Luton Three
Sept 10, 1969 (Luton)

David Cooper, Michael McMahon, and Patrick Murphy were convicted of murdering a Luton, England post office clerk during an attempted robbery of the post office. An unusually large amount of money was being held in the post office overnight. The victim, Reginald Stevens, a sub-postmaster, had locked up the post office and was shot to death in a nearby parking lot (car park) after he refused to hand over his keys.

The getaway vehicle was identified as belonging to Alfred Mathews, who had a previous conviction for robbing a post office. In exchange for having all charges against him dropped, Mathews picked Cooper, McMahon, and Murphy out of an identification parade and identified them as his accomplices at trial. The murder weapon, which was found near the crime scene, was traced to another man, Michael Good, who was never charged in the murder. Both Mathews and Good received a substantial portion of reward money put up by the post office for solving the case.

There was some evidence that appeared to corroborate Mathews' testimony about the involvement of the three defendants, but it was very weak. In summing up the case, the trial judge, Mr. Justice Cusack, said that while there was virtually no evidence other than Mathews' testimony, it would be “wicked beyond belief ” for Mathews to involve three innocent men. All three were sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that they serve at least 20 years.

Murphy's conviction was quashed in 1972 because alibi evidence showed that he could not have been at the scene of the crime. In 1980, Sir Ludovic Kennedy published a book about the case entitled Wicked Beyond Belief. Three weeks later, Cooper and McMahon were released from prison by special order of the home secretary. Their convictions for murder, however, remained on the record.

Cooper, whose real name was John Disher, died at age 51 in 1993. McMahon died at age 55 in 1999. Both were still attempting to get their convictions quashed. The two claimed that Mathews had randomly picked them from the people in the line-up as a way to have his charges dropped. The police officer in charge of the case, Kenneth Drury, was convicted of unrelated corruption charges in 1977. An officer who once worked with Drury said Drury received payoffs from criminals for not prosecuting them. He added that Drury was “a past master of the arts” of “falsifying or manipulating alibi statements,” “the manipulation of identification procedures,” and “the repeated harassment of witnesses until we had got what we wanted from them.”

In 2003, the Court of Appeals posthumously quashed Cooper and McMahon's murder convictions after referral by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.  (Guardian) (NetK) (Independent)  [3/09]