Bookworm: Mercy mission

AMAZINGLY, says campaigning lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, the fact that you can prove you are innocent doesn’t stop you being banged up in a US jail once you have exhausted the appeals procedure.

That’s what has happened to his client Kris Maharaj, a 73-year-old British businessman serving life in a Florida jail for a murder which – if you read Stafford Smith’s gripping new book Injustice (published this week by Harvill Secker, priced £14.99) – you will realise that he clearly didn’t commit.

Not that Stafford Smith, charismatic director of legal action charity Reprieve, is daunted: his next mission is to get the US Supreme Court to make provable innocence a constitutional defence.

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For that, he needs funds – and sometimes they come in unexpected ways. When John Grisham wrote The Chamber, he was sued by another author for plagiarism.

Actually, Grisham had got a lot of his facts from the BBC documentary Fourteen Days in May about Stafford Smith’s attempt to prevent the execution of a prisoner in Mississippi.

Grisham’s lawyers asked Stafford Smith to provide them with an affidavit to this effect, and the plagiarism case went away.

Years later, Stafford Smith sent an email to a colleague pointing this out, and without his knowledge she forwarded it to Grisham. Cue a “an incredibly nice letter” and a cheque for $30,000 to be used on Kris Maharaj’s case. Sadly, that’s about the only bit of good news in a case that remains a grotesque miscarriage of justice, and about which he will be talking at the Edinburgh book festival on 14 August.


Some other mistakes are more easily fixed. Last week Little Brown sent out a correction pointing out that the first edition of a book out next week by Ben Miller had appeared with equals signs instead of minus ones in the equations. The title of the book? It’s Not Rocket Science.


Finally, for the most complete guide to Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street novels – as well as an exclusive short story and much more – check out the new free Apple app. It’s been put together by 19-year-old Glasgow University student Aidan Rutherford, who on this evidence has a dazzling future ahead of him.