On April 22 1972 Maxwell Confait’s body was found by a fireman at 27 Doggett Road, Catford. A Seychelles born sex worker known locally as ‘Michelle’, he had been strangled and a fire had been started at the flat.
The brutal murder, recently featured in a BBC2 documentary – Catching Britain’s Killers: The Crimes That Changed Us – and now available on the BBC iPlayer, led to a landmark change in criminal justice legislation, writes Mike Guiifoyle .
Suspicion for the murder initially up on his landlord Winston Macmillan Goode. He would subsequently commit suicide.
But the police then changed tack and arrested three local youths – Ahmet Salih (14 ); Ronald Leighton (15); and Colin Lattimore (18) but who had the ‘mental age of an eight year old’.
The trio were questioned about the murder at Ladywell Police Station. They were also suspected of committing arson after separate small fires at huts on Ladywell Fields.
Under existing non-statutory procedures then called ‘Judges Rules’, confessions ‘under pressure’ soon followed and after a three week trial the three were found guilty at the Old Bailey and sentenced to lengthy periods of detention.
In Colin Lattimore’s case detention was under the Mental Health Act.
After considerable disquiet at the ‘safety‘ of the convictions, worrying discrepancies in the forensic evidence presented, and a high profile campaign over a miscarriage of justice led by Lewisham West MP Christopher Price, they were found not guilty on appeal and released.
They were declared innocent (1980) and awarded compensation.
The Judges Rules, especially in relation to the treatment of children and vulnerable people, were then closely scrutinised by an inquiry headed by Sir Henry Fisher.
Eventually, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and its Codes of Practice (PACE) were passed and a system of “appropriate adults” to protect vulnerable defendants was created.
The Prosecution of Offences Act, 1985 was also passed. It took prosecution out of the hands of the police and into a new body; the Crown Prosecution Service
Maxwell Confait was laid to rest at Hither Green cemetery on August 2 1972. His grave lies close to Hither Green crematorium and on the headstone has inscribed on it the family name, Vinden – with the words ‘To a loving son’