James Hanratty : biography
James Hanratty (4 October 1936 – 4 April 1962) was one of the last people in the UK to be sentenced to death for murder. He was hanged at Bedford Gaol on 4th April 1962, after being convicted of the murder of scientist Michael Gregsten, who was shot dead in his car near Clophill, Bedfordshire in August 1961. Gregsten's mistress Valerie Storie, was raped, shot and left paralysed in the same incident.
According to Storie, the couple were abducted at gunpoint in their car at Dorney Reach, Buckinghamshire, by a man with a cockney accent and mannerisms matching Hanratty's. The gunman ordered Gregsten to drive in several directions, before stopping beside the A6 at Deadman's Hill, where the offences took place. The prime suspects were Hanratty, a petty criminal, and Peter Louis Alphon, an eccentric drifter. Both these men changed their version of events several times and Storie picked-out an innocent man at the first identity parade.
The 'Guilty' verdict was questioned by many who felt the evidence was simply too weak to justify conviction. However, a DNA test in 2002 was to prove Hanratty's guilt "beyond doubt".
DNA evidence and appeal in 2002
The case for Hanratty's innocence was pursued by his family as well as by some of the opponents of capital punishment in the United Kingdom, who maintained that Hanratty was innocent and sought to draw attention to evidence that would cast doubt on the validity of his conviction. However, following an appeal by his family, modern testing of DNA from his exhumed corpse and members of his family convinced Court of Appeal judges in 2002 that his guilt was proved "beyond doubt".Joshua Rozenberg,, Daily Telegraph, London, 11 May 2002. Paul Foot and some other campaigners continued to believe in Hanratty's innocence and argued that the DNA evidence could have been contaminated, noting that the small DNA samples from items of clothing, kept in a police laboratory for over 40 years "in conditions that do not satisfy modern evidential standards", had had to be subjected to very new amplification techniques in order to yield any genetic profile.John Steele, , Daily Telegraph, London, 23 June 2001. However, no DNA other than Hanratty's was found on the evidence tested, contrary to what would have been expected had the evidence indeed been contaminated.
Hanratty's family continue to press for a review of his conviction. BBC News website, 30th December 2010.
In 1991 Bedfordshire Police allowed Bob Woffinden access to their previously undisclosed files on the case. The CCRC report had also revealed the recorded mileage on the Morris Minor which invalidated Skillet's sighting in Brentwood and Trower's in Redbridge Lane. Bob Woffinden writes that there is no evidence that they even saw the same Morris Minor. These anomalies were considered sufficiently significant to justify an appeal against the conviction on behalf of Hanratty's family.
The surviving exhibits from the trial were lost until 1991, when they were found in envelopes in a laboratory drawer. DNA was donated by Hanratty's relatives, which they expected to exonerate him when compared with material on surviving evidence. Results from testing in June 1999 were said to be equivocal.
Hanratty's body was exhumed in 2001 in order to extract DNA.John Steele, , Daily Telegraph, London, 28 June 2001. This was compared with mucus preserved in the handkerchief within which the murder weapon had been found wrapped. It was also compared with semen preserved in the underwear worn by Storie when she was raped. No scientific evidence from the crime had previously been linked to Hanratty, yet DNA samples from both sources matched Hanratty's DNA. At the subsequent appeal hearing Michael Mansfield QC, the barrister acting for the Hanratty family, admitted that if contamination could be excluded the DNA evidence demonstrated that Hanratty had committed the murder and rape. He argued that the evidence may have been contaminated because of lax handling procedures. Among the surviving evidential items a vial had been broken which could account for contamination. However, neither sample yielded DNA from any second male source, as would presumably have been expected if another male had committed the crimes and the samples had subsequently been contaminated.
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