Page 9, 14th July 2006

14th July 2006
Page 9
Page 9, 14th July 2006 — `Prison gave me back my life'

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`Prison gave me back my life'

Terry Philpot meets a man who, 40 years after his imprisonment for murder, still protests his innocence ur years ago Michael Luvaglio retired as execve director of the

Share Community, a London charity that works with disabled people. He was 65 and his 25 years' service was marked with fond farewells. He could look back on having helped create and develop worthwhile work for which he was honoured by the local council.

But Michael's life before he joined the charity had been very different. In 1967 he was jailed for his alleged role in the OneArmed Bandit Murder in Newcastle. The movie Get Carter, shot in Newcastle, was inspired by the case with the opening scene of the film showing a newspaper headline: "Gaming Wars".

Michael served 12 years in prison, moving between Durham, Brixton, Wandsworth, Portland, Wormwood Scrubs and finally Winchester. He was released on licence in 1979 which means he can be recalled at any time. To this day, he protests his innocence.

Retirement has allowed Michael Luvaglio to work to have his conviction overturned. Working at Share, he says, he did not want to attract newspaper headlines: "Convicted killer works for charity".

The Criminal Cases Review Commission began investigating his case in 2004 but has given no indication of whether it will refer it to the Appeal Court.

The Appeal Court and the House of Lords have previously refused to overturn the verdict, but doubts about the evidence that convicted Michael were expressed strongly on both occasions.

Michael claims that the stress of his imprisonment killed his father. But he also thinks that, in other ways, prison was "a blessing". It took him away from the shady world of clubs and gambling, and its,associated underworld, though he insists he never engaged in criminal activities.

In the early 1960s Michael Luvaglio went to Newcastle to join his older brother Vince, who ran a nightclub and gaming busi

ness. Life was good, trade was booming and money was easily made. There were plans to float the business on the Stock Exchange.

But at 5.15 am on the morning of January 5, 1967 police found the body of Angus Sibbert, a fruit machine cash collector and the brothers' business partner. He had been shot three times and his body abandoned in his car in the mining village of South Hetton, County Durham.

Michael was immediately picked up for questioning and within hours of the body's discovery was charged with the murder. His co-defendant was Dennis Stafford.

Tdere was no motive, no weapon, no forensic evience (blood samples, hair, saliva and fingerprints have been lost by the police) and no confession. The two men were convicted mainly on the basis of damage to both Sibbert's and Luvaglio's cars.

But the damage to the cars was not consistent with a crash. A neighbour also said that he saw Luvaglio's car outside his house at the time of the murder, evidence confirmed by another witness at appeal.

Forensic evidence suggested that the murder took place later than claimed. Evidence as to the exact time of death, based on assumption not forensics, was moved backward during the trial to fit the prosecution's claims about Luvaglio and Stafford's movements. Sibbert's clothes revealed traces of mud and grass; his alleged murderers' clothes had neither. Two sets of bloodstains were found in the car — one set belonged to Sibbert, the other did not match the 01 blood of either of the accused men.

The jury did not hear the testimony of 33 people, mostly miners, who saw the car parked some hours after the alleged time the murder took place. No one reported damage and nobody saw a body inside. Michael Luvaglio thinks it is likely that Angus Sibbert was murdered elsewhere and his body was brought to the village and dumped.

He believes that the police were determined to frame Stafford and it was his bad fortune to be in his company that evening. He is convinced that Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the London gangsters, wanted to move in on Newcastle's flourishing club and gambling life and ordered the murder.

This year "Mad" Frankie Fraser, the Kray henchman, named the now deceased Arthur Thomson as one of the murderers. A man called John Tumblety has twice publicly stated that he picked up from the scene the man who commit

ted the murder but he will not name him.

Luvaglio says that his faith kept him going during his years of imprisonment.

During his incarceration in ' Wakefield prison he was visited by

an Augustinian Recollect priest and sisters from the Good

Shepherd order to which an aunt longed.

uvaglio ould say the Holy Office at the smile time of the day as he knew his Augustinian priest friend and his mother would be saying it.

What he saw in prison also affected his outlook on life. His fellow inmates, he realised, were often people who were illiterate, poorly educated, mentally ill or dyslexic. He spent much of his time taking up their causes and he was the first serving prisoner in Britain to graduate from the Open University.

"When I was in prison I became more aware of the community and what we do to other people," he says.

"A lot of people never bother to look around and see what is happening to others and do anything about it. I came to see that I had taken so much out of the community and abused it. I wanted to put something back.

"My personal life is totally different one from the one I led before I went to prison. I have had a far happier life than I would have had. I used to have any number of suits and shoes and a choice of cars. Now I have five pairs of shoes, three suits and one car. Why would I need more? People strive to make money and then you get into a situation where it doesn't mean anything anymore."

The solicitor Christopher Murray of Kingsley Napley, who has now represented Luvaglio free of charge for some years, says he is convinced of his client's innocence.

"The case dates back before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, before there were rules governing disclosure, and when the Court of Appeal was reluctant to admit that the criminal justice system could make mistakes," he explains.

"I have no doubt that if this case was presented today for appeal, the conviction would not stand. It would be declared a miscarriage of justice."

The Appeal Court could order a re-trial but so much time has elapsed that that is now looking unlikely.

His legal team are considering an appeal to the European Court of Justice.

The failure of his appeals caused Luvaglio twice to attempt suicide and he empathises with people suffering from depression and despair. Following his retirement, he has worked voluntarily in a day centre run by Mind, the mental health charity.

Since his release from prison Luvaglio has led an exemplary life.

Does it still matter that he should formally clear his name? Prominent and outspoken supporters have proclaimed his innocence, including the journalist and writer Ludovic Kennedy, the Catholic economist Barbara Ward Jackson and the justice campaigner Bob Woffinden.

But nearly 40 years after his conviction Luvaglio says he wants justice. He was 69 last month and time is not on his side.

Four years ago he suffered a heart attack. He was hospitalised again last month and is now on constant medication. He tells me he doesn't want to be remembered as a killer.

"When my father died, the newspapers ran the headline, 'Killer at father's funeral.' I don't want to be called a killer when I die.

"1 owe it to myself, my family, my friends and supporters, the religious and everyone who has helped me over the years to get British justice to admit that it made a mistake."

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