Men jailed by mistake to get bill for board
TWO men who spent 18 years in jail before being cleared of murdering newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater must repay the money they saved in "board and lodgings" while in prison, the Court of Appeal in London ruled yesterday.
An independent assessor had ruled that the "loss of earnings" element in awards to cousins Michael and Vincent Hickey should be reduced by 25 per cent to take account of the living expenses they had not incurred during imprisonment.
The ruling was overturned by a High Court judge, but the Home Office-appointed assessor, Lord Brennan, QC, appealed on the ground that his original decision was "lawful and reasonable".
Lord Brennan had awarded Michael Hickey, 42, a total of 990,000, and Vincent Hickey, 49, 506,220, subject to deductions for saved living expenses.
Mr Justice Maurice Kay said in his ruling in April last year that the deduction for saved living expenses was wrong in law and should be quashed.
Newspaper boy Carl, 13, was shot dead in September 1978 at Yew Tree Farm, Wordsley, West Midlands.
In November 1979, the Hickeys, along with James Robinson and Patrick Molloy, were convicted of murder. Mr Molloy died in prison in June 1981, aged 53. Appeals by the surviving three defendants were rejected in 1989, but eight years later the case was referred back to the Court of Appeal and their convictions were quashed.
A lawyer for the Hickeys said after the ruling: "The men are extremely disappointed. They consider that the decision is palpably unfair and are currently considering appealing to the House of Lords."
Solicitor Susie Labinjoh said her clients had the stigma of being known as child-killers and were subjected to appalling conditions in jail.
She said the deduction for saved living expenses had "outraged" the Hickeys. "They could not comprehend how anyone aware of the circumstances of their imprisonment could suggest that they profited from it in any way. They felt that it added insult to injury."
The assessor had appealed over the living expenses and the issue of providing a breakdown of the award into general damages and the amount for aggravating features.
The judges allowed the first part of the appeal but dismissed the second.
Appeals by the Hickeys on the issues of deductions for previous criminality and lack of consistency in the amount of their awards were dismissed.
In a related case heard at the same appeal, the assessor also won his case against Michael O’Brien, who spent ten years in prison for murder before his life sentence was quashed.
O’Brien, who was 20 when he was convicted in 1988 of the murder of a Cardiff newsagent, was awarded 670,000 compensation. He will now have to pay 37,158 for "saved living expenses".
Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook, commented: "It has to be the sickest of all sick jokes - can you imagine Terry Waite getting a bill for the living expenses he saved during his five years wrongly held in Iran?
"What was provided to Mr O’Brien while in prison was required to be provided by law - seriously, who would have chosen to eat porridge every day and sleep on a prison mattress for a decade unless they had to?"
Mr O’Brien vowed to take his fight to the House of Lords.
"I feel very angry at the way I have been treated by the establishment," he said.
Nogah Ofer, his solicitor, said: "The assessor calls it ‘saved living expenses’ and says if Michael had never been in prison during those years he would have had to spend money on basic needs such as rent and food.
"We say that is completely wrong, because if he had been out of prison he would have had his own home - his own bathroom and kitchen - whereas he did not have those things; he had a prison cell. They are charging him for something he never had the benefit of."
The assessor had been ordered to compile a breakdown of how the compensation amount was arrived at and what it covered, Ms Ofer said.
That opened up the possibility of Mr O’Brien applying to have the figure increased if it were felt he had been under-compensated on any particular issue, she said.
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