Thirty years after his conviction for murder, disabled man ‘cannot be guilty’ appeal court told

Oliver Campbell as he arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice  Pic: Jordan Pettitt / PA Media. 

A man with learning disabilities who was jailed for life for a murder in Hackney over 30 years ago cannot be guilty, the Court of Appeal heard on Wednesday. 

Oliver Campbell, now 53 years old, was jailed in 1991 for a shooting that killed Baldev Hoondle during a robbery in an off licence in Clapton the year before. 

The Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case to the Court of Appeal, which investigates potential miscarriages of justice, after new evidence surfaced.  

At the two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Campbell’s barrister said there is a “compelling case” proving his innocence. 

Campbell struggles with memory, concentration and retaining information after suffering severe brain damage as a baby, and his barristers argued at Wednesday’s hearing that his learning disabilities meant he was “simply unable to do justice to himself” when giving evidence. 

Michael Birnbaum KC, representing Campbell, said: “He might well have appeared to the judge and the jury to be a liar when he was simply a mentally challenged young man who was completely out of his depth in giving evidence in front of the jury in what is probably the largest and most intimidating courtroom in the land.” 

The judges heard that Campbell was subjected to “disgraceful” police interviews without a solicitor present, where officers may have misled him into making false confessions.  

Jurors at Campbell’s trial in 1991 were told that the shooter wore a British Knights baseball cap, which Campbell had purchased shortly before the murder, according to Birnbaum. The cap was found close to the crime scene, but hairs found inside it did not belong to Campbell.  

Birnbaum said: “The detectives were plainly convinced that, since he was the owner of the hat and had admitted a presence at the robbery, he must have been the shooter, and they were determined to get him to admit that fact.” 

He also said: “[Campbell believed] his least bad option was to admit it had all been an accident, and our suggestion is that he thought he could get away with doing that. Unfortunately for him, and perhaps unfortunately for justice, [police] could not leave it at that. [They] had to ask questions. Since Oliver had not been there, all he could do was make things up and his account became increasingly divorced from the facts as we know them.” 

Campbell was not identified by the victim’s son, who was at the scene, and his now dead co-defendant Eric Samuels, who admitted robbery but was cleared of murder, said that Campbell was not the gunman nor with him at the robbery, the hearing was told.  

The Guardian reported that the murderer had been right-handed, but Campbell is left-handed, and that he had told the police that the gun was black, although it was silver. He also told the Guardian that the police put pressure on him and that his “whole mind couldn’t take all the questions”. 

Birnbaum said: “The reason for the nonsense of Oliver’s confession were simply because he was not there, and did not know the details of what happened.” 

Campbell was released on license in 2002, after spending 11 years in prison and now lives in Suffolk. This means he can’t travel abroad and needs permission to get a job. His appeal against conviction in 1994 was unsuccessful and the CCRC chose not to refer the case in 2005 before making the current referral in 2022. 

Campbell told the Guardian in October last year: “I could have had a full-time job, kids, married, had a relationship, maybe going on holiday. Now I am like in a room and all the doors are locked.” 

The hearing was adjourned on Thursday afternoon and the Crown Prosecution Service, which is resisting the appeal, will make its submissions at a later date.

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