Classical music is not normally associated with street demonstrations over miscarriages of justice. But campaigners are planning a special ‘dignified’ concert to highlight the case of a young Hoxton man they claim was unfairly convicted of murder.
The open-air classical performance will take place this Friday outside the Ministry of Justice offices in central London.. It is designed to bring pressure on officials to re-open the case of 22-year old Sam Hallam, from the Arden Estate in Hoxton, who is serving a life sentence for a 2004 murder in Shoreditch
The case is currently the subject of an inquiry by the Criminal Cases Review Commission who are studying new evidence which could lead the case being referred back to the Court of Appeal for a second time.
The organiser of the protest, Tom Ogg said: “We want to attract attention to Sam’s case, and put pressure on the authorities to help. We just hope the Criminal Cases Review Commission will swiftly complete investigating his case, refer it to the Court of Appeal, and for Sam to be freed soon.”
Mr Ogg said he musicians will be playing pieces by Beethoven and Messiaen and aiming for a “dignified protest’. He said: ‘Classical music is principled, refined and beautiful. You would not normally see classical musicians playing in the street without a very good reason. We chose classical music because it makes a point. When people see the orchestra playing outside the concrete of the Ministry of Justice, they will think something is not right here.”
Hallam, who was just 18 when he was arrested in October 2004 for the killing 21-year-old trainee chef Essayas Kassahun. The chef died after being injured in an altercation with a gang of youths armed with spiked baseball bats and knives in Old Street in Shoreditch..
Hallam, a jobbing kitchen fitter who had planned a future in the army, had no previous criminal record and denied being at the murder scene. Although he was not originally named as being at the scene, two of the original witnesses subsequently revised their evidence, naming him as part of the gang that attacked Kassahun – testimony hotly disputed by those who protest Hallam’s innocence. However, his alibi witness declined to give evidence on his behalf and he was convicted, along with another youth, at a trial in September 2005. Six others were cleared.
In 2007, the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal. Although the judges accepted inconsistencies in the evidence of one of the two witnesses, they said there was enough evidence from the second to support the conviction.
Since then, over a dozen witnesses have stepped forward since signing statements saying he was not at the crime scene, but playing football half a mile away. The fresh evidence was submitted to the CCRC early in 2008 and in September that year announced that it was formally reviewing the case.
A spokesman for the CCRC said: “It is not possible to say exactly how long it might be before our investigations will be complete but we can confirm that the CCRC is actively investigating an application from Sam Hallam.”
But Mr Ogg says that this is insufficient. “Two years in jail for a crime you didn’t commit is a long time to wait, due to underfunding. The protest on February 19th occurs on the second anniversary of submitting our evidence to the CCRC.”
He continued: “We want to put pressure on the Ministry of Justice and the CCRC to put more effort into investigating Sam’s case, and to make sure the CCRC is properly funded, so that cases like Sam’s are investigated in a reasonable amount of time.”
As for Sam’s reaction to the concert, Mr Ogg said: “He is keen for us to do anything to help his case get attention.”