Irishman who spend 17 years in jail loses compensation claim

Dubliner Victor Nealon’s conviction for attempted rape was overturned in 2013

An Irishman who spent 17 years behind bars before his conviction was overturned has lost his fight for compensation at the UK’s highest court.

Victor Nealon, who is in his fifties and originally from Dublin, was convicted in 1997 of the attempted rape of a woman in Redditch, Worcestershire, England.

He was given a life sentence after his trial at Hereford Crown Court and served 17 years in jail after he persisted in asserting he was innocent.

He could have been released after seven years, but did not get parole on the grounds that he refused to admit his guilt.

The former postman was released in 2012 by the Court of Appeal, which declared that there was “a real possibility” that the jury in the 1997 trial would have acquitted Nealon if the results of of the DNA testing carried out on the clothing had been available for the trial.

Mr Nealon and another man, Sam Hallam, who had a murder conviction quashed in 2012, took a case to the UK Supreme Court relating to compensation.

Mr Hallam, from east London, served more than seven years after he was sentenced to life as a teenager following his conviction at the Old Bailey in 2005 for the murder of a trainee chef.

The legal battle went to the Supreme Court following defeats at the High Court and the Court of Appeal. Each had applications for compensation rejected by the Justice Secretary.

At a hearing in May last year, their legal teams said the UK was free to make its own decisions — as long as they did not interfere with the “presumption of innocence”.

By a majority of five to two, seven Supreme Court justices dismissed their appeals on Wednesday.

The court declined to make a declaration that the refusal to award them compensation was incompatible with their human rights.

When their challenges against the Justice Secretary’s refusal were originally aired at the High Court in 2015, they asked two judges to rule that UK law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) because it wrongly restricts compensation in “miscarriage of justice” cases.

Lawyers argued on their behalf that the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which governs compensation payments, was amended in 2014 in a way that violated Article 6 (2) of the ECHR — the presumption of innocence — because it required a person seeking an award to prove they were innocent.

Their compensation claims under the 1988 Act were rejected on the basis that it was not the case, as required by the Act, that a “new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that there has been a miscarriage of justice”.

Lord Justice Burnett, who later became the Lord Chief Justice, ruled when announcing the High Court’s decision that the law “does not require the applicant for compensation to prove his innocence”.

He said: “It is the link between the new fact and the applicant’s innocence of which the Secretary of State must be satisfied before he is required to pay compensation under the 1988 Act, not his innocence in a wider or general sense.”

The two men took their fight to the Court of Appeal in 2016, but failed to persuade the court to overturn the earlier ruling.