Thursday, August 23, 2012

DNA Proof 40 Years After A Cowardly Murder Shuts Down A Fact-Fogging Campaign For The Murderer

Posted by The Machine

[Above: the murder victim Michael Gregsten and Valerie Storie who survived]

Relevance to Meredith’s case

You maybe thought journalists, politicians, human rights campaigners, lawyers, writers, filmmakers and celebrities campaigning on behalf of someone who evidence strongly suggested was guilty was peculiar to Meredith’s case?

Think again. Exactly the same thing has happened more than a few times. This is one. The UK’s notorious A6 murder of 1961.

On the evening of 22 August 1961, Michael Gregsten, a government scientist, and his girlfriend Valerie Storrie, a laboratory assistant, were sitting in his car next to a cornfield in Berkshire, just west of London, when a masked gunman tapped on the car window. He demanded Gregsten’s wallet and Storie’s handbag.

He then forced Gregsten to drive 60 miles to Deadman’s Hill at Clophill in Bedfordshire where he shot the scientist twice in the head, killing him instantly. Next, he raped and shot Ms Storie five times. She survived the attack, but was left paralysed from the waist down.

[Above: Convicted murderer James Hanratty and his campaigning father]

Trial and evidence

James Hanratty, a petty thief, was arrested after cartridge cases from the murder weapon were found in a London hotel where he stayed the night before the murder. Valerie Storie picked out Hanratty at an identity parade from her hospital bed and she also made a voice identification of him. 

At the trial at Bedford Assizes, James Henratty changed his original alibi that he was staying with friends in Liverpool on the day of the murder and said that he had gone to Rhyl, in north Wales, and stayed two nights in a boarding house. The jury didn’t believe him and James Hanratty was found guilty of murdering Michael Gregsten.

The families of the victims (one dead, one crippled for life) expressed relief that a unanimous verdict was reached.

Hanratty was hanged at Bedford Prison on 4 April 1962. The day before he was hanged, he told his family: “I’m dying tomorrow but I’m innocent. Clear my name.” 

The pressure for an appeal

After James Hanratty was hanged, his father launched a campaign to clear his name. A number of high-profile public figures lent their support to the campaign, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and prominent politicians David Steel and Norman Fowler.

In 1971, a hundred MPs signed a petition demanding a public inquiry. The Conservative government refused to open such an inquiry.

Three years later the Labour Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, commissioned a report from Lewis Hawser QC who sat in secret and came to the conclusion Hanratty was guilty.

In 1999, the case was sent back to the Court of Appeal. In March 2001, Hanratty’s body was exhumed and DNA tests were carried on it to see whether his DNA matched DNA traces found on Valerie Short’s knickers and her handkerchief that was found wrapped around the gun.

DNA tests confirm a right verdict

Forensic scientists from the Forensic Science Service (FSS) found that there was a perfect match and concluded that the DNA found on these exhibits was 2.5 million times more likely to belong to Hanratty than anyone else.

A report from the Daily Mail.

James Hanratty was guilty of the notorious A6 murder for which he was hanged, sensational scientific evidence has revealed. A DNA sample taken from his exhumed body has been matched by forensic experts to two samples from the crime scene.

They now believe that there is only a 1-in-2.5million chance Hanratty was innocent.  The results of the tests, released to Hanratty’s defence team, are a crushing blow to campaigners who have insisted he was not guilty.

In 2002, James Hanratty’s conviction was upheld at the Court of Appeal and a bid to take the case to the House of Lords was rejected. Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, who with two colleagues - Lord Justice Mantell and Mr Justice Leveson - considered the posthumous appeal, said the DNA evidence established Hanratty’s guilt “beyond doubt”.

Lord Woolf for the Supreme Court on 10 May 2002:

We have already stressed the importance of looking at a case such as this in the round. The grounds of appeal are of differing significance and although we have dealt with them individually it is also necessary to consider them collectively in asking ourselves the critical question is the conviction of James Hanratty of murder unsafe either on procedural or evidential grounds?

As to the evidential issues they all ultimately relate to the single issue which dominated the trial and this appeal, the identity of the killer. In our judgment for reasons we have explained the DNA evidence establishes beyond doubt that James Hanratty was the murderer.

The DNA evidence made what was a strong case even stronger. Equally the strength of the evidence overall pointing to the guilt of the appellant supports our conclusion as to the DNA.

[Above: journalist campaigners Paul Foot and Bob Woffinden]

The 40-year media campaign

Forty years of excruciating hell for the families and friends of the victims, one dead, one crippled for life .

Investigative journalists such as Bob Woffinden and Paul Foot wrote articles and books about the case, stubbornly certain that James Hanratty was innocent and that the case was a miscarriage of justice.

Paul Foot was a highly-respected campaigning journalist who worked for Private Eye, the Daily Mirror and The Guardian. However, his reasons for believing that James Hanratty was innocent were flimsy to the say the least.

From the BBC obituary for Paul Foot:

Beyond his obvious triumphs, Foot sometimes got it terribly wrong.

The Hanratty affair is a case in point. Twenty-five-year-old James Hanratty was hanged in 1962, after being found guilty of killing scientist Michael Gregsten and raping and shooting his mistress Valerie Storie.

Foot’s interest began in 1966 and, for the next 34 years, he consistently and eloquently demanded justice for Hanratty.

The case was finally reopened in 2000 and, after Hanratty’s body was exhumed, so DNA samples could be scraped from his bones, his guilt was proved beyond doubt.

The main crux of his argument for innocence was that James Hanratty was in Liverpool and Rhyl on the day of the murder. There were no positive identifications of Hanratty, just a couple of people who claimed that they had seen a man who looked like him.

[Above: John Lennon and Yoko Ono with Hanratty’s parents]

A report of John Lennon’s involvement.

On Side One of John & Yoko’s “Live Jam” album (recorded on 15th December 1969) Yoko can be heard to shout “Britain, you killed Hanratty you murderer!”, she then chants Hanratty’s name throughout the opening bars of Don’t Worry Kyoko.

As the [1960s] progressed, the view that Hanratty had in fact been the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice began to gather momentum, another man was even seen to confess to the murder on British Television in 1967. Together with Hanratty’s parents, John and Yoko discussed the idea of making a film to back the campaign for an enquiry and this was announced at an Apple press conference on December 10th 1969.

The one and only public screening of the 40-minute colour result was eventually shown in the crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London on 17th February 1972.

29 years later DNA evidence from the exhumed body of Hanratty was said to prove that he DID commit the murder, although it has been argued that the retained evidence may have been cross contaminated in storage.

Supporters of James Hanratty have come out with the predictable excuse that the DNA evidence must have been contaminated. However, the forensic scientists who worked in the case said this highly unlikely and pointed out that they had found no other DNA profiles on the two exhibits.

Implications for PR campaigns

The DNA tests carried out by the FFS that finally provided definitive proof that James Hanratty killed Michael Gregsten and raped and shot Valerie Storie more or less stopped the bandwagon dead in its tracks.

But there had been for decades almost fanatical and very vociferous support for someone who’d been unanimously convicted of murder, many of whom stood to gain, though it didnt have too much effect except to have the case looked at and found solid twice.

James Hanratty’s supporters claimed that he had no motive, that the police framed him, and that the DNA evidence was contaminated by the government’s experts. NONE of this was proved. Unless there is actual proof of dastardly plots and contamination, these claims against the authorities are unfruitful and unfair.

The most important lesson to be learnt from the A6 murder case is that a bandwagon of journalists, politicians, human rights campaigners, lawyers, writers, filmmakers and celebrities being absolutely convinced of someone’s innocence does not make him or her innocent in fact.

Even intelligent and well-intentioned people like Paul Foot and David Steel can mistakenly believe a killer is innocent and shrug off the pain the victims’ families must feel.

Implications for Curt Knox’s campaign

There are a number of parallels to the campaign against justice for Meredith. The families of the victims for one were put through years of hell, the real evidence was wildly distorted, and many good justice professionals and reporters were impugned. .

Hopefully the judges at the Italian Supreme Court will order a new appeal trial early next year, and the new tests the prosecution requested at the appeal on the remaining sample from the large knife can now be carried out.

Professor Novelli testified that it is possible to extract, amplify and attribute DNA with just 10-15 picograms of DNA using cutting-edge technology.  Conti and Vecchiotti extracted approximately 100 picograms of DNA from the blade of the knife.

Sollecito seemed to know there could be incriminating DNA evidence on that knife, and Knox had an extreme reaction not yet accounted for in an innocent way when she was shown a drawer full of knives.

There is enough DNA for more than one test. If Meredith’s DNA is indeed identified once again, the already strong case against Knox and Sollecito can be closed once and for all. And Curt Knox’s PR will be gone.

[Below: the then Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf]


Interesting case, but still I think Knox has him beat by virtue of her PR machines’s nearly total control of the U.S. media and significant reach even in the victim’s home country and in Italy. It’s astonishing really, how successful they’ve been.

If you Google “DNA confirms guilt” there are dozens of cases that no one ever hears about, because DNA exonerations are what makes the news.

If you go to the U.S. exoneration registry, you can browse the cases and see that none of them sound at all like this case, with its privileged defendants and a multimillion dollar defense. Being poor, being a minority, and/or legal incompetence account for the vast majority of the cases.

Posted by brmull on 08/23/12 at 09:31 AM | #

Hanratty’s reported words “I am dying tomorrow, I am innocent. Clear my name” may be true or apocryphal. I don’t know but if true it demonstrates that even for a callous cold blooded killer facing death his posthumous reputation was important to him.

The same must be that much more true for killers in jail but who can eventually look forward to a life outside.

Posted by James Raper on 08/23/12 at 11:32 AM | #

Hi brmull. I think you know that respected and effective PR gurus and media producers dont seem to rate Curt Knox’s PR very highly at all.

1) Manipulation of the judges at appeal level was really what got them provisionally out - and directly the cause of Yummi’s and Cardiol’s posts showing those same judges were out of their depth. It aint over till its over and the PR now is a millstone around their necks.

2) Such a campaign would never have succeeded in a single country, had Meredith’s death been here in the US, Nancy Grace etc would have waded in for sure - ten times more noisily than the quite demure Italian media ever did.

3) The PR was essentially under the radar in Italy and there were more prominent commentators there saying they did it than not. Now the PR is known about there (Mignini mentioned the “million dollar campaign” at appeal) it is causing lots of subtle reaction.

4) The extreme hotheadedness and xenophobia and the extreme perversion of hard facts makes its messages hard for really cool smart opinion leaders to support (Oprah seemed unconvinced) and easy to destroy on a one by one audience basis.

5) The news media is struggling everywhere. Too much competition and too much web. Despite that, some very good fearless writers did continue to report fairly and well for Newsweek, the Daily Beast, Seattle PI (to its great credit) and the website of ABC.

6) With growing economic pressure and no more cold war enemies to hate, mistrust of government has been jacked up to a high level. At the same time the CSI TV series has exaggerated how crimes stand or fall on DNA or one other evidence point. 

7) And Curt Knox’s whole edifice is so shaky and could so easily flip.

Knox is out of sight now, and Sollecito too much in sight. I think the books will prove a nightmare in their content and promotion, and Cassation will be distinctly ticked - they famously dont like attempted end runs like that. No big plus there that I can see.

PMF of course hardened in the face of Curt Knox’s PR - unshakable conviction for many there that AK and RS did it took nearly a year - and TJMK came alive in autumn 2008 directly because the victim and the victim’s family had NO-ONE speaking up for them.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 08/23/12 at 01:53 PM | #

Hi brmull,

Most of the reporting of the Meredith Kercher case has been biased, one-sided and riddled with factual errors. Most of the numerous false claims can be traced directly back to Curt Knox and Edda Mellas. Countless journalists acted like mouthpieces for PR campaign.

Posted by The Machine on 08/23/12 at 04:30 PM | #

brmull himself already rattled the thoroughly rotten foundations of Curt Knox’s campaign.

Obviously he’s too modest to admit it! But his recent post connecting the dots between Saul Kassin and Curt Knox and his hatchet men sent a big chill right across their Plan A.

We have a number of candidates similar to Kassin’s crazy claims which we’ll take down in future posts.

All addressed to Dr Galati of course. Perugia is not unhappy that we fill them in.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 08/23/12 at 05:05 PM | #

The Machine, thank you for excellent post. Cardiol’s recent post also. The ogre James Hanratty lied all the way to the grave but DNA trumped him. The exhumed body which revealed the truth, would exhumation be possible in Meredith’s case?

“DNA specialist Dr. Karen Rudolph has been able to extract 1 speck of dried blood from the hinge of a folding knife that had been boiled. The suspect was later convicted.”  ...“sophisticated crime labs need only about 10 cells to build a DNA profile.” See

Q: What destroys DNA?
“I’ve seen crime scenes where you can literally see how and where the killer wiped off blood, just by looking at each glowing area you can imagine the sponge in his hand as he wiped. And you could also, 30 whole years later, trace where the body was dragged by the glowing strip on the floor.”

This is comment by gendanken 03-07-05 on

Posted by Hopeful on 08/23/12 at 08:40 PM | #

@brmull:  You’re absolutely right.

DNA is a forensic tool used to refine a prosecution case and to support a narrative.  Prior to its introduction, a large number of underprivileged suspects were railroaded and either jailed or worse.

The trials of RS and AK were never so much about DNA evidence but largely about provably lying to the police and finally settling on implicating an innocent man.  That last act shot their credibility to pieces and no amount of DNA contamination mumbo-jumbo can possibly assemble it as brand new.

Posted by Stilicho on 08/23/12 at 11:51 PM | #

I am impressed that Hanratty lied till the last minute. I would have believed him- thinking that people has a tendency to tell the truth when they know that they are going to die. But then people who commit such extreme violence cannot be understood by our conventional wisdom.

It is the totality of the evidences: it is silly to say that AK+RS were convicted for her statements (also called confessions by some) and some say it is just some speck of DNA on a bra clasp.

The first trial took a look at the total picture- quite correctly in my opinion. The appeals trial did exactly the opposite- and diverted (I would like to say hijacked but I am afraid) or “contaminated” the total picture.

All evidences are circumstantial in some sense and the “good kids” cannot provide a decent alibi.

DNA is only one of the many evidences: each may be insignificant by itself but they contribute to the overall picture. The first trial offered such a picture whereas the appeals trial appeared focused on a single goal: “nice kids” must go free. Yummi has presented the case (as seen in Galati’s appeal) very nicely. Why can’t FoA write a similar article?


The quote
Q: What destroys DNA?
“I’ve seen crime scenes where you can literally see how and where the killer wiped off blood, just by looking at each glowing area you can imagine the sponge in his hand as he wiped. And you could also, 30 whole years later, trace where the body was dragged by the glowing strip on the floor.”

is perhaps possible under ideal conditions but rarely in practice. Even under lab conditions, blood stains will deteriorate over 30 years. Only iron stain will be left after 1-2 years.

I do not know where the “nice kids” learnt to clean the crime scene with bleach; beer or yoghurt would have been much better!

In this present case, all the documents are held by FoA and they release edited pictures. For example, all the pictures have timestamp on them which is missing. Many pictures are perspective distorted. Many are cropped. Most have their resolution reduced.

It is called Karma.

A priest advised Voltaire on his death bed to renounce the devil.
Replied Voltaire, “This is no time to make new enemies.”

Posted by chami on 08/24/12 at 06:38 AM | #

Thanks Machine. A parallel case such as this one stimulates our thinking anew.

Hanratty was a master-psychopath.

He instinctively knew there is a guilt-denier segment of our societies.

The guilt-deniers seem to actively-seek, and reflexively welcome-to-adopt, every reason-to-doubt-the-guilt of every accused, guilty or not-guilty.

Hanratty knew how to galvanise that societal segment.

He and/or they needed only three words to be so-galvanised: “Clear my name”.

“Forgive me” would have been more honest, but alien to Hanratty, and totally frustrating to the reflexive guilt-deniers.

Posted by Cardiol MD on 08/24/12 at 08:15 PM | #
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Where next:

Click here to return to The Top Of The Front Page

Or to next entry Giulia Bongiorno Loses A High Profile Case Watched All Over Europe And May Soon Lose Another

Or to previous entry The Italian Supreme Court Grants Turin Prosecutors A New Trial In Another Case