Simon Hall’s Fight For Freedom
By Scott Lomax
During the spring and summer of 2002 detectives in Suffolk were involved in a difficult criminal investigation. Despite several public appeals and studies of CCTV footage showing the front of the home of the elderly murder victim, no evidence identifying the killer was forthcoming. The possibility the murder, which had taken place in December the previous year, was linked to a crime in Anglesey, Wales, had to be looked into. The perpetrator of the horrific Welsh murder, in which an elderly woman had been stabbed and her heart removed, was also at large. At a much later stage this individual would be identified as a vampire fanatic but despite massive inquiries Suffolk Police were no closer to finding their own killer.
However, on 25 July police officers made what they believed to be a major breakthrough when they arrested a local man in what he describes as an ‘SAS style home invasion.’
Writing from his jail cell recently, Simon Hall, who is serving a life sentence for the murder, described his arrest: ‘I can still remember the day when the officers came crashing through my front door, sending glass and wood splinters everywhere. That itself was a shock but not as much as when they told me I was under arrest for murder. The moment is still as surreal now as it was then …’
After being arrested, Hall was taken into custody to be questioned in connection with the murder of Joan Albert, an elderly woman who had been repeatedly stabbed in her own home at the village of Capel St Mary, Suffolk. Three days later he was charged with Joan’s murder and remanded into custody to await trial. He was later found guilty by a majority of 11 to 1 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He has attempted to appeal against his conviction, but was not granted leave to appeal. With the assistance of his campaign, named Justice 4 Simon, he is hoping to launch a successful appeal in the future that will lead to his freedom.
By the time the police charged Simon Hall they had become outwardly convinced that Joan Albert was murdered during a burglary that had gone wrong. There was a forced entry, with a rear window being smashed, but nothing had seemingly been taken despite the killer curiously having stayed at the scene for some time. Medical examination of the body revealed that Joan’s murderer had bizarrely inflicted wounds upon her after a significant period of time had elapsed following her death. An estimate suggested the unnecessary wounds had been inflicted up to half an hour after the crime, showing the killer had spent some time around the body. This, in addition to the location and nature of wounds on the body, has suggested the possibility the murder was in some way sexually motivated, with the murderer gaining sexual gratification from spending time with the corpse. The crime certainly appears to have a far more sinister element than a simple burglary where the perpetrator was disturbed, panicked and killed as a direct result of that panic.
The police have argued the fact nothing was stolen is not particularly important because burglaries can often go wrong, with the criminal having left empty handed after killing a resident. Hall’s supporters argue that the crime could not have been burglary because it was carried out, according to the prosecution, at 06:00; a time at which papers were being delivered, milk rounds were taking place, people walking their dogs and so on. They therefore suggest it would be foolish for someone to carry out a burglary at a time when there was a real prospect of being seen. Although burglaries do occur during the day these are usually ‘sneak in’, opportunistic burglaries where a window or door is left open and a small amount of valuables that are in easy reach are taken, often in order for drugs to be bought. Most burglaries do indeed take place in the early hours of the morning when there is little chance of a resident being awake.
There is no evidence to suggest Hall had reason to commit a burglary. He had a small debt, but in today’s society debts are commonplace and Hall’s debt was only small. It was not, it was argued at trial, a cause for any concern because it could be repaid. There were other options available to him, such as borrowing money from friends or family. He would not have needed to break into the home of someone he had no grudge against. If he could spend time around the body, in order to inflict the final wound after death, he had plenty of time to search for Joan’s valuables.
Hall did know the victim, but only because Joan was of a friend of his mother’s.. He did not know her well enough to necessarily recognise her if he passed her in the street but claims that if he had seen her near her home, walking her dog, he might have realised who she was. She was a friend of his mother’s rather than a friend of the family. He did know where she lived, but there is no known reason that Hall would wish to harm his mother’s friend. He also would not want to hurt his mother, whom he had (and still has) a good relationship with, by killing her friend. Hall knew that his mother occasionally visited Joan’s house at night because the victim has been having problems with youths. This, his campaign claims, is an important point. It is important, they believe, because Hall would not have broken into his mother’s friend’s home knowing that it was possible his own mother could be in the building.
There was no evidence to show when the crime took place. Neither a doctor nor a pathologist was ever able to estimate a time of death or, if an estimate was determined, this information has never been disclosed to Hall’s defence team. It seems remarkable that in the modern age of medical knowledge the time of death could not be estimated at all, even within a number of hours. In the mid nineteenth century, Doctor Harry Rainy of the University of Glasgow wrote, ‘Though we cannot calculate exactly the period which has elapsed since death, we can almost always determine a maximum and minimum of time within which that period will be included.’ If it was almost always possible to achieve a rough estimate so long ago, why was it not possible to make even a rough estimate in the early twenty first century?
The prosecution claimed the murder had taken place after 06:00. There was no medical reason to believe this to be the case. The pathologist who performed the post mortem examination, and who has subsequently been shown to have made errors in another case, did not follow Home Office guidelines. Although Joan’s body was found in the morning he did not examine her until the evening by which time natural changes to the body, which can prevent an accurate time of death from being established occur. The argument that the crime was committed after 06:00 was so Hall could be considered guilty ; he had an indisputable alibi prior to 06:00, therefore the crime must have been committed after this time.
All that is necessary to argue Hall’s innocence is to determine the crime was carried out prior to 06:00 or that he could not have been present at any time.
The prosecution’s case was that Hall had a “window of opportunity” to carry out the crime. They argued he left Ipswich, where he had been drinking with friends, at 05:30, committed the murder and arrived at his parents’ home after 06:15 (Hall did not live with his parents but he was staying there that night because the following day the family was going for a Christmas meal). They also argued that after leaving his car at an unknown location, Hall had ran across two gardens before breaking a window to enter Joan’s house. Ipswich and Capel St Mary are seven miles apart.
Forgetting, for one moment, the arguments, and focussing upon the facts, there would not be a lot of time available for Hall to commit this offence. It is known that Joan’s killer carried out the murder, then afterward, when Joan was dead, he cut her again. It was believed this unnecessary wound was inflicted up to half an hour after the time of death. This would mean that if the murder was committed after 06:00, Hall was at the scene of the crime close to 06:30.
Let us use even an estimate of ten minutes for Hall to have travelled from Ipswich to Capel St Mary, which is seven miles from Ipswich, for him to arrive at 05:40. In order for the journey to take ten minutes Hall would have needed to travel at approximately sixty miles per hour because he had to walk to his car, start the engine, drive away and stop at traffic lights. There are eights sets of traffic lights before one can leave Ipswich centre, and a witness in the car with Simon, named Jamie Barker, claimed they had been stopped several times. Jamie Barker claimed that, because Hall had been drinking, they walked around Ipswich to get him more sober, before driving very slow. Whilst it would be necessary for Hall to travel at 60 miles per hour, Barker maintains he drove below 30 miles per hour.
Hall had to drop Jamie Barker off, at Barker’s home in Ipswich. If Hall had travelled at less than 30 miles per hour, as the witness claimed, then he would have still been in Ipswich after 05:45, if indeed he had left the centre of Ipswich at 05:30. Barker’s mother was unsure as to the time her son had arrived home. She had no particular reason to remember the exact time but she believed it was around 05:30. The first time she was asked she did not have the slightest idea of the time. Hall and Barker believed the time was closer to 06:00. If this is the case then Hall could not possibly have arrived back at his mother’s home in Capel, having committed the murder, around fifteen minutes later.
If Barker’s mother was correct the earliest realistic time Hall could have arrived at the scene of the crime was between 05:45 and 05:50. If Hall and Barker were correct then the earliest time would be after 06:00. Either way there was little time to carry out a murder and return to his mother’s, which would take a few minutes in the car, all before 06:15.
Whilst the prosecution believed Hall had arrived home after 06:15 and therefore he did have time to commit the crime, there was not a lot of evidence to substantiate this belief. Hall did say that he had seen the figures 6:28 on a microwave soon after entering his parents’ house and therefore it would have been around this that he arrived. His supporters argue the microwave time might not have been accurate or that 6:28 might have been the display of six minutes and twenty-eight seconds, which might have been the time it had taken to microwave a meal. Hall’s mother is known to have frequently not cleared the timer. However, even if Hall did arrive home at 06:28 this is not necessarily indicative of guilt. If Hall inflicted wounds on Joan’s body up to half an hour after her death then if Hall committed the murder at or after 06:00 he could not realistically arrive home by 06:28 could he? Also, when he looked at the microwave it could have been a few minutes after arrival (one cannot always remember their actions accurately if they do not have reason to remember).
Hall’s mother, Lynne, is adamant she saw Hall arrive at around 06:00. She had woken up and had been unable to sleep. At around 06:00 she had given up trying to sleep and had gone to make a drink. Whilst she was still making the drink, Hall entered. Of course, one could argue she was mistaken or she had reason to protect her son, but would she lie to protect someone who had killed a close friend? Lynne noticed nothing unusual in her son’s manner or appearance. He chatted with his mother and later that day he was ‘his usual smiley entertaining self’ according to friends. This is hardly the demeanour of a man who had killed as a result of a burglary that had gone wrong and who had just killed his mother’s friend.
If Hall had been intending to commit a burglary would he have got drunk so much so that he had to spend time walking around Ipswich and drive more slowly than if he had been sober? If the crime was committed after 06:00, as the prosecution allege, then he would have exposed himself to the possibility of being seen in the vicinity of the crime scene. Someone intending to commit a crime would be unlikely to take a risk, especially when there was no reason for Hall to commit that crime on that specific day. He could have waited until another occasion to break in. Of course, it can be argued he did not plan the crime, with it being a spontaneous action or one only thought of during the journey from Ipswich to Capel, but this seems difficult to believe. Why would someone with no history of burglary suddenly decide to take a detour on his way home to commit a burglary or murder? Yes, he had been under the influence of alcohol, but he was sobering up by the time he allegedly committed the murder.
It is possible, though only remotely so, that Hall did have a “window of opportunity” to commit this murder but taking other evidence into account it would seem that the murder was committed at a time when Hall had a perfect alibi, vindicating him of all responsibility if the defence’s interpretation of the evidence is correct.
A number of Joan’s neighbours reported hearing loud noises in the early hours of the morning on which Joan was killed, at a time when Simon hall was certainly in Ipswich drinking with friends. Multiple individuals heard the noises at around 02:00, with one of the neighbours being hard of hearing. The noise would have to be very loud indeed for that individual to be woken up and for them to be aware of the noise. Whilst the cause of the noise has never been determined with certainty, the smashing of a window does make a loud noise. Is it possible that Joan’s killer was responsible for the noise? If so this would suggest the crime was committed at around 02:00. No other loud noises were reported, yet if the crime was committed at 06:00 one would expect more people to hear the glass being smashed at this time. The judge, in her summing-up, said clumsy cats could have created these noises. Indeed clumsy cats could have created the noises although it is significant that these noises have not been reported on other occasions, only having been noticed on the morning Joan was killed.
When her body was found, Joan was wearing her watch. Joan never wore her watch in bed. Her friends and family said she was a habitual behaving woman who always removed her watch. This introduces the possibility Joan was killed before she retired to bed, which in turn suggests she could have been killed much earlier than 06:00. However, it does also suggest she could have died after having got up early in the morning or that she had been in bed, had heard noises downstairs and so had got dressed, habitually putting her watch on, before investigating what was happening.
Joan’s watch had stopped at 05:40; a time when all of the evidence points to Hall being either in Ipswich or on his way to Capel St Mary’s. At 05:40 he could not have been at the scene of the crime. The time 05:40 does not necessarily mean Joan was only killed at this moment in time (the watch could have been stopped after death and it is known Joan’s murderer caused injuries after death) but it does suggest her killer was present at 05:40.
Evidence relating to the contents of Joan’s stomach can be used to argue Joan died much earlier than the prosecution led the jury to believe. Examination of stomach contents can assist in providing an estimate of how long before death a meal was consumed, because food is digested at a rate known to experts. Joan’s stomach contents revealed that she had last eaten at a maximum of three hours before her death. Her family confirmed that the habitual behaving woman often had a snack, usually a small sandwich, at midnight. If Joan ate at midnight then she must have been killed around 03:00, which is consistent with the noises at around 02:00. If she had died at 06:00 or thereabouts, and had been killed by Hall, then she must have eaten at around 03:00.
If Joan had eaten only an evening meal, at around 18:00 to 19:00 (the approximate time she had this meal is known, because she had spoken to someone afterwards to comment on how she had not enjoyed her meal) then she would have been killed before 23:00, which along with her not having removed her watch would suggest she never went to bed that night. Of course, it is possible that she could not sleep that night and had eaten a snack. However, it was inconsistent with her character for her to have done so. The evidence relating to analysis of Joan’s stomach contents was heard by the jury but the defence had only become aware of the tests half way through the trial and so they were not fully able to use this crucial piece of information.
At trial, to counter the defence’s fairly compelling alibi argument, the prosecution counsel presented their forensic ‘proof’ of guilt in the form of textile fibres. Joan Albert’s killer would have needed to be very close to his victim in order to inflict the type of wounds which led to Joan’s death. Consequently fibres from his clothing would have been transferred on to Joan’s clothing and vice versa. At trial the prosecution were able to show that a number of fibres were found at places where Hall had been (including his home, which he never went to until many hours after the murder). None of the fibres allegedly from Joan’s clothing were found on Hall’s clothing, which is unusual because if Hall had travelled straight to his parents’ home after committed the murder and he had managed to leave fibres in houses, then why were no fibres present on any of his clothing? In order to transfer to surfaces in his home they must first have been on his clothing, if they originated from the scene of the crime.
The prosecution explained this by claiming Hall disposed of the clothing he wore at the time of the murder and even claimed he had bought the clothing from Tesco’s earlier in the day, even though CCTV footage of the supermarket shows Hall was not at the supermarket at any time. It seems strange they would introduce such a theory when there is no evidence at all to substantiate it. There is no evidence to suggest Hall disposed of any clothing. It is simply a convenient explanation from the prosecution who would otherwise have been unable to explain the flaws in their argument.
Any garment is produced in massive numbers. Even garments that do not look the same often have fibres that are, to use the correct term, ‘microscopically indistinguishable’ from one another. For example, in the Case of Derek Christian it was shown a green sweatshirt had fibres that appeared to be identical to fibres from a rugby shirt. So the fact fibres identical to those found at places where Hall had been were identical to those found at Joan’s home is far from satisfactory proof of guilt because countless numbers of people would have owned clothing that had such fibres. Interestingly a number of houses in Capel also had fibres in them that were ‘microscopically indistinguishable’ to these fibres. Hall had no links with any of these houses.
Hall’s mother had run a clothes business from home. It is therefore likely she would have millions of microscopic fibres from hundreds of garments, with some of the fibres having quite conceivably originated from garments identical or similar to those owned by Joan. Maybe even Joan had bought clothes from Lynne Hall. Even if she had not, there is that possibility that fibres allegedly from the victim’s clothing might in fact have originated from clothes Hall’s mother had sold.
Also consider the fact that Hall’s mother was a friend of the victim. Fibres get transferred easily so it is a possibility Hall’s mother could have left fibres at Joan’s home that could have been transferred from her home. Following Joan’s death, Hall’s mother had entered the property with the police to see what was missing. Contamination of the scene could have taken place. It is not outside the realms of possibility. The fibre evidence is purely circumstantial. Unlike fingerprints or DNA, fibres are not unique and therefore they cannot be shown to link with any degree of certainty, a suspect to a crime. Textile fibre evidence must always be subjected to great scrutiny but all too often it is portrayed as compelling proof. For example, in the case of Derek Christian, cited above, textile fibre evidence was described as “solid proof” despite it being shown the evidence was indeed highly questionable.
Juries can be misled by a prosecuting counsel’s rhetoric, especially when they are told forensic evidence proves their case. In an age where we are wrongly led to believe forensic evidence equals the truth, it is difficult to argue against such fanciful claims. In many criminal trials where forensic evidence, such as textile fibre evidence, is presented there are experts for the defence and prosecution. If the experts cannot agree then what hope have the jury got of being sure about the integrity of the evidence?
In a criminal investigation the scene of the crime should be secured and treated in the best possible way to ensure that forensic evidence is preserved. In a murder case, where the scene of the crime is indoors and where the crime was committed during the night, forensic evidence is usually the main source of evidence that links a suspect to the offence. Officers investigating the murder of Joan Albert did not follow the correct procedures and consequently they potentially destroyed evidence which could have been instrumental in determining the truth of the killer’s identity. When Hall’s mother entered the house to check, to see if anything was missing, she did so accompanied by two officers. However, none of them were wearing forensic clothing. Items belonging to Joan had been touched, with Hall’s mother looking through the belongings. This could have destroyed fingerprint evidence and it could have resulted in textile fibres being transferred to the scene of the crime. The police seemed to place so little care on the forensic side of the case that one of the investigating officers even used the bathroom. A lot of manpower was wasted on determining the identity of the individual who left a number of hairs in the bathroom before it was discovered they were the result of malpractice on the part of the police.
In another display of sheer incompetence the police told a helpful member of the public to destroy what could potentially have been a vital piece of evidence. In the days following Joan’s murder, one of her neighbours contacted the local police station to report having found a knife in their garden. Whilst the police believed they had found the murder weapon, despite it not having traces of blood upon it, the presence of a knife in close proximity of the scene of the crime, which was only discovered following that crime, could have been of significance. However, the police were not interested, claiming they did not have sufficient manpower to follow what could very well have been an important line of enquiry.
Taking the errors into consideration, which further included leaving exhibits at the home of Hall’s brother, it begs belief at how the Senior Investigating Officer on the case was rewarded, with a commendation, following Hall’s conviction. Some who have stood trial, only to be acquitted, as a result of this detective’s work have alleged his mistakes have not been confined to the Joan Albert investigation.
The lack of care at the scene of the crime could, on first sight, be used to explain why none of Hall’s fingerprints were found around the body, around the window he allegedly smashed and climbed through, or indeed anywhere in Joan’s home. One would, nonetheless, expect some physical, irrefutable trace of his presence to have been found. There were no such traces found. There were no fingerprints belonging to Hall and none of his footprints were found, yet the killer is known to have run across two gardens in the dark and so his shoes would not have been clean.
Interestingly there were footprints in Joan’s garden, where the killer entered the house. Furthermore there were two fingerprints, one of which was very near to Joan’s body, from someone other than Hall. Who did these belong to? Were they created by the murderer or is their presence unrelated to the crime? Whilst ever there are unanswered questions such as these, doubt must surely exist over the safety of the conviction. Consider the fact footprints do not last for very long in outdoor locations. This would prove that some unidentified individual was around the scene of the crime at around the time of the crime. The unidentified fingerprints increases the likelihood that the footprints were associated with the crime by showing an unidentified individual was present inside the building (Joan had few visitors). Consider further that this unidentified individual left physical evidence of their presence yet the man serving a life sentence for this heinous crime left no evidence of his presence yet the authorities would have you believe he was certainly there. How could an unidentified individual, allegedly unconnected to the murder, leave a trace of his or her presence and yet Simon Hall could enter and leave the scene of the crime without leaving any prints of any form?
If the individual(s) responsible for the unidentified footprints and fingerprints cannot be eliminated then there are insufficient grounds to be certain that the police apprehended Joan Albert’s killer. Once you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be truth. But conversely if you cannot eliminate all the possibilities how can you be sure you have found the truth?
Whilst DNA is not always present at a crime scene it is important to stress none of Hall’s DNA was found. Similarly none of his hairs were present. Also, none of Joan’s DNA was found on clothing belonging to Hall, with no traces being found in his car either. The authorities would have you believe Hall drove to his mother’s home shortly after the murder. It is indisputable the killer would have had blood upon his clothing and possibly his hands, unless he washed in Joan’s house. Consequently, if Hall was responsible, blood would have transferred from his clothing to his car upholstery. There are a range of scientific techniques to locate and identity blood. If blood is present on any surface, even if it is not visible under close examination, it will be detected. An examination of Hall’s car found no blood present. Upon his arrival at his mother’s home, where his mother immediately saw him upon arrival, Hall had no blood upon his clothing. He spoke with his mother for a substantial period of time and she would certainly have noticed blood upon him. Whilst it is not known whether Joan scratched or hit her attacker, Hall did not have any visible marks upon his body.
He also did not have any torn clothing or scratches upon him consistent with him having climbed through a smashed window. An important point was that the largest gap in the window was just fourteen inches in size. It would be hard for a 6’1″ man, of average build, such as Hall, to have climbed through the window, especially if he had been drinking just a couple of hours earlier. When someone smashes a window, microscopic glass fragments are created. No fragments were found on Hall’s clothing, shoes, in his car, at his mother’s home or at his own home.
One could argue that a murder can be well planned in order to take into account forensic evidence. Many criminals are, to use a police term, ‘forensically aware.’ However, if the crime had been a spontaneous action, which is the only real explanation when one considers that Hall had been drunk and made no effort to rush away from Ipswich, then some direct trace of him would have been left rather than circumstantial fibres which could, very realistically, have belonged to anyone.
Hall has consistently protested his innocence and has never provided incriminating statements of any sort. He is determined to clear his name so that he can regain his freedom and be reunited with his loved ones. His website (http:www.justice4simon.co.uk
) contains a message from Hall where he speaks of the hope that keeps him fighting against this miscarriage of justice: ‘I am not the man responsible for this crime and that gives me the unfortunate task of telling you that there is still a loony out there! … I am filled with hope that I can soon be reunited with my family and friends. Many things are starting to happen and I am confident that I can be back into court sometimes in the not too distant future. I am fully aware that it isn’t going to be an overnight thing and it may take years but I will not give up my fight, so I invite you all to join me as I make my way home.”