The murder conviction of Drogheda man James Hanratty, who was hanged 40 years ago protesting his innocence, was today upheld by the UK's Court of Appeal which ruled that DNA evidence established his guilt ‘‘beyond doubt’’.
Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, sitting with Lord Justice Mantell and Mr Justice Leveson, announced their decision in the posthumous appeal to a packed court in London.
Hanratty, 25, went to the gallows on April 4, 1962, for the notorious A6 murder in Bedfordshire, in which scientist Michael Gregsten, 36, was shot dead.
His 22-year-old mistress, Valerie Storie, was raped and shot. She survived but was left paralysed from the waist down.
Giving the lengthy ruling of the court, Lord Woolf said: ‘‘In our judgment ... the DNA evidence establishes beyond doubt that James Hanratty was the murderer.’’
He said the DNA evidence ‘‘made what was a strong case even stronger’’.
Hanratty’s case - one of the country’s longest-running alleged miscarriages of justice - was referred back to the Appeal Court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).
Since his execution at Bedford Prison, Hanratty’s family and supporters have fought to prove that, though a petty crook, he was not a killer.
During the appeal Michael Mansfield QC, for Hanratty, argued that his trial was ‘‘fatally flawed’’ with ‘‘extensive and inexcusable’’ non-disclosure of significant material in the case.
In contesting the appeal, the Crown sought to rely on findings of Hanratty’s DNA on two exhibits, a fragment of Miss Storie’s knickers and a handkerchief wrapped around the murder weapon.
Last year Hanratty’s body was exhumed from its burial plot at Carpenders Park, near Watford, and tests confirmed that it was his DNA on the exhibits.
One of the central issues before the judges was the possibility that his DNA was present on two exhibits because of ‘‘contamination’’ prior to the start of scientific tests in 1995.
But the Court of Appeal today rejected the possibility of contamination.
Lord Woolf, before completing the three-hour long judgment, said it was right that the court should mention the Hanratty family and their supporters.
He said: ‘‘Throughout the appeal we have observed that they have attended in significant numbers and followed the proceedings behaving impeccably.
‘‘Although their cause to establish the innocence of James Hanratty has failed, we consider they deserve commendation for the extraordinary loyalty and commitment they have shown to what they thought was a just cause, to right an injustice.’’
Later one of Hanratty’s brothers Michael, 63, said he was ‘‘appalled’’ by the ruling and vowed that the family would fight on to clear the hanged man.
With another brother Richard, 55, standing beside him, he said: ‘‘I think the whole case is appalling.
‘‘Every scientist who was cross-examined had to confirm that the evidence could have been cross-contaminated.
‘‘We have to get legal advice. We will fight on to the House of Lords, and then on to the European Court if we have to.
‘‘For 40 years there has been a cover-up.’’
Detective Inspector Stewart Trail, who led the Metropolitan Police team which reviewed all the original evidence in preparation for the appeal, said: ‘‘We hope that today’s result will finally draw a line under the speculation which has surrounded this case for nearly 40 years.
Later on the steps of the Law Courts, Michael Hanratty said: ‘‘This thing has gone for 40 years. They have covered it up - and this is the last cover-up.
‘‘I waited 40 years to get here thinking I would get justice to have it thrown up in my face.’’
Mr Hanratty insisted that the case against his brother had been ‘‘rigged’’.
He added: ‘‘This is not just a miscarriage of justice. This is murder.’’