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“I COULD have had a full-time job, married and travelled the world!”
This is how Oliver Campbell described the kind of life he might have led in a recent interview he gave on YouTube.
But for a colossal miscarriage of justice, culminating in a life sentence for the murder of a Hackney shopkeeper 30 years ago, he may well have followed this path.
Instead, he spent 11 years behind bars and, although now out “on licence,” understandably feels robbed and spends every day attempting to clear his name.
In 1990 Campbell was 20 and looking forward in life. The campaign against Thatcher’s poll tax was at fever pitch in Hackney — the London borough would subsequently surpass Liverpool and Glasgow as a stronghold of non-payment.
Campbell had become politically active in this movement.
Baldev Hoondle’s shop was in an area known as Hackney’s “murder mile.” In July same year Hoondle’s shop was robbed at gunpoint and he was shot and killed at point-blank range.
A few short months later Campbell was hauled in by police and that’s when his living nightmare began.
The case against him rested on a number of planks, one of the most damning being his original confession, which he later retracted.
However, the context of how this was obtained needs consideration. It was after a lengthy and manipulative interrogation, without a lawyer or appropriate adult present.
Campbell was diagnosed with learning difficulties due to brain injury as a baby that also resulted in him having a low IQ.
This would have made it extremely difficult for him to understand the volley of questions being put to him.
His subsequent implausible confession bore the hallmarks of a highly suggestible and vulnerable young man who would do anything, say anything, to end an oppressive situation.
But this was murder — didn’t the police have a job to do to apprehend the killer?
There are a number of things to consider here. Apart from all the rules governing police interviews with suspects with mental disabilities being thrown out of the window, contemporaneous police notes were note taken, and there were discrepancies in custody records.
When Campbell eventually saw his solicitor, strict instructions were left for the police to call him if they were going to interview Campbell again that day.
Less than half an hour after his solicitor left, Campbell’s “confession” was obtained.
Heavy interrogation tactics may well be suited when questioning hardened cons with previous form, well versed in handling good cop/bad cop scenarios.
However, for Campbell, whose rap sheet up to this point consisted only of vandalising a telephone box in his teens, the actions of the police amounted to a dereliction of duty.
It surely begs the question whether there was any true desire on the part of officers to apprehend the right suspect and deliver some closure to Hoondle’s family.
There were other inconsistencies. Witnesses, including Hoondle’s son, put both suspects as black at around 5 foot 10 inches in height. Oliver is a towering 6 foot 3. His nickname is BFG — short for the Big Friendly Giant that he is.
Initially, none of the witnesses picked out Campbell at the identity parade. However, one of them, an Australian passer-by, changed his mind and identified Campbell three months after the line-up and, crucially, after talking to a detective.
The gunman did wear Campbell’s hat, yet there was not any forensic evidence linking Campbell to the crime scene.
Fingerprints on the shop counter, door and the beer can the gunman brought did not match Campbell’s.
Unidentified hairs were found in the hat, which his co-accused, Eric Samuels, who confessed to taking part in the robbery, explained did not belong to Campbell because in his own words, “Oliver was not there,” and his hat was taken off him by the gunman who Samuels named. Samuels’s damning testimony was never put to the jury.
After Campbell’s appeal failed in 1994 BBC’s Rough Justice followed up the case.
Two important findings emerged from their lengthy investigation.
The first was the ballistics expert who proved that the shooter must have been right-handed.
Although born right-handed, due to a head trauma as a baby, Campbell’s right hand was affected and thereafter he favoured using his left hand for tasks.
The second was tracing Samuels, Campbell’s co-accused, who had already served his time and confirmed on film that Campbell was not the shooter.
While such injustices are not exclusive to black men, it is not coincidental that many are disproportionately victims of miscarriages of justice.
In the same year as Campbell’s arrest, many of the Cardiff 5 (all black), still faced lengthy incarcerations.
The M25 Three (all black) were sentenced to life without parole. Three years before in 1987, life sentences were being handed down to the Tottenham Three.
While life has been far from easy for many of those wrongfully convicted and now exonerated, many have seen some kind of restorative justice.
For Campbell, who has served prison time with some of them, justice has been elusive and a truly overstated quality.
Understandably, he feels badly let down by the criminal-justice system.
Michael Davis is one of the M25 Three — three black men framed for a string of brutal robberies in and around the M25 corridor that culminated in murder.
Yet again, parallels can be drawn with what happened to Campbell.
Police failed to listen to the victims and witnesses who described their attackers as two white men and one black, yet ended up convicting three black men and sentenced them to life without parole.
It took 12 years of hard and unrelenting campaigning by family and friends that eventually led to the case being referred to the Court of Appeal.
Davis did time with Campbell on D wing at Wormwood Scrubs and remembers him as a “happy-go-lucky friendly giant.”
He had this to say about Campbell: “The police would have known they had a vulnerable person on their hands, and just carried on because they are hell-bent on actually clearing the books, and took an absolute liberty talking him into a crime he clearly did not do.”
Now out on licence, Campbell is not a free man. Due to his criminal record, he will be forever under threat of recall — hauled back in by the police at any time.
In 2003 there was an attempted armed robbery near the bail hostel where he was living. Despite witness descriptions of the perpetrator being five inches shorter than him, he was still considered by police to be a suspect because of his criminal record.
In September the Criminal Cases Review Committee (CCRC), the body that has the final say on whether the merits of his case can go to appeal, agreed to look at Campbell’s case.
However, there have been previous unsuccessful attempts to clear his name. This is why more than ever, it is vital to highlight and broadcast this huge injustice.
An online petition has galvanised over 84,000 signatures.
Davis, whose sisters tirelessly campaigned all over the country for the release of the M25 Three, knows how crucial it is to ring the alarm, and for the movement to provide a bedrock of support to Campbell: “It’s important to sign the petition so injustices like this do not get swept underneath the carpet.”
There is also an early day motion in Parliament to draw attention to his plight. The good work carried out by Sandy Martin, Campbell’s former MP, can’t be overstated enough.
Campbell, a socialist and trade-union member, recently turned 50. Well over half his life has been spent, if not in prison itself, in the prison without bars, fighting for justice.
You can show your solidarity by signing and sharing the online petition, getting your MP to sign the early day motion, and raising awareness for a man who declared elsewhere: “I went into prison innocent, I came out innocent and I’ve been innocent all the way through.”
You can sign the petition at mstar.link/OliverCampbellPetition.
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