson in 1995 at Reading Crown Court. This followed a second trial, which was granted on the basis of scientific evidence, uncovered 13 years after he was acquitted of the same offence.

Detective Superintendent Barry Halliday, head of Thames Valley Police's Major Crime Review Team, said: "Mark Weston was originally tried in 1996 and the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Thanks to an intensive investigation by my team, working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), LGC Forensics, and the Forensic Science Service (FSS), new forensic evidence was uncovered which proved Westons guilt and he has now been convicted of Vikkis murder.............. Although the Thompson family now have the knowledge that the person who killed Vikki is behind bars and being punished for his crime, they have still lost a much loved wife, daughter and mother, and Weston has not given any reason or explanation of why he killed Vikki.

"This is the third murder conviction in the UK under the double jeopardy law. Offenders should be aware that my team, and others like it across the country, will continue to relentlessly investigate unsolved homicides and serious sexual assaults to bring those responsible to justice."

The Crown Prosecution Service can advise that there is not enough new evidence to permit a new investigation or re-trial as in the case of former doctor, Howard Martin, in February 2011. Martin had been acquitted of murdering three of his patients in 2005. The case was reopened and preliminary inquiries were carried out but in a statement Durham's Chief Crown Prosecutor said "The law was changed in 2005 to allow those who had been acquitted of serious offences to face a retrial in certain circumstances if there is new and compelling evidence......"After careful consideration of this material, including discussion with leading counsel who prosecuted in the 2005 murder trial, I have decided that in these circumstances there is not sufficient new evidence, as the law requires, to warrant the conduct of an investigation which must the authorised by the DPP. I have advised the police of this.”

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