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Murder conviction questioned by investigative duo

The highest criminal review body in England has said it will re-examine the safety of a murder conviction following a series of articles in the Western Morning News.

Reporters Neil Young and Aislinn Simpson, pictured, have re-investigated the controversial case of Brian Parsons, who served 15 years in prison for a notorious westcountry murder.

He has always protested his innocence and maintains to this day that he was not the killer of 84-year-old Ivy Batten at her isolated bungalow at Shute Bottom, East Devon, in 1987. He served 15 years of a life sentence before being released on licence last year.

And now the Criminal Cases Review Commission has said that it would review the case. A commission spokesman said it was awaiting the formal submission of a dossier from Parsons’ solicitor before deciding how to proceed.

It could eventually decide to refer the case to the Court of Appeal.

Parsons was convicted in 1988 after fibres from a hammer and gloves used in the break-in and murder were found in the glove compartment of his car and in a coat he used. But the case has always aroused controversy, with Devon and Cornwall police conducting three internal reviews before an external inquiry by Hampshire police produced a highly critical report of the original investigation.

Neil and Aislinn’s articles revealed a series of factors that could cast doubt on the conviction.

They uncovered evidence to show:

  • a lack of motive;
  • potential errors in the forensic evidence used to convict;
  • that the day before Parsons’ arrest, police questioned another suspect with the same surname;
  • the evidence that convinced Parsons’ defence team he was innocent also led them to believe they had found the real killers;
  • undisclosed evidence not presented to the defence team;
  • how two travelling burglars were named by several people as Ivy Batten’s real killers; and
  • that the time of Ivy’s death cast doubt on the possibility that Parsons could have been her murderer.

    And the WMN has further information which, for legal reasons, cannot at present be disclosed.

    The Criminal Cases Review Commission spokesman said: “It’s too early to say exactly when that process will come to pass but as a part of that we will review the WMN’s pieces in detail.

    “We would obviously be interested in seeing any potentially relevant material and the commission itself has extensive investigatory and review powers.”

    He praised the newspaper’s coverage, adding: “I do think it’s good that proper investigative journalism is alive and well in the regions. I’m quite refreshed to see that you as a newspaper have taken the time to write some well-researched and compelling pieces about this case.”

    Parsons’ solicitor Stephen Nunn said last night that he hoped to submit a new dossier of information to the Commission in the next month or two.

    Two Westcountry MPs have also called for the case to be re-investigated. North Cornwall and Torbay Lib-Dem MPs Paul Tyler and Adrian Sanders have urged a rigorous re-investigation of the “many unexplained and unexamined aspects of this case”.

    Brian Parsons, now living with his wife on the south coast, said last night he was hopeful that the new developments would “bring all the facts out into the open”.

    He said: “I hope now that the whole truth will come out and the real killers of Ivy Batten will be put behind bars. I hope as well that the public will be able to see that an innocent man was put in jail for no reason.

    “This conviction for murder has devastated my life and, I believe, it sent my father to an early grave. These new developments will bring hope to my mother who is determined that my name will be cleared before she dies.”

    Devon and Cornwall police declined to comment but have maintained throughout that their investigation was scrupulous and that justice has been done.

    Do you have a story about the regional press? Ring 0116 227 3122/3121, or
    e-mail pastill@nep.co.uk