Is Michael Luvaglio a victim or villain?

Angus Sibbet

Having lost in the courts, convicted murderer Michael Luvaglio is seeking to retry his case in the court of public opinion, but like many others who protest their innocence, he is not to be trusted.

The 1980s and 90s in particular saw so many outrageous miscarriages of justice in Britain, people often forget that sometimes those convicted of heinous crimes cry wolf. The list of those cleared by the Court Of Appeal includes the Birmingham Six (1991), John McGranaghan (1991), and the tragic Stefan Kiszko (1992). Recently, a website dedicated to Michael Luvaglio has appeared; although freed from prison in 1979, Luvaglio is still proclaiming his innocence and fighting to have his murder conviction overturned. Alas, although the case of Stafford & Luvaglio has taken up considerable time in the courts, in Parliament, and most of all in the press, these are two convictions that were most definitely rightly upheld.

According to Luvaglio, he and Stafford were nowhere near “the vicinity of the crime scene the night of the murder. Both men had alibis, strong evidence proving their innocence but were convicted purely on circumstantial evidence.”

If only! Michael Luvaglio and his co-conspirator, career criminal Dennis Stafford, were convicted of the January 1967 murder of Angus Sibbet in the North of England. Sibbet was blasted to death and his body left slumped in his car in what became known as the One-Armed Bandit Murder. Luvaglio’s claim that he and Stafford had alibis is true; what he doesn’t reveal though is that they faked this alibi! Sibbet’s car was run off the road by the two men, which left their own car damaged. They then had the bright idea of manufacturing an alibi by shunting this car outside a night club to account for the damage, but the police were up to speed on this one; the car was seized the next day, and the forensics did the rest. The irony is that if they hadn’t manufactured this alibi, they might have gotten away with it.

Although Luvaglio appears to have led a blameless life after his release, the same cannot be said for Stafford, who published his ghost written autobiography Fun-Loving Criminal four years ago. The case of Stafford & Luvaglio has been championed by many well meaning but gullible people, including prince of dupes Bob Woffinden, who although well versed in the perfidy of the police and state prosecutors is a sucker for a bruised face and a sob story.

Woffinden has also championed the cases of at least three other patently guilty people who are now back on the street, and also James Hanratty, who was hanged in 1962. Hanratty was convicted of the A6 Murder, a crime of shocking brutality in which he kidnapped Valerie Storie and her married lover Michael Gregsten at gunpoint, forced him to drive for hours before shooting him dead, then raping Miss Storie and emptying his gun into her.

Miraculously she survived, although she was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Hanratty was tried at Bedford Assizes – for the murder only – and convicted after what was at the time the longest murder trial in British criminal history. Although he went to his death protesting his innocence and was the subject of a lengthy posthumous campaign including by at least three people who had anything but noble motives, the case against him was far stronger than much of the media coverage has led most people to believe. One mischief-maker, the inappropriately named Jean Justice, persuaded another man, the original prime suspect Peter Alphon, to confess to the crime, but having (reluctantly) confirmed Alphon’s alibi, the police ignored him thereafter.

In 2002, following the DNA testing of stored exhibits from the murder trial and the exhumation of his body, Hanratty’s conviction was upheld by the Court Of Appeal. The judgment can be found here; needless to say, it has not convinced the true believers.

Another case that has been systematically misrepresented over the years is that of Zoora Shah, who has been portrayed as a poor, illiterate Pakistani woman who was abused, raped, even passed around by her unscrupulous Svengali to other equally depraved men in Bradford’s Islamic community, until, driven by desperation she killed him in what could be seen as an act of self-preservation if not self-sacrifice. This fairy tale was peddled incessantly by the lobbying group Southall Black Sisters, whose persistence succeeded in having it referred to the Court Of Appeal.

The truth though is somewhat different. The man Shah murdered, Mohammed Azam, was certainly no angel. In October 1984, he was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for drug offences, and was released in May 1989. He was also married, and Shah became his kept woman after a fashion, although he appears to have genuinely cared for her – his wife notwithstanding! While he was in prison, this “poor, illiterate woman” found another lover, who was also married. She also had a number of abortions over the years, including after she became pregnant by Azam.

Shah did not kill Azam in self-defence, in a fit of rage, or even under extreme duress; while he was in prison she attempted to swindle him out of his property, when he was released, she solicited his murder, attempted to poison him with arsenic, and then six weeks later made another, successful attempt. He died a horrible death.

She also vandalised a man’s car, and made allegations of rape and theft which were later shown to be false.

In Britain, the Court Of Appeal is not known for its hyperbolae; typically a judgment will report simply that “this version of events was clearly untrue” rather than “the defendant lied through his teeth”, however, in dismissing Zoora Shah’s appeal, Lord Justice Kennedy had some very strong words to say about her:

“Here Mr Fitzgerald submits that the appellant put forward a defence which she now admits to have been a tissue of lies because she wished to protect herself and especially her family from further shame and the risk of violence....Up to a point that is evidence which we accept, but only up to a point because this appellant, as it seems to us, is an unusual woman. Her way of life had been such that there might not have been much left of her honour to salvage...The forgery executed to obtain title, and the false allegations of rape and theft made against Bala are but two examples of that. The nature of her defence at the trial which involved an open attack on Bala and others, and a thinly veiled suggestion that the deceased’s own widow might have been responsible for his death is another example.”

The case of Zoora Shah has been out of the news for some time, but one that keeps coming back again and again is that of Jeremy Bamber, whose cause is even more lost than hers.

Bamber has been before the Lord Justices of Appeal twice, the last time in 2002, when he was given his day in court big time. Last year he was back in the news again, and there have been suggestions this year that his case will be reviewed yet again, however, if Bamber does succeed in duping the CCRC, he may well find himself facing a surprising new prosecution witness, Bob Woffinden!

In 1985, Bamber murdered five members of his family, and staged the crime scene to make it appear that his sister Sheila had murdered their parents, and her own sons before committing suicide. Although the senior police officers who investigated the crime were fooled in the first instance, not everyone was, the main problem being that although Sheila Caffell had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, even if she had become homicidal there was considerable doubt that she could have overpowered her father, a big man who had clearly fought with his attacker.

Four years ago, Bamber passed a lie detector test, but these deceptively named devices are not recognised in British courtrooms for good reasons; psychopaths like Bamber and sociopaths like Casey Anthony – currently on trial for the capital murder of her daughter – are able to fool both man and machine with total impunity, often with the most brazen of lies.

Writing in the Daily Mail last month, Bob Woffinden claimed to have unearthed new evidence which proves Bamber’s guilt. It remains to be seen if the convoluted explanation he gives has any basis in fact, but for those who are interested in what the Court Of Appeal had to say in 2002, the exhaustive judgment can be found here.

Though Bamber will unquestionably persist with his ludicrous claims that he was framed by the police and/or other members of his family, and with the claim that the police entered into a “conversation” with someone inside the house when they arrived at White House Farm, if Bob Woffinden no longer believes him, no one who matters ever will. Having said that, Woffinden is to be commended for having the integrity to admit publicly that he was wrong, or rather that he was duped by a plausible, calculating liar, something that happens to most of us at some time or other.

It remains to be seen if the hard core supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal or the gullible young lady who recently launched a new campaign for convicted murderess Linda Carty will ever follow in Woffinden’s footsteps, but for those have yet to commit themselves to righting any perceived injustice, a sound piece of advice is first and foremost to read any findings of fact that have been published by a tribunal of appeal before plunging head first into a legal or protest campaign. The police are not to be trusted, but neither is anyone else!

[The above op-ed was first published June 20, 2011. Its original title was Villain – not victim which was (rightly deemed to be) inadequate.]

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