A Heinous Murder Most Foul

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 27th 2013)
Despicable does not begin to describe what happened in one of Walesʼ most notorious miscarriages of justice. The killer of 45-year-old wages clerk Granville Jenkins, Tahir Gass, was a suspect in the murder of Lily Volpert who was killed two years earlier in March 1952. Volpert, like Jenkins, had been a victim of a brutal knife-crime. Gass was interviewed as a suspect by Detective Inspector Ludon Roberts (now deceased) for Volpertʼs murder and released without charge before the arrest of the tragic innocent Mahmood Mattan.
Within six months of Volpertʼs murder Mattan was judicially murdered by the British state. Forty-six years later the Court of Appeal acknowledged that a terrible miscarriage of justice had occurred. Less than two years after Mattan went to the gallows for a crime he did not commit Gass killed Jenkins in a staggeringly similar way. Gass always carried a knife because he had an irrational fear of rape and was clearly in desperate need of psychiatric help.
Volpert was robbed while Jenkins was not. So what? The police [this was before South Wales Police was formed], criminal justice system and British state either knew about the similarities in these cases and police interest in Gass in both murders from 1954, or they should have. However, Mattanʼs family and lawyers were kept in the dark about this damning evidence. The police failed to disclose their interest in Gass to Mattanʼs defence at his trial, appeal and subsequent attempts to re-open the case until Bernard de Maid, who had taken up the case for Mattanʼs family, found the evidence nearly half a century later.
In 1969 the case was reviewed and the then Home Secretary James Callaghan – later to become Prime Minister and later still Baron Callaghan of Cardiff – refused to refer it back for appeal. The full extent of the Gass evidence was not known by Mattanʼs supporters, but the crucial witness Harold Cover – later exposed as incapable of belief – was exposed as a thug in 1969. Cover had tried to kill one of his daughters in a very similar manner to the murder of Lily Volpert. Coverʼs initial description fitted Gass and not Mattan. The City of Cardiff Police were fully aware of this and concealed their interest in Gass from Mattan and his lawyers. They also failed to find a crucial witness that a national newspaperʼs journalist found easily.
At his trial Mattan was described as a ʻsemi-civilised savage – a half-child of natureʼ, and that was by his defence barrister T. Rhys-Roberts. A then 12-year-old girl Joyce Sullivan had seen a man at the crime-scene at the relevant time. Police arranged for Sullivan to see Mattan. She stood very close to him and told police, “That is not the man”. She was ignored.
There were other serious discrepancies in the case against the Somali, but these failed to register too. It was plain that Mattan did not fully understand the court proceedings and his command of English was very poor. No interpreter was provided. Confident in his innocence he trusted British justice to reach the right verdict, but he stood no chance.
Rhys-Roberts invited the jury not to believe his client, but to rely on prosecution witnesses instead. Those witnesses supported the defence case in parts, but such tactics were outrageous. The former Lord Justice of Appeal Sir Frederick Lawton said that if a lawyer had used the terminology that Rhys-Roberts had in his court, he would have stopped the trial and reprimanded the barrister. There were no sanctions on Rhys-Roberts and Mattan, unsurprisingly, was convicted. The jury reached their verdict – the wrong one – very quickly.
The case went to appeal, but with the same counsel. Rhys-Robertsʼ appeal on Mattanʼs behalf did not mention his own utterly wretched performance at trial and was so unpersuasive that the appeal judges told Crown Counsel Edmund Davies QC that he neednʼt bother answering Rhys-Robertsʼ points. Davies was later ennobled. He was also the trial judge in the Great Train Robbery case, dying five years before Mattanʼs long overdue exoneration. Shortly after Mattanʼs application for leave to appeal was dismissed in August 1952. Albert Pierrepoint was engaged to hang Mattan.
Without a Hitch
Mattan was hanged by Pierrepoint on September 3rd 1952. He had been convicted in July and his appeal was dismissed the following month. The rush to judgement and to the gallows occurred with indecent haste. The Governor of Cardiff Prison Colonel Beak claimed that the execution occurred without a hitch. There was a hitch and a big one at that. The last hanging in Cardiff Prison was of an innocent man.
The Gass evidence was mentioned at Mattanʼs posthumous appeal in 1998 – 46 years too late. It had been concealed for almost half a century. If anyone tells you capital punishment is necessary, let them read the evidence in the Volpert case. Let them read the 1998 judgement in the Court of Criminal Appeal and let them remember Mahmood Mattan.
Our criminal justice system stands accused – condemned – of the judicial murder of Mahmood Mattan. And if you truly believe in capital punishment, then you must be consistent. The state and its functionaries that perpetrated this monstrous injustice killed an innocent man. Should they not face the gallows for a heinous murder most foul – the judicial murder of an innocent man, Mahmood Mattan?

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