Novelist George Skelly turned true crime-writer relatively late in life, with an emphasis on miscarriages of justice. His thorough research with businessman Lou Santangeli was instrumental in securing justice for George Kelly and Charles Connolly in the notorious 1949 Cameo Cinema Murders case. Skelly told the terrible story in a masterful book on the case, the third edition of which was published by Waterside Press in 2011.
Sadly both Kelly and Connolly had been dead many years by the time their convictions for the murder of the cinema manager Leonard Thomas and his assistant John Catterall were finally quashed on appeal in 2003. The two men were gunned down during an attempted robbery of £50 on March 19th 1949, which was wrongly blamed on Kelly in particular. Six months later Robert Graham a prisoner at Walton prison claimed that another prisoner, Donald Johnson had confessed the murders to him. That statement was never disclosed to Kelly or Connolly’s defence teams. Graham later testified that Kelly and Connolly had confessed to him in the same prison.
At the men’s first trial the jury was prematurely dismissed so both men were then tried separately. Kelly was sentenced to death and hanged. Connolly was forced to plead guilty to lesser charges in order to save his life and was given ten years. Graham’s statement about Johnson was discovered by Skelly and Santangelli in 1991, which resulted in the successful but posthumous appeals twelve years later.
Connolly died in 1997, 47 years after Kelly was wrongly hanged. There was never any scientific, or credible evidence against either man – no fingerprints, no murder weapon, no bloodstains and no eye-witnesses. The convictions were secured largely due to the conduct of the ambitious and corrupt Detective Inspector Herbert Balmer, who made his name on that case, and who eventually became Acting Chief Constable of Liverpool before retiring in 1967. He died three years later, never having been called to account for his role in the shameful execution of an innocent man and the wrongful imprisonment of another. His previous excellent reputation however is now in tatters since the Court of Appeal condemned him as a perjurer and purveyor of false evidence in Kelly and Connolly’s successful appeals.
From the discovery of Graham’s earlier statement and other important evidence, it took a further twelve years to correct that terrible miscarriage of justice. The exemplary research by Skelly resulted in his book The Cameo Conspiracy – The Real Story Of The Cameo Cinema Murders. This book was essential in delivering justice – 53 years too late – to Kelly and Connolly.
But the Cameo was not the only controversial case Balmer was involved in.George Skelly has followed up The Cameo Conspiracy – The Real Story Of The Cameo Cinema Murders with another excellent analysis of a case that bears all the hallmarks of an egregious miscarriage of justice – the convictions of Alfred Burns and Edward Devlin for the murder of Beatrice Alice Rimmer, a 52 year-old Liverpool widow. In his book on this case Murderers Or Martyrs Skelly clearly demonstrates how Balmer was also responsible for sending two more innocent men to the gallows in 1952, a mere two years after Kelly’s hanging. In this case, known as the Cranborne Road Murder, there was a similar total absence of any material or scientific evidence against the two men. Skelly provides evidence that they too were fitted up by Balmer.
In addition to the book, which is to be published shortly by Waterside Press, Skelly with the compliance of two relatives of Devlin and Burns, applied to the Criminal cases Review Commission (CCRC) in 2008 to have the case referred to the Court of Appeal. In all, he submitted eleven bundles of new hitherto undisclosed evidence and new argument, but despite the strength of his arguments, the CCRC, which had previously referred Kelly and Connolly back for their successful appeals, refused to refer this case back even though it knew all about Balmer’s methods in both cases.
That application, where the CCRC insisted that two relatives of the hanged men must be involved, raises the question of locus, but why? What if there were no relatives of the wrongfully convicted men who could say that they had been personally affected by what had happened? Or what if the relatives were not interested? Or what if there were no living relatives at all? If that had occurred, the case of Devlin and Burns would not even have got that far and crucially the convictions of Kelly and Connolly would never have been exposed as the scandalous miscarriage of justice that they have now been proven to be. That cannot be acceptable. Skelly and others like him should be entitled to have legal standing in such cases if there is a realistic prospect of a conviction being quashed on the evidence, which he and Santangeli maintain there certainly was, even more so than in the successful Cameo appeals.
George Skelly is an enthusiastic and important supporter of The Fitted-In Project.