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Introduction

This page is concerned with the case of George Kelly, who was executed in 1950 for murder and has subsequently had his conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Since the establishment of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, three executed prisoners have had their convictions quashed: Mahmood Mattan, George Kelly and Derek Bentley. Unfortunatly it is not possible to reverse the sentence of death that has been executed on these men.

The case of George Kelly & Charles Connolly

On 19 March 1949 an assailant entered the Cameo Cinema in Webster Road, Liverpool while another waited outside as a look-out. Leonard Thomas, the cinema's manager was in his office (located on the 1st floor of the cinema) counting the night's takings. A masked man burst into the office and at point-blank range shot Thomas in the chest. Mr Thomas' assistant (John Bernard Catterall) then entered the office apparently unaware of what was taking place. Catterall was shot in the hand, chest and back. From her box-office, the cashier heard six shots fired in quick succession. With the doorman, they entered the office and found Thomas and Catterall suffering from gunshot wounds; from which they later died.

The brutality of the crime caused a sensation in post-war Britain, generating massive amounts of newspaper coverage. Police were determined to obtain a conviction, and launched the UK's then biggest murder inquiry. It was determined that one man had carried out the shootings, with another acting as lookout.

During the investigation, police were sent an anonymous letter pointing the finger at George Kelly, then 26 and a small-time crook. The letter suggested a local hardman Charles Connolly had acted as the look-out. It later emerged that the letter had been written by a prostitute and her pimp, in return for protection from prosecution.

But there was also another major witness the prosecution relied on, a man called Robert Graham. Graham claimed that while on remand at Walton prison, Kelly admitted the shooting and said Connolly acted as a look-out. As a reward for his information, Graham was given an immediate release from prison from a sentence for dishonesty.

As a result of this informer's information, George Kelly and Charles Connolly were both tried together for the murder of Leonard Thomas. As this jury failed to agree on a verdict, Kelly and Connolly were separately tried. At this second trial, Kelly was found guilty of the murder of Thomas and sentenced to death. At his later trial, Charles Connolly was found guilty of robbery and conspiracy and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment.

On 28 March 1950 George Kelly was hanged at Liverpool's Walton Jail. The chief executioner was Albert Pierrepoint. As with other executed prisoners, Kelly's remains were buried within the prison grounds.

Quashing of the verdicts

The cases of Kelly and Connolly were refered back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The Appeal Court judges (Lord Justice Rix, Mr Justice Douglas Brown and Mr Justice Davis) were told that a statement given to the police by a prosecution witness (Robert Graham), claiming that a man called Donald Johnson had confessed to the crime had not been disclosed by the police.

Donald Johnson was acquitted of being an accessory in connection with the Cameo Cinema case in June 1949. It was after this acquittal that Johnson is said to have told a man called Robert Graham that he had indeed been responsible for the Cameo murders. This first statement was made to police in September 1949, and was followed by another statement in November 1949 which did incriminate Kelly and Connolly in the robbery and murders. The police only disclosed the 2nd of these two statements. If the first statementhad been disclosed at the time, then Kelly's trial counsel could have presented his defence in a totally different light. This second statement was not discovered in the police records until 1991.

As the case against Kelly was totally circumstantial and lacked any forensic evidence, the crown barrister at the Court of Appeal hearing said that the conviction of Kelly could not be ruled as safe. Consequently the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction of murder.

In the light of this evidence the conviction of Connolly for robbery was also quashed.

At the Appeal Court hearing that quashed Kelly's murder conviction Lord Justice Rix said "Hoever much the Cameo [cinema] murders remain a mystery we regard the circumstances of Kelly and Connolly's trial as a miscarriage of justice which must be deeply regretted."

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