Legal history in murder case…

FOR the first time in Northern Ireland, a jury has heard details of the suspect’s previous convictions. Reporting restrictions were lifted today, as the murderer of Attracta Harron faced a lifetime behind bars. Trevor Hamilton had only been out of prison for less than four months for his conviction for rape when he killed the pensioner.

  • Occasional Commentator

     “when he killed the pensioner”

    Does anyone else find it annoying that the media treat a conviction as 100% certainty that the person is guilty? What if the killer in this case (or any other case) is acquitted on appeal? Why have appeals if the courts are infallible? If the courts aren’t infallible then the media and everyone else should still treat it as an allegation.

  • Star

    A jury have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on the basis of the evidence. Any quashing of his conviction will be on a question of law and not on the facts unless new evidence or facts emerge. He has been found guilty of her murder notwithstanding that the conviction may be appealed and consequently is guilty.

  • Occasional Commentator

    I’m not denying that he has been convicted. I’m just pointing out that the only thing we can be sure of is that he has been convicted. We can’t really be sure that he is actually the killer.

    It may well be legal to say he’s the killer, but it’s just not something that can be presented as undeniable fact.

    Apparently, this case is a fairly clear cut case, but in general it’s not that clear cut.

  • jone

    OC,

    This all sounds a tad perverse.

    But I hope if I’m ever before the courts you’re on the jury.

    Hamilton had his victims DNA all over the place, had her personal possessions in his garden, had been spotted by an eywitness and had heavy previous. So I’m firmly in undeniable fact camp with this one.

  • Reader

    OC: I’m just pointing out that the only thing we can be sure of is that he has been convicted. We can’t really be sure that he is actually the killer.
    So, is there anyone you would say actually *is* a killer?

  • Occasional Commentator

    jone,
    You’ve missed my point. I’d be as quick as anyone to convict with the right evidence. I’m not saying his guy is innocent, in fact I very much doubt it.

    My point is that if somebody says “X killed Y” and X is later acquitted then they should apologise, and quit if they are a journalist. It’s no better than libel. Much better and more accurate to just say “X was convicted of killing Y”.

    A lie is a lie and journalists shouldn’t report anything as fact with such serious accusations as murder if they’re not prepared to take the flack if they get it wrong. “The courts agreed with me for a short while” is a pathetic excuse for lying if you’re a professional journalist.

  • Gum

    This was a horrible case from start to finish. The fact that he was out on parole only three years after committing such a barbaric and sadistic rape is shocking in itself. We need to look again at sentencing – too late for Attracta Harron I know but sentences for serious, violent crime are becoming dangerously lenient.

  • humbug

    OC

    Her body was found in a stream near his house, someone spotted her in his car with blood on her face that day, her blood was found in his car and he was barely just out of prison for a brutal rape. I think its fairly safe to assume he is guilty despite his not guilty plea.

    Total scumbag, I agree with the judge that he ought to be given the longest sentence the judge can give him as he is a danger to women in that community.

  • Occasional Commentator

    I’ve already said that I’m not talking about this case in particular, I’m discussing the general case – so it’s probably best that I leave this thread as I’m being misunderstood.

  • jone

    I think if hacks were to follow OC’s logic virtually nothing would ever be reported as fact.

  • humbug

    OC

    I do appreciate your point and in most cases would agree with it but maybe this is not the thread to make it on given that this case does have alot of evidence backing it up and does arouse strong emotions. Maybe a bit more sensitivity?

  • Occasional Commentator

    If a journalist feels certain something is true, they should come out with it. My point is that if a journalist makes a mistake, they’ve screwed up and should consider their position depending on the severity of the accusation (and murder is quite a serious accusation obviously).

    My main point is that blaming the courts isn’t any better than blaming any other sources that a journalist relies on. A mistake is a mistake, and any decent journalist should admit mistakes and not make excuses. They are paid to find and tell the truth, and be careful about what sources they use.

    Journalists, along with politicians and managers et cetera, are responsible not just for what they do with the information they’re given, but for choosing and organising their sources. Everybody is responsible really, but with journalists it’s what they’re paid to do.

  • Occasional Commentator

    humbug,
    Thanks for you advice, but the headline on this thread is more related to legal issues than simply a human-interest story.

    But I suppose it’s not really that important. I really will try to drag myself away now and do some work!

  • emily

    This isn’t the thread to discuss the semantics of news reporting. It’s more important to discuss the disclosure in court of this man’s previous convictions. I am so glad that in this case the jury were informed of his previous violent assault conviction. It’s a pity the same didn’t happen last year in the trail of the man accused of killing Arlene Arkinson. If the jury knew his history they might have come to a different conclusion. How can it be right that the accused person’s previous violent behaviour cannot be used as evidence?
    I’m very gald for the Harron family that this man is convicted as the killer. I grew up near Vctoria Bridge and I knew the lady (from the Strabane library) and several of her children. I only hope this will bring them some measure of comfort.

  • Occasional Commentator

    The obvious danger with revealing previous convictions is that an early parking fine might cause an innocent person to get a conviction for careless driving, then later on dangerous driving, then drink driving, then murder. So somebody who’s only guilty of a parking offence is locked up for life.

    We should remember that the courts are meant to investigate whether somebody is guilty of the crime which is being tried, instead of just finding a convenient scapegoat.

    Many commentators seem to be certain Trevor Hamilton was going to be convicted anyway based on other overwhelming evidence, so bear in mind that the disclosure of previous convictions was probably irrelevant in this case.

    Ultimately, nobody can deny that the only reason for asking for disclosure is to cause convictions for people who would otherwise be acquitted. It might cause convictions for guilty people who might have been acquitted, but it’s also likely to lock up innocent people.

    My other fear is that given the general impression that sentencing is lax (whether it’s true or not is beside the point), the average juror will (perhaps subconciously) want to punish somebody for the earlier crime instead of concentrating on the current allegation. We need to toughten up sentencing and get full public confidence in sentencing before we can be happy that jurors will put the disclosed information to use in a proper manner.

    After the Terrorism Bill and countless other disgraceful legislation from this Government (and others too), I have absolutely no reason to think that the Government’s policy is anything other than “we need to lock up more people, and we can’t find enough guilty people, so let’s lock up some innocent ones instead”. I can’t be confident that they have implemented this disclosure system properly.

    emily said: “I am so glad that in this case the jury were informed of his previous violent assault conviction. ”

    email, why are you glad? There are only two scenarios to consider:
    1) He would have been convicted anyway. Nothing was changed by the disclosure, therefore there’s nothing to be glad about.
    2) He would have been acquitted if it wasn’t for this disclosure. Are you familiar enough with the details of this case to be certain that the existence of the previous convictions was actually evidence that was relevant in some way?
    As I said, I think most commentators would say he would have been convicted anyway, therefore the disclosure was pointless, so why are you glad?

  • jone

    OC,

    There was rightful concern about the changes to bad character and similar fact evidence when they were introduced in the 2003 CJA; mainly because it was being over spun by Blair and Blunkett as previous convictions would go in virtually as a matter of course.

    In the event it was amended in a more limited and sensible way, broadly in line with the Law Commission recommendations.

    In the event judges have been pretty cautious in its use and have been very careful in directing juries about the use of this evidence. I’m not aware of the Appeal courts pointing to the unfair application of the provisions in the few years since they’ve been running.

    So I think your careless driving analogy is at the very margins of credibility.

    For a good round up of the law try this paper by Prof John Spencer.

    http://www.jsboard.co.uk/downloads/text_of_instruction_manual_revised1april05.doc

  • Occasional Commentator

    Thanks jone,
    Now I now a little bit more about law. I’m probably one of those people for whom the saying “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” was invented 🙂

  • Joe

    I wish OC would do what he said he was going to do quite a number of posts ago; that is, go away.
    I am a brother-in-law of Attracta Harron. If Hamilton were to have been (or to be, in the future) found not guilty, then I imagine it will be harder in the future to find anyone guilty of such a crime. As the Judge said after the conviction, in all of his 35 years at the Bar, he never saw such a strong case.
    I think we can say, without doubt, that Hamilton is a killer.

  • Occasional Commentator

    I never said otherwise …