Shine A Light

Stubborn justice: the astonishing case of Tony Stock

A new book exposes and challenges the criminal justice system’s reluctance to own up to its mistakes. (See also What does it take to overturn a miscarriage of justice in the UK?)

Jon Robins
27 October 2014
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Leeds, West Yorkshire, one Saturday night in January 1970. The manager of the Tesco store at the Merrion Centre carries the day’s taking across to the Lloyd’s Bank nightsafe. The cashier’s boyfriend walks alongside. It’s dark and it’s rainy. People queue for the cinema. War and Peace is playing at the Odeon. The two men are rushed by a gang of men, coshed, the money grabbed. The thieves speed off in their getaway car.

Only one witness is able to provide an identification. Tesco’s warehouse manager, Stewart Wilson, heard his colleagues’ screams, ran to help, locked eyes, for a moment, with one of the robbers. Wilson is shown police photographs of local criminals. The next day Wilson assists in the making of an identikit picture. It looks a lot like Tony Stock.

A few days later police officers from Leeds arrive at the home of Tony Stock, a 30 year old father of four who lives in Stockton-on-Tees, 72 miles north of Leeds. He denies having anything to do with the robbery and refuses to stand on an identity parade.

With nothing else to go on, DS Mather — a young detective who came across Stock in connection with another investigation — decides to do something highly unorthodox. He and another officer drive their witness 72 miles up the A1 to Stock’s home. When Stock comes to the door they keep it open long enough for Wilson to get a look at him. There’s a scuffle. Wilson positively identifies Stock and Stock is arrested. Later both officers will write in their notebooks that, on seeing Wilson, Stock shouts:  “Get that man out of here, he knows me.”

Then the police do something else that would have been considered highly unusual even by the standards of 1970s policing. The two officers pile into their two-door Mini Cooper with their witness and their suspect for the 72 mile drive back down to Leeds.

The case against Stock consists mainly of Wilson’s identification and a series of apparently self-incriminating statements the police claimed Stock had said, including an exchange with Mather in the cells when he is claimed to have said: “the wife will get my share if the worst happens”.

Stock’s defence is that the police are lying. He insists that on the night of the robbery he was at home with his family —  his wife Brenda and their four children, all under the age of 10 — celebrating his 30th birthday. There’s a three-day trial in July 1970. Stock’s wife and his 9-year old daughter Charlene testify that he was home that night at his birthday party. Tony Stock is found guilty and sentenced to 10 years.

Stock spends most of the next six years at high security HMP Gartree in Leciestershire. He proclaims his innocence through a series of rooftop protests and a hunger strike. Prison wardens force-feed him by wedging a wooden block at the back of his throat with a circular hole through which a pipe is fed. Sometimes they use vaseline to smooth the pipe's passage, sometimes not.

Tony Stock ends his hunger strike after 93 days, his health shattered, teeth lost, one leg in a calliper. His mother’s health fails, his marriage collapses and his wife divorces him.

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Tony Stock, letter to Tom Sargant, JUSTICE, April 1972

Stock appeals for help to Tom Sargant, the first secretary of the human rights group JUSTICE. “If you look at the verbal you will see how utterly stupid it is,” Stock writes of the self-incriminating statements the police attributed to him. His solicitor backs him up, telling Sargant that this was “perhaps the first case... where I have felt that a man has been ‘framed’”.

Meanwhile, DS Mather’s career stalls. He’s put under suspension and charged with corruption over the taking of bribes. The judge at his trial at Leeds Crown Court in 1972 says that Mather and a fellow officer were “either corrupt or stupid”, decides that they are “complete idiots” and acquits them. Mather is put on traffic duty. Later, Mather is presented with 90 charges relating to disciplinary matters and resigns from the force. His file goes to the Director of Public Prosecutions — no charges are brought.

Tony Stock leaves prison in 1976. He remarries, has two more children, starts a business selling carpets. One day, out of the blue, a reporter from the Yorkshire Post knocks on his door: is he was aware that someone has just confessed to the Leeds robbery? Professional robber Samuel Benefield, a member of the Chainsaw gang, has turned supergrass and owned up to all his past work including the Leeds robbery.

“Squealer clears Identikit victim,” is the headline in the Daily Mail.

A World in Action on Stock’s case airs at the end of 1979. The programme closes on Stock’s happy expectation of a pardon.

But Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw decides not pardon Stock. He cites an internal and still secret report by West Yorkshire Police into the alleged perjury of the two officers.

Some 26 years after Stock’s conviction, his case finally reaches the Court of Appeal in 1996. The star witness is supergrass Samuel Benefield, heavily disguised (headscarf, fake beard, sunglasses) and fearful of reprisals from his former gang mates. Benefield testifies that he and his gang did the Leeds job and Stock had nothing to do with it. But the Court decides Benefield is lying and rejects the appeal.

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Jon Robins, Portcullis House, October 2014 (image Bracken Stockley)The very next year the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) comes into being. The first state-funded organisation in the world to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice, it is established in response to a series of wrongful convictions — the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven, Judith Ward — that rock public confidence in the justice system.

The Commission has the power to send or refer a case back to the Court of Appeal, and it can compel documents to be produced. The Commission obtains that 1979 report into the internal inquiry by West Yorkshire Police and discovers that the report accepted the supergrass’s account of things and that his evidence “inevitably casts doubt” on the safety of Stock’s conviction. What’s more, the internal inquiry found that eye-witness Stewart Wilson, before making the identikit image, was shown photographs that most likely included a picture of Tony Stock. Surely that revelation blew away the last shred of credibility of the original investigation?

Not for the Court of Appeal, which rejected Stock’s case again in 2004 and yet again in 2008.

Ralph Barrington, a former head of Essex CID who went on to advise the Criminal Cases Review Commission for 13 years, described that final 2008 Appeal Court judgment as having “defied gravity”.

Barrington was so outraged that he decided to document what he believes is a 'self evident injustice' on retirement.

With the support of Ralph Barrington and Tony Stock's solicitor of 20 plus years, Glyn Maddocks, I’ve researched and written a book on the case, that’s just been published. Barrington and Maddocks are working on a new attempt to have this conviction overturned. We hope justice is finally done.

In his foreword to the book, Michael Mansfield QC, who acted for the Birmingham Six, the Bridgewater Four, the Cardiff Three and for Tony Stock in his 1996 and 2004 appeals, says Stock’s case illustrates the criminal justice system’s “serious reluctance and unwillingness to root out injustice”.

Labour MP for Huddersfield Barry Sheerman says the case is “one of the most outrageous miscarriages of justice in modern times”.

Mansfield says: “The importance of this relatively unknown case for the public is that it should be recognised and heeded for what it is: not just a massive blot on the judicial landscape but a blot which has haemorrhaged to become the landscape itself.”

Stock always claimed that he had been fitted up by the police. He spent 43 years fighting to clear his name. Each time the case came to court, his hopes would be raised and cruelly crushed again. He never gave up. I met him three years ago this month to talk about the writing of the book. He told me how he was spending his pension on a private investigator, how he hoped to find fresh evidence in a crime that took place more than four decades ago. Tony Stock died on November 29 2012, aged 73.

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Jon Robins is the author of The first miscarriage of justice: the amazing and unreported case of Tony Stock, published by the Waterside Press. Foreword by Michael Mansfield QC

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