Rough justice for Anthony Steel

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This is an article, first written by Neil Wilby for the police whistleblowers’ website, uPSDWYP, in 2013. It has been edited and refreshed with new information and connected case history that has emerged since then.

Its importance at the time it was written, in aiding understanding of the incompetence and deep rooted institutional corruption that still dogs West Yorkshire Police, decades later, has not diminished in any way. It is a force plagued with serious investigation failings, and scandals, right up to the present day.

Anthony Steel was wrongly jailed in December, 1979 in one of West Yorkshire Police’s most notorious miscarriages of justice.  Even after his name was cleared in 2003, following a release on licence over 4 years earlier, he never spoke publicly about his wrongful conviction for the murder of bakery sales clerk, Carol Wilkinson. Even though he had always vehemently denied any part in that crime.

But in a video, broadcast for the first time in 2009, two years after his death, Anthony gave his account of how police ‘persuaded’ him to sign a confession to the killing. During the interview, thought to have been filmed at his home in Halifax, whilst he was out of prison on licence, Anthony alleged that he was physically attacked during a lengthy interrogation by police officers.

He said: “How much do people have to stand? People getting on at you all the time, not leaving you alone and hounding you – a person can only take so much?”

Now you could put me inside and kick me to death, but I would never sit there and sign a confession again. But I was young and I’d never had experience of being in custody, or anything like it“.

That pressure builds up and there’s only so much you can take, so to ease that pressure you do something to get them off your back and that’s what I did. They kept intimidating me, telling me what I had done that day. I think I ended up believing what they were telling me.”

Carol Wilkinson, who was 20 years old and lived on the Ravenscliffe estate in the suburb of Bradford known as Idle, was bludgeoned with a coping stone from an adjacent dry stone wall as she walked to work on 10th October, 1977.

Her prone body was found on waste land between Gain Lane, close to where RHM Almond Bakery was located, and Woodhall Road, near Thornbury She was partially stripped, had been sexually assaulted and left alive, but with massive face, head and brain injuries. She had been found by hospital cook, Stephen Smith, and her father George Wilkinson, subsequently, was only able to formally identify his daughter by way of her engagement ring.

The case made history as Carol was the first murder victim to be certified dead after a life-support machine was switched off by doctors at Bradford Royal Infirmary.

Anthony, who was, at that time, a 22-year-old unemployed former Council gardener, living on the same housing estate as Carol, a short distance from the scene of the attack, was arrested 18 months later and ‘confessed’ to the killing, during a sustained series of police interviews.

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The image shows the Ravenscliffe estate at top right, Almond Bakery on Gain Lane is at the bottom, right of centre. The waste land behind, adjoining Woodhall Lane is where Carol was found.

The interest in him came after his mother-in-law told the police he had done the murder – and gave them a keyring in the shape of a fish to the police. Inadequate enquiries were made by the detectives involved in the investigation – and decided that the proposition that the murdered girl had owned the keyring suited police purposes. Up to that point, a keyring of any description had formed no part of police enquiries.

A man of exemplary character, he had been brought up in the area and had shared a house there with a girl friend there until just before the murder.  Once given access to a police station solicitor, David Taylor of T I Clough & Co, at the conclusion of those interviews, in the evening of the third day of detention, the Steel confession was immediately retracted.

Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Hobson, was in overall charge of the murder investigation. He was to later achieve further notoriety as one of the most senior detectives involved in the grotesquely failed Yorkshire Ripper investigation.

Detective Inspector Norman Mould was the man who led the Steel investigation and interrogation. After Anthony was cleared, the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, the late Colin Cramphorn, sent a ‘Without prejudice’ letter to Tony Steel, apologising for the errors made by DI Mould’s team. A sub-optimal investigation in 1977 had been followed by one even worse in 1979. By then, of course, all the detectives involved in the Steel conviction had retired.

Other detectives involved in the case apart from Messrs Hobson and Mould were Detective Chief Inspector Derek Mitchell, Detective Inspector James Morgan and Detective Sergeant Ray Falconer (read more here). By then, there had been five Yorkshire Ripper murders and WYP was under massive strain in terms of manpower and investigative resources.

Carol’s murder is still one of Yorkshire’s most notorious unsolved crimes and there has been no justice for the Wilkinson family, who lost a precious daughter almost 45 years ago.

In the video, Mr Steel says: “They were saying ‘We know you’ve done it. We’ve got the proof, we’ve got the evidence’… I think that, because the case had been going on that long, they were out to get somebody to get it off their books, to put somebody inside“.

It didn’t matter who it was as long as it fitted in some way, or they could make it fit in some way, and they could put that person inside.” Mr Steel claims he was made to watch while police wrote out a statement for him.

They promise you everything once you’ve signed it,” he said. “‘You’ll get bail’, ‘You’ll get to see your family’ and all this. “The next minute you’re slung in the cells and you’re sat there wondering what the hell’s going on until the following day comes.”

Mr Steel’s coerced confession was later found to contain many inaccuracies and evidence linking him to the crime scene was considered unreliable. At Leeds Crown Court, the police witnesses had all denied the defence team’s contentions of violence, threats of violence, browbeating, fabrication of parts of the confession, and the repeated denial of access to a solicitor. It was accepted, however, that Judge’s Rules were broken, but the trial judge ruled that such breaches did not affect the admissibility of the confession evidence.

In his summing up of the evidence and submissions at trial, Mr Justice Boreham reduced the conflict the jury had to consider, between prosecution and defence, to this question: “On the one side you have an entirely straightforward interview process and on the other side a sinister conspiracy. It is for you, members of the jury, to decide”.

Psychological evidence obtained, by a highly regarded specialist in her field, Olive Tunstall, while he was in prison serving the life sentence handed down to him by Mr Justice Boreham at Leeds Crown Court, the report from which showed that there were clear grounds for an appeal against conviction.

The Court of Appeal, with Lord Justice Rix presiding, eventually quashed his conviction as “unsafe” in February, 2003, eighteen years after a BBC Rough Justice TV programme cast serious doubts about his ‘confession’. But, of course, at the time of that video interview he, and the campaigners working with him, were still fighting to have the case reviewed.

Rough Justice producer, and book author of titles of the same genre, Peter Hill, had championed Anthony’s case for many years, presenting new evidence to the Criminal Case Review Commission, and described it as ‘one of Yorkshire’s worst miscarriages of justice’.

The CCRC reference was precipitated by fresh evidence in the form of the report from  Olive Tunstall, dated 11th April 1996, which concluded that the Anthony was educationally retarded and abnormally suggestible and thought to have been potentially vulnerable in the context of being interviewed by the police.

Those interviews ended in the confession recorded in a statement made in April 1979. The truth of the Steel confessions, oral and written, was the central issue of the trial. The CCRC’s Statement of Reasons drew attention to the similarity between this case and that of Ashley King, who was also cleared of murder after serving 14 years in jail, in which a report by Ms Tunstall had also played a major part.

Anthony Steel’s application to the CCRC was referred back to the Court of Appeal in July, 2000. It was nearly three years later when the conviction was finally quashed.

Other grounds included in the CCRC application, apart from the decisive Tunstall evidence, were:

The new evidence, not presented previously, but in the petition to the CCRC included:

i) Steel was not psychologically competent to handle the interviews he was subjected to and that his confession should consequently be set aside.

(ii) The evidence of the route the victim took to work was wholly misunderstood by the investigating officers of 1979 because of the nature of the 1977 investigation.

(iii) That evidence regarding Steel’s journey home and return to work was completely wrong and that the jury was seriously mis-led.

(iv) Evidence about the victim leaving home suggests inadequate disclosure that did not allow Steel a fair trial process.

(v) The four youths who identified the key ring as belonging to the victim – Carol Wilkinson – were confusing her with another Carol they knew.

(vi) Certain scratches on the body of Carol Wilkinson could not have been made by Anthony Steel – he always bit his nails to the quick.

A prior petition to the Home Office’s notorious C3 Department, the forerunner to the CCRC, had rejected these grounds in 1987:

(i) The fish keyring that the police produced as having belonged to the victim was not like the only keyring every seen in Carol’s possession.

(ii) Carol was seen not far from her home when the police claimed she was being murdered by Steel more than a mile away.

(iii) The supposed confession was inaccurate. It failed to include significant “special knowledge” that only the murderer could have known. It also had the victim going a route which she would not have taken.

(iv) The trial jury was mis-led by photographs which appeared to show that Steel could have seen things he was said to have claimed to see in his confession.

(v) Tests and photographs produced by the Rough Justice team demonstrated that it was impossible for Steel to have seen Carol where the confession said she was – from the position the confession said he had been in.

(vi) The map of the area exhibited before the trial jury was inaccurate, out of date and presented the path the victim was supposed to have taken in a position that fitted Steel’s supposed confession better.

(vii) On the day of the murder, the victim was wearing a pair of new shoes with high wedge heels which made the idea that she would walk through muddy woodland paths , across a stream and up muddy hills ridiculous.

Those grounds, taken together dispensed, summarily, with the notion, held by some in the Bradford area, that the quashing of the Steel conviction was on a technicality and that he was still the prime suspect. The abuse he and his family received caused him to relocate to Tyneside for the later years of his life.

Between the petition to the Home Office and the application to the CCRC, Anthony was involved in a remarkable sequence of events in HMP Frankland after he had been visited by Peter Hill. As a result, significant pressure applied in order to persuade him to confess. Because at Crown Court he had denied the confession he had signed after police interrogation was a truthful account.

He was told by the prison authorities that he would never be considered for parole until he did confess. But, as reported earlier in this piece, he was, of course, released on licence in 1999.

Michael Mansfield QC, speaking on behalf of Anthony Steel after the appeal success. said his lay client was interviewed six times, for a total of seven-and-a-half hours over three days. For the first day he had no refreshments, and went 37 hours without any washing facilities. Mr Mansfield asserted that police had refused him a solicitor, although this point was, of course, contested.

Anthony Steel received an official police apology and around £50,000 in interim payments whilst the final compensation award was settled upon with the Home Office, but he was in poor health following his release from prison. He died from a heart attack aged 52 in September 2007 whilst waiting for further surgery.

After Anthony’s death, Peter Hill had some stinging words for those responsible for ruining and, in effect, curtailing his life: “Tony was seriously ill and took 60 pills a day, which he carried in a suitcase, and underwent a lifesaving heart bypass operation within months of being released from prison. I believe they let him out so he did not die in prison.

“He wanted a new heart, which might have given him an extra 20 years of life, but he never got his money.”

The Steel miscarriage of justice has striking resemblance to that of Stefan Kiszko, a tax clerk wrongly convicted of the sexual assault and murder of 11-year-old Lesley Molseed in Rochdale in 1975. Mr Kiszko, who had confessed following many hours of police interrogation, was freed in 1992 after conclusive scientific evidence proved he could never have been the murderer. Stefan died just eighteen months after he was finally allowed home following a second, successful appeal against conviction.

Two years before the Kiszko conviction, a third person with serious mental health issues was also convicted of murder after a forced ‘confession’. Judith Ward was finally cleared in 1992, after wrongfully serving 18 years for an alleged part in the infamous M62 bombings in 1974 (read full story here). One senior detective was common to both the Ward and Kiszko cases, Richard Holland, more familiarly known as Dick Holland.

Like Jim Hobson, he was also involved in the Yorkshire Ripper investigation. But Holland took much of the blame for that debacle, was demoted by one rank, and returned to uniform duties in the distant outpost of Sowerby Bridge, after the subsequent internal inquiry.

Professor David Gee, the Home Office pathologist who conducted all the post-mortem examinations on the Ripper victims, said that there were similarities between the murder of Carol Wilkinson and the murder of Yvonne Pearson by Peter Sutcliffe, a short time afterwards. Sutcliffe did not confess to Carol’s murder at his Old Bailey trial. A man answering Sutcliffe’s description was also seen running away after an attack on a Bradford schoolgirl just 24 hours after Carol’s death.

West Yorkshire Police said the case had been reviewed after the Court of Appeal decision and no fresh information was uncovered. Their spokesman said: “We are not currently pursuing any active lines of inquiry. We would welcome and consider any new information that may come to light.”

That tended to ignore Anthony Steel’s assertion that he knew, after his release from HMP Frankland, who the real killer was. He said: “All this time there was one man who should have been in police sights for this murder.”

He urged detectives to investigate the man whom, he claimed, had convictions of manslaughter, rape, sexual assault and robbery, and was still in jail. Anthony had never been in the same prison as Peter Sutcliffe and that appeared to rule him out of the Steel theory. But just after his death in 2007, his brother-in-law said the family were convinced that it was Sutcliffe who killed Carol Wilkinson and urged WYP to re-open the investigation. Dick Holland, by that time retired and shortly before his own death, told a local newspaper, the Telegraph and Argus, that such an enquiry “would not be in the public interest”.

Following the reference of the Steel appeal against conviction by the CCRC, the Crown Prosecution Service instructed Mark Bates, a specialist advisor to the Home Office’s Forensic Science Service, to conduct a review into Carol’s death in order to assess whether, or not, forensic science could make any contribution to the case. His report is dated 9th September 2002. The answer was that forensic science could throw no new light on the subject.

The killer, if he is still alive, remains at large. In a recent freedom of information request made by Neil Wilby to West Yorkshire Police they revealed that they have 61 unsolved murders on their books dating back to the 1990’s.

The Carol Wilkinson murder is, of course, not included in that total.

Page last updated: Thursday 18th November, 2021 at 1050 hours

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Picture credit:  South Yorkshire Police

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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