How a 1970s miscarriage of justice involving three teenage boys would lead to a radical overhaul of police powers and a brand new method of investigation
The Murder of Maxwell Confait in 1972 . Maxwell was a male prostitute who was known as Michelle and lived on Dogget Street in Catford in London SE6. His murder and the subsequent trial and conviction of three young men over his death led to a reforming of the way Police would deal with the detaining and interviewing process that led to the passing of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in 1984.
Three young adolescent boys ; Colin Lattimore, Ronald Leighton, and Ahmed Salih were arrested by the Police and after their ‘interrogation’ the police obtained confessions not only to the arson that they been known to have perpetrated but, more importantly, their written confession to the murder of Maxwell Confait. Two of the boys were under 18, but the third Colin Lattimore was 18 and had severe learning and behavioral problems to the extent that he had a mental capacity of a child
The conviction was based on an unsound and undetermined “time of death” by the coroners and forensic pathologists who examined the victim; and the fact that all three had alibi’s to their whereabouts on the night of 22nd April 1972 caused a number of people to question the conviction and purposefully fight for their release. Colin Lattimore’s father wrote many letters to people in authority, but one letter found it’s way to the National Council of Civil Liberties (now known as Liberty) and also following a change of Government, a Labour MP Christopher Price took up their cause and publicised what was in his mind a miscarriage of Justice.
The case was heard at the Court of Appeal and their conviction overturned, which led to a public enquiry into how the conviction had been obtained. The enquiry led eventually to a Royal Commission of Parliament to overhaul the detention of prisoners and led to a new code of conduct in arrest and also taping of interviews conducted by the Police in the United Kingdom.
The 1977 Home Office Report into the death of Maxwell Confait can be read here
The BBC in a their most recent series “Catching Britain’s Killers : Crimes that Changed Britain” (Episode 3 – Interrogation) interviewed some of the people were involved in this famous case of miscarriage of justice who called for a change in the law that protected the civilian and provided the police protection and a duty of care for those being questioned. The programme was originally broadcast on 23rd October 2019.