by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 30th 2011)
The families of a murder victim and her late former husband – he was wrongly accused of that crime fifteen years ago – joined forces to slam what they believe are lax procedures at a recent trial. They claim that Phillip Skipper was wrongly accused all over again at the retrial of former labourer John Pope – that it was more like Mr Skipper that was on trial than Mr Pope.
Mr Skipper was not alive to defend his reputation. Mr Pope was found guilty of the murder of Karen Skipper for the second time last week. He had been convicted of the murder in February 2009, but the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction last year and ordered a retrial. Its judgement still has not been published.1
The Presumption of Innocence?
Mrs Skipperʼs body was discovered in the River Ely in Cardiff on the morning of March 10th 1996. A year later her estranged husband Phillip who died of cancer in 2004 was acquitted of her murder. According to the criminal justice system, the presumption of innocence was never taken away from Phillip Skipper. The Fitted-In Project followed the case carefully. It was after all Walesʼ second vindication case in the DNA age.
To the disgust of the families of Mrs Skipper and Mr Skipper, Popeʼs defence QC Mark Evans turned it into Mr Skipperʼs third trial. Having attended this trial, we agree that it was hard if not impossible to spot any evidence of Mr Skipper being presumed innocent.
We are surprised that despite the European Convention of Human Rights being incorporated into UK law in 1998, the Article 8 Right to Family Life of Mr Skipper’s family was paid such scant regard. Similarly, Mrs Skipper’s family’s rights were not defended either. This is applied in the setting of the tariff too.
The families insist that there was no presumption of innocence for Mr Skipper despite his acquittal, but the coalition government says there is no problem.
“It has long been an important feature of our criminal justice system that a person charged with an offence is presumed to be innocent until proved guilty”, said the Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice, Lord (Tom) McNally. “A person found not guilty is to be treated as innocent, as too is a person whose conviction has been quashed on appeal”.
Fine words, but the treatment of Mr Skipperʼs memory in this trial shows that the practice is vastly different. Mark Evans QC lost no opportunity to accuse Mr Skipper of his estranged wifeʼs murder, using evidence that had been rejected by the jury that tried and acquitted Mr Skipper and evidence that was inadmissible against him in that trial.
This was a thinly disguised prosecution of a man who could no longer defend himself – a prosecution that had no burden of proof and for whom there appeared to be no rules on the admissibility of evidence.
There was absolutely no presumption of innocence for Mr Skipper and no thought was spared for the feelings of his child – still a young teenager. The quality of the so-called evidence used in this back-door prosecution of Phillip Skipper was woeful. There ought to be rules governing such tactics and consequences for such conduct.
1 The judgement was published subsequently: The Editor.