A Miscarriage Of Justice

A MAN jailed for shooting a teacher dead on his doorstep has walked free after judges decided he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. Andrew Adams, who has served 15 years of a life sentence, has always protested his innocence. Yesterday, his conviction for the murder of Jack Royal was overturned by judges at the Court of Appeal after a new investigation into his case found fresh evidence. And now the 36-year-old, from Newcastle, could be entitled to half a million pounds of compensation for the years he has spent in maximum-security prisons.

But Andrew, whose mother Joan died of cancer while he was in jail, said: "No money in the world will ever pay for the hell I've been through. Money doesn't replace people. "My lowest point through all these years was the death of my mother. I only wish she was still alive now so she could see me finally clear my name." He also had a message for the family of Mr Royal, who left a widow and two sons. Andrew said: "I want Mr Royal's family to know I was not the murderer. "They do not know me and I have no idea what they think of me. "I am sorry they have to go through all this pain but the real killer is still out there."

Andrew with friends outside the Court of Appeal.

Mr Royal was shot dead at his home in Laburnum Grove, in the village of Sunniside, near Gateshead, on the night of March 19, 1990. The 58-year-old and his wife Sonia had been watching television when, around 11.30pm, the doorbell rang. Mr Royal went to open the door. Outside, a man opened fire with a shotgun - hitting Mr Royal in the face and killing him instantly. A white Montego was seen driving away at speed after the shooting. While horrific, the murder did not come as a surprise. For Mr Royal had himself killed a man three years earlier. He had become involved in a row with 29-year-old scrap dealer David Thompson.

The two men were involved in a scuffle outside a Chinese takeaway. Mr Royal pulled out a penknife and stabbed Mr Thompson to death. The teacher claimed he acted in self-defence and he was cleared of murder. He walked free from court but many feared he was a marked man. And, when Mr Royal was shot dead, detectives were convinced his murder was linked to the death of the scrap dealer. Detectives soon charged 19-year-old Walter Hepple - a relative of the dead scrap dealer.

A young woman had identified him as the driver of the getaway car. He had also allegedly confessed to the murder to a fellow prisoner while on remand in jail. However, he was cleared after a trial at Newcastle Crown Court in 1991. In 1992, detectives arrested Andrew, who was working as an aircraft engineer at Newcastle Airport. Andrew had been going out with Catherine Thompson - the sister of the scrap dealer. It was claimed Andrew had murdered Mr Royal as a macabre "birthday present" for Catherine, who wanted revenge for her brother's death.

The key witness was one of Andrew's own friends - a man called Kevin Thompson. Kevin had told police he had driven Andrew to Gateshead on the night of the murder after he told him he was going to "chin" a man who had been cheeky to Catherine. He claimed he drove his Ford Escort to the car park of the Gibside Arms Hotel, where Andrew got into the white Montego and drove off. When he returned to the car park, Andrew supposedly boasted: "I blew his f***ing head off." Andrew then set fire to the Montego and the pair escaped in the Ford Escort, it had been claimed.

Andrew and girlfriend Clare Brayson.

But Andrew always said Kevin had made up the story because he had been charged with a violent robbery and he was facing a long prison sentence. The charge against Kevin was later reduced to handling stolen goods. At Kevin's trial, detectives from the Jack Royal murder squad even had a word in private with the judge to tell him of the help they had received. Kevin walked free with a suspended sentence.

The Court of Appeal heard claims from Andrew's lawyer that the police had done a "grubby deal" with Kevin. The CCRC investigated the claim and said they were concerned that some of the police officers' involvement with Kevin had been kept from the jury at Andrew's trial. The CCRC report claims: "It is clear that significant contact between Kevin Thompson and the police was not disclosed by the prosecution and therefore not put before the jury." They were also unhappy the 18-year-old woman who had identified Walter Hepple as the driver of the getaway car had not been called as a witness. CCRC investigators tracked down Beverley Yeadon. They showed her pictures of Andrew and she was definite that he was not the driver. The CCRC report says: "If Beverley Yeadon had given evidence at trial, this would have been of considerable value to the defence case."

They were also concerned that a security guard who worked at the Gibside Arms Hotel had not been called to give evidence. John O'Brien had told police he had seen the white Montego getaway car drive in to the car park before it was set on fire. But he was sure that no other car had driven out. This clashed with the evidence given by Kevin Thompson, who claimed to have been waiting in the car park in his Ford Escort and to have then driven Adams away after the murder. The CCRC report says: "The account given by John O'Brien cannot be reconciled with the account given by Kevin Thompson." Andrew now plans to sue for compensation.

He blames his mother's death on the stress of him being jailed for a murder he did not commit. Joan had campaigned tirelessly before her death in 1998 at the age of 58. Joan kept her illness secret from her son because she did not want to worry him. By the time he found out, she was unconscious in Newcastle General Hospital. Andrew said: "I was only allowed 20 minutes with her as she lay dying in hospital. "The police thought I was planning an escape. So I was handcuffed. I was taken in to see her and she was unconscious. Then, suddenly, they dragged me out again. "I was allowed out for the funeral but, even then, I had to be handcuffed to a warder as I read the eulogy in the church. "My lowest point through all these years was the death of my mother. I only wish she was still alive now so she could see me finally clear my name."

Nigel followed this story for five years after receiving leaked Northumbria Police files relating to the case. Nigel’s interview and backgrounder were used in several national and regional newspapers, as well as three magazines in 2007. He also acted as a researcher for the BBC’s coverage of the case.