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Mohamoud Mattan's misscarriage of justice Alla yarxama

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Mahmood Hussein Mattan was convicted on 24 July 1952 at Glamorganshire Summer Assizes, Swansea of the murder of Miss Lily Volpert in her shop in Cardiff on 6 March 1952. Leave to appeal was refused on 19 August 1952. Mr Mattan was hanged 2 weeks later at Cardiff Prison.


The CCRC referred the case to the Court of Appeal on 23 September 1997, and the conviction was quashed on 24 February 1998 when Lord Justice Rose, Mr Justice Holland and Mr Justice Penry-Davey ruled that the conviction was unsafe because the evidence of the main prosecution witness was unreliable.





7 June 2001


Injustice casts a

lifelong shadow


By Carol Midgely



Mahmood Mattan was cleared of murder 46 years after he was hanged. His family explains why compensation will never be enough



This week a headstone was placed on the grave of Mahmood Mattan in a corner of Western Cemetery, Cardiff; the epitaph reads simply "Killed by injustice". Mattan's widow and his son Omar watched the proceedings quietly and then walked away to try to move on with their lives. But they cannot forget - and say they will never forgive.



On the morning of September 3, 1952, Mattan, a young Somali sailor, was taken from his cell at Cardiff prison, marched to the gallows and hanged for a murder he didn't commit. Seven weeks earlier, in a parody of a trial, he had been found guilty of slitting the throat of Lily Volpert, a Cardiff shopkeeper. The hearing at Glamorganshire Summer Assize in Swansea was so steeped in racial bigotry that even Mattan's defence solicitor described him as a "half-child of nature; a semi-civilised savage".



Despite his limited grasp of English, he did not have an interpreter and the jury did not know that the prosecution witness on whom the case hinged had altered his statement and been rewarded for giving evidence. It took 46 years and a dogged family campaign before the Appeal Court overturned Mattan's conviction and allowed his Welsh widow, Laura, to exhume his quicklimed body from its felon's grave at Cardiff jail and rebury it in consecrated ground.



Recently it emerged that the Home Office had paid compensation of about £700,000 (not £1.4 million as was widely reported, say the family), which is being shared four ways between Laura and the couple's three sons, David, 53, Omar, 51, and Mervyn, 50.



It might be expected that this, together with the erection of the headstone inscribed in both Arabic and English, a final act of dignity for Mattan, might enable the family to close the book on the miscarriage of justice that has blighted their lives. But the family say they feel that the money is tainted by their father's blood and that nothing will repair the damage caused by the decades of prejudice they suffered as "the children of the hanged man". They are seeking further compensation from South Wales Police for the arrest and unlawful execution of Mattan because it is the one card which they can play against the authorities: he cannot be brought back to life so they must try to shame those who helped to bring about his death.



"Part of me feels like taking the money, putting it in a pile and burning it outside the prison where they hanged my father, to show how little it means to us and how it can never pay for what they did," says Omar, a quietly spoken man. Both he and his brother Mervyn have given most of their share away to their own children and relatives. "Our father believed absolutely in British justice. Right until the last minute he didn't think he would be hanged because he thought the police would get the right man. And look what they did to him."



Nor does Laura, now 72, derive any comfort from the compensation. She still lives on the same Cardiff council estate and her face is drained of life - a legacy of 50 years of hardship and the loss of the man she calls her great love. "What does money matter really compared with the fact that he will never be able to sit down or go walking with his sons? It's nothing," she says. "I'm still devastated and I'll be angry until the day I die. This was a kind, gentle, loving father who respected me and loved this country and had so many plans for his family. He was an ordinary man but he was the best thing that had ever happened to me."



Mahmood Mattan met Laura Williams, a 17-year-old girl from the Rhondda Valley, while he was a foundry worker in Tiger Bay and she worked in a paper factory. Born in British Somaliland, he had gone to sea and settled in Wales. Tiger Bay and its bustling docks, where Indians, Chinese, Africans, Jews and Arabs worked shoulder to shoulder, was regarded at the time as a model of racial harmony. But in reality races were expected to stick with their own, and when Laura and Mattan began courting there was outrage in the community. People threw buckets of water at Laura, calling her a "black man's whore".



When the couple married three months later, few of their neighbours would speak to them. For a year - one which Laura describes as the "happiest of her life" - the couple enjoyed some respite from the racist taunts when they moved to Hull with their first two sons after Mahmood found work there. They should have stayed.



On the evening of March 6, 1952, Lily Volpert, a 41-year-old unofficial money-lender, answered a knock on the door of her Cardiff shop. Soon afterwards she was found by a neighbour lying in a pool of blood, her throat cut from ear to ear. Nine days later Mattan was charged with the murder. Police raided the Mattans' flat and found a broken shaving razor but no bloodstained clothes or any sign of the stolen £100.



Despite having alibis backed by witnesses, Mattan was convicted on microscopic flecks of blood on his shoes and the word of Harold Cover, a Jamaican who testified that he saw Mattan coming out of Volpert's shop. But the shoes had been bought secondhand and Cover was a violent criminal who was later jailed for life for the attempted murder of his daughter. The defence was not told that four witnesses had failed to pick Mattan out at an identity parade. Indeed one, a 12-year-old girl who had seen a black man near the shop at the exact time of the murder, told police that it was definitely not Mattan. They ignored her evidence.



The weeks her husband spent on remand were traumatic for Laura, now a mother of three young boys. The family's house was so close to the looming prison that if she looked out of her window at an appointed time she could see her husband waving a handkerchief from the window.



On the morning of September 3, Laura, still only 21, turned up at the jail as usual. As she stood outside the gate in torrential rain an official came out and pinned a notice to the gate. It stated that the execution of Mahmood Hussein Mattan had taken place at 8am and had "gone without a hitch". Laura had not even known it was going to happen. It was their son David's fourth birthday. Laura collapsed and was taken home by her mother. She was inconsolable and would not answer her door for nearly three weeks. Official reports say Mattan was 28 when he died, but the family insists he was only 24, having added four years to his age in Somaliland to enable him to go to sea.



"All I remember about that time is my grandmother looking after us and being told that mother wasn't well," says Omar, a painter and decorator. "Up until I was eight I was told that my father had died at sea, and I believed it. Then one day the Salvation Army band was playing near our house and I went out to sing with them. One of the leaders said: ‘We don't need the sons of hanged men.' Until I was about 12 that knowledge felt like a cancerous growth in my head. I can still remember my Dad carrying me on his shoulders, and when he bought me a huge teddy bear."



Omar spoke to the Imam who spent the final hours with Mattan in his cell before the execution. "He told me that he'd said to my father: ‘Now is the time to make your peace with God.' My father replied: ‘I have no peace to make. My conscience is clear.' "



The boys had problems enough growing up as half-caste children in a racially intolerant era, but having a hanged man as a father increased the stigma. They lived in abject poverty. "We were incredibly poor. We had to rely on charity for our clothes and food and roll up pieces of cardboard for the fire because there was no coal," says Omar. But Laura always told her boys that their father was innocent and they fought a long campaign to clear his name. Their first attempt to have the conviction overturned was refused in 1968 by the then Home Secretary, James Callaghan. But in 1996 they achieved their first breakthrough when permission was granted to have the body exhumed and reburied.



Even then, however, there was little dignity for the Mattans. "They wouldn't let us have a hearse," says Mervyn bitterly. "My father's body was carried in a dirty blue Transit van for the journey to the cemetery and his coffin was made of cheap plywood. The Home Office wanted it to be as low-key as possible. When they brought out the bodybag I touched it because I just wanted to feel close to him for a moment." In a further slight, the family, not the Home Office, had to meet the £1,400 cost of the exhumation.



As the campaign gathered strength, witnesses started to emerge. The 12-year-old girl, now an adult, came forward a second time to tell the family's solicitor about the identity parade where she ruled Mattan out. Then in 1997 came the biggest victory. The Criminal Cases Review Commission was set up to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice. Mattan's case was the first to be referred to the Court of Appeal where, in 1998, three appeal judges overturned the conviction.



What has upset the family most recently are reports that they are somehow living the high life on their compensation payments. They say that reports of them investing their money in property deals are rubbish. "I have given most of mine away," says Mervyn. "It wouldn't matter to me whether it was £50,000 or £2 million. It doesn't interest me. Money cannot buy back my father's soul and give us back the happy life he could have had with us."



To this day Laura still talks to her husband. Omar says: "She still sits in the armchair speaking to him. Quite often she tells him: ‘See? You should have listened to me. If we'd stayed in Hull like I wanted, then none of this would have happened and you'd still be here.' " Shamefully for British justice, she is right.




INNOCENT - Fighting miscarriages of justice

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quote:Mattan was convicted on microscopic flecks of blood on his shoes and the word of Harold Cover, a Jamaican who testified that he saw Mattan coming out of Volpert's shop.


Shakes head!

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I'm sure there is a BBC documentary on this somewhere on the net. I saw it back in 2000/2001 whereby they interviewed the Jamaican man.


Allah yarxamu

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