The case of the M25 Three

February 3, 2023

The case of the M25 Three

Wrongful convictions are a blemish in the penal system of any state. It indicates the ineffectiveness of the legal system (C. Walker, ‘Miscarriages of Justice and the Correction of Error’ In M. McConville, and G. Wilson, (Eds) The Handbook of The Criminal Justice Process (Oxford: OUP, 2002) 56). It also highlights gaps in the existing system and amounts to a miscarriage of justice (A. Zukerman, ‘Miscarriages of Justice and Judicial Responsibility’ (1991) Criminal Law Review 492,497.). One key case that comes to mind when assessing the concept of wrongful conviction is the case of R v. Rowe Davis and Others famously dubbed the M25 Three case. This case saw the arrest and conviction of the three men who were falsely accused for a string of robberies, burglary and other violent crimes on the M25. This paper shall assess the case by highlighting the key facts of the case in an attempt to evaluate the role of police officers, forensic scientists and expert witness testimony in the criminal prosecution.  

Brief Facts of the M25 Three case 

The case follows the arraignment and indictment of three black men, Raphael Rowe, Michael Davis and Randolph Jackson (R v Davis and Others [1993] 1 WLR 613). Their arrest came after a series of robberies and violent attacks off the M25. According to the victims, the crimes were carried out by three men in masks. The attacks included beatings, and robberies on the road, burglaries, assault and battery (Ibid). The three were arrested following various tips from witnesses and informants who had helped the police. In some cases, these witnesses identified one the attackers as a white male. In others, two of the attackers had knives while one had a revolver. In some accounts, the attackers left the scene of the crime in a triumph spitfire. 

Two of the defendants, Rowe and Davis were arrested in December 1988 while Johnson was arrested in the following month. There were twelve other suspects taken into police custody. The prosecution argued that all three key suspects (Rowe, Davis and Johnson), were complicit in the attacks. The three were charged with murder, causing grievous bodily harm and several counts of robbery (Ibid).

At the trial court, the prosecution relied on testimonies from a number of witnesses. A few controversial issues here were that the prosecution was the use of testimonies from the alleged accomplices. The controversy surrounded the admissibility and weight attached to the evidence. For instance, according to one witness, the triumph spitfire was stolen on the orders of Johnson. Later, the same car was alleged to have been used in a crime by Johnson on the M25 when there no corroborating evidence placing him at the scene of the crime. Additionally, it was noted that the evidence of the witnesses on the individual participation of the three differed greatly. Consequently, Alan Eley’s testimony citing only one of the assailants as a black man was inconsistent with the arraignment of three black men. Such inconsistencies weakened the prosecutions case but still led to their conviction by the jury. The defendants appealed this decision based on the credibility of the evidence adduced. Additionally, Johnson argued that the evidence linking him to the crime was not credible as none of the evidence linked him to the crimes. 

At appeal, the court it was discovered that the police used a reward to gain information on the incident (R v Davies, Johnson and Rowe, [2001] 1 Cr App R 115). The defence counsels argued that the name of the informant should be disclosed as it was vital in ascertaining the credibility of the evidence. The court rejected this request and upheld the trial court’s decision. The defendants then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 1994 (Case Nos. 99/2293/S3). Here the court overturned the court at appeal holding that the conviction was unsafe for the court. The accused were subsequently released in 2000. 

Key issues arising from the case

  • The concept of miscarriage of justice

A miscarriage happens where the defendant is prosecuted by the state in violation of his/her rights (D. Rose, Violation: Justice, race and serial murder in the Deep South. (London: Harper Collins, 2007). 34). This is dependent on the following considerations: first, the process has to be deficient; secondly, the laws are applied in an unfair manner; third, his/her prosecution has no factual justification; fourthly, the accused is treated in a disproportionate manner as compared to others; fifthly, whenever the rights of others are not effectively or proportionately protected or vindicated by state action against wrongdoers; or, alternatively, by state law itself (J. Rozenburg, ‘Miscarriages of Justice’ in J. Stockdale and D. Casale (Eds) Criminal Justice Under Stress. (London: Blackstone, 1992) 99. D Michael Risinger, ‘Innocents Convicted: An Empirically Justified Factual Wrongful Conviction Rate’ (2007) 97 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 761, 769–80). In most cases, more so in cases such as the M25 three, the state could enforce laws in a biased or discriminatory manner.

  • The role of police

The police are generally tasked with wide powers of carrying out investigations. This includes the carrying out interviews. These investigations include the interrogating witnesses and suspects aimed at collecting information in the case aimed ensuring a concrete case is established (J. Spenser, ‘Does our present Criminal Appeal System make sense?’ (2006) 6 Criminal Law Review 677,684). Additionally, another issue relates to the methods used in these interrogations and in the identification of suspects. Such investigations if carried out in an improper manner will lead to arrests based on evidence that lacks credibility. This intern leads to wrongful convictions and a miscarriage of justice (T. Williamson, and P. Bagshaw, ‘The Ethics of Informer Handling. In R. Billingsley, T. Nemitz, and P. Bean, (Eds) Informers: Policing, Policy, Practice. (Cullompton, Deven: Willen 2001) 45).

In the case of M25 three the major problem was the case was the conduct of investigations. The police carried out interviews with various witnesses and used this information to arrest the twelve suspects. The credibility of the witnesses and the methods used to narrow down on the three key suspects was criticised on two key aspects. First, the police were criticised for doing a somewhat shoddy job. There was an evident lack of proper verification of the information received. This led to claims that the police were not carrying out a proper investigation into the crimes committed in the M25. 

This was seen at trial where the prosecution’s case against Johnson where there was no clear evidence tying him to the scene of the crime or his complicity in the murders. Secondly, the police were criticised for failing to identify key sources (A. Sanders, and R. Young, Criminal Justice (London: Butterworths 2007).111). At the court of appeal, a major concern of the defence was that the police had failed to disclose the identity of the informant who identified Johnson as an accomplice in the crimes. The police had earlier announced an award for anyone who had information regarding he identity of the suspects in the string of crimes. According to the police, one person did collect the reward after giving a testimony that led to the arraignment of Johnson. The failure to disclose the identity of the informant denied the police an opportunity to establish the credibility of the witness. The lack of credibility indicates a lack of a general lack of proper investigation. (Ibid).

  • The role of expert witnesses

In certain cases that involve technical subject matter the court may rely on the input of witnesses in the particular field. Experts are used to aid the court in deciding the case as their input may allow the court to corroborate the evidence (P. Roberts, ‘Science, Experts and Criminal Justice’ In M. McConville, and G. Wilson, (Eds) The Handbook of Criminal Justice Process. (Oxford: OUP, 2002) 11).  Expert evidence varies from case to case. However, the use of experts can lead to a miscarriage of justice. For instance, where the expert in the case misinterprets the data presented it will lead to a wrongful identification of the facts and will be regarded as an unfair trial (M. Redmayne, Expert Evidence and Criminal Justice (Oxford: OUP 2001) 45). In the present case, the issue regarding expert evidence arose due to the use of the word white by one of the witnesses. The word white was translated to English from Jamaican slang. This was a key piece of evidence as earlier police reports had indicated that the there were two white and one black man. The use of the word white was interpreted as light by the police and using this expert evidence the police argued that the term for white meant light and hence, the accused matched the information they received. The lack of credible expert testimony, there was a miscarriage of justice. 

Addressing the miscarriage of justice.

A key tool used in curbing such cases is monitoring and reviewing decisions made by courts. This was evident in the case of as the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1999. Similar situations of miscarriage are seen in the US penal system (C. Huff, ‘Wrongful Convictions: The American Experience’ (2004) 46 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 107, 114). Like the UK system, the US has been criticised for having wrongful convictions especially relating to petty theft and crimes. This is also the case in Australia (L. Weathered, ‘Investigating Innocence: The Emerging Role of Innocence Projects in the Correction of Wrongful Conviction in Australia’ (2003) 12 Griffith Law Review 64, 70). A key argument by critics as been that the legal system seems to target minority groups and are based on existing stereotypes formed by the society (Steven A Krieger, ‘Why Our Justice System Convicts Innocent People, and the Challenges Faced by Innocence Projects Trying to Exonerate Them’ (2011) 14 New Criminal Law Review 333, 349.).


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