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Islington Tribune - by JOSH LOEB
Published: 17 July 2009

Sam’s mother Wendy outside prison. ‘I was crying last night,’ she said

Woman tells of pain as convicted murderer son marks his 22nd

WENDY Cohen, the mother of convicted murderer Sam Hallam, has spoken of her pain at seeing her son mark yet another birthday behind bars.
Mr Hallam, who is serving life for the murder of Essayas Kassahun in Finsbury five years ago, received an emotional two-hour visit from his mother at HMP Bullingdon in Oxfordshire as he turned 22 years old.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates potential miscarriages of justice, is examining fresh evidence that campaigners – who include actor Ray Winstone – say proves Mr Hallam was not at the murder scene.
A Tribune reporter accompanied Ms Cohen as she made her way through the prison and into the hall where she hugged her son and then sat at a table – soon covered with sweets and crisp packets – and exchanged news about his sister Daisy and brothers Danny and Terry.
They were surrounded by around 100 prisoners, all wearing orange vests, and their families.
Ms Cohen makes the eight-hour round trip from her home near Old Street to the prison at least once a month, taking the train from Marylebone to Bicester and then a cab from the station.
After waiting for two hours in a waiting room, Ms Cohen passed through security, where she was screened for drugs and weapons.
She wasn’t allowed to take anything into the prison including birthday cards from Mr Hallam’s friends.
These had to be left in a waiting-room locker and posted afterwards.
After the visit, Ms Cohen said she was in shock after losing an appeal against her son’s conviction.
“We all thought Sam would be coming home because we couldn’t believe he had been found guilty on such weak evidence,” she said.
“If it wasn’t for the campaign we wouldn’t have been able to keep going.
“If the CCRC refers the case, I will not allow myself to have hope. This time, I will expect the worst.”
She said the day her son was arrested, aged 17, had “changed my life”, adding that she had drunk heavily and been prescribed anti-depressants to deal with the sleeplessness and anxiety she had experienced because of the strain her family had been under since his imprisonment.

Sam Hallam
‘I’m a victim of rubbish system’

In an exclusive interview, a prisoner serving life term for murder protests his innocence

SAM Hallam, the man convicted in 2005 of a brutal gang killing in Finsbury, has repeated his claim that he is innocent in a frank interview on the eve of his 22nd birthday last week.
Mr Hallam, known officially as Prisoner MW5897, has spent five years behind bars. He was given a life sentence and ordered to serve a minimum of 12 years after being found guilty of murdering Essayas Kassahun, an Ethiopian refugee and trainee chef who died after being stabbed in the head during an attack by 40 youths on St Luke’s estate in 2004.
Speaking in the crowded visitors’ room of Bullingdon Prison, in Oxfordshire, Mr Hallam insisted that he was playing football half a mile away at the time of the murder.
He told the Tribune he was the victim of a “rubbish” criminal justice system, adding that he would never admit to a crime he “did not commit”, even though doing so might increase his chance of being eligible for parole.
Mr Hallam said: “The system’s rubbish. If any prisoner here told me they were innocent, I’d believe them. If the whole prison told me they were innocent I’d believe them.
“Juries aren’t supposed to find you guilty if there’s doubt. One of the witnesses at my trial didn’t say I was at the scene. The other said I was there but then said she wasn’t sure it was me. She said in court she was just looking for someone to blame.”
The campaign to free Mr Hallam is backed by actor Ray Winstone, whose nephew is a close friend of Mr Hallam’s, and Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn. It has already attracted considerable media attention.
A dossier of fresh evidence was sent to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the body that investigates potential miscarriages of justice, last year. It included at least six new statements from people who witnessed the attack on Mr Kassahun and are prepared to testify that Sam was not present.
The CCRC, which has the power to refer the case to the Court of Appeal, says it is investigating.
Paul May, who heads the Sam Hallam Campaign, said none of the other eight youths in the dock alongside Mr Hallam had disputed being at the murder scene during the trial. Mr May was involved, with human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, in the campaign to free the Birmingham Six and Bridgewater Four.
Mr Hallam attended Islington’s Central Foundation School in Cowper Close, near Old Street, and worked as a kitchen fitter with his father before his conviction.
He told the Tribune he felt happier at Bullingdon Prison, where he has been since August last year, than he had been at Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution or Aylesbury, where he was previously held.
At Feltham, he had been involved in a fight, but had “stood up for himself” and other prisoners had subsequently left him alone.
Mr Hallam is housed in Bullingdon’s “enhancement wing”, a part of the prison reserved for inmates with a track record of good behaviour. In addition to benefits such as being allowed a TV and a PlayStation in his cell, he has been granted increased “association time” with other prisoners and longer visiting hours.
He supplements his prison diet with tinned fish, which he buys with money he earns working in the prison printing room.
He has also finished courses in English and maths while in prison and displays an intricate knowledge of his own case and those of miscarriage of justice victims such as the Birmingham Six, the Maguire Seven and Stefan Kiszko, which he has read about since being convicted.
Mr Hallam’s mother, Wendy Cohen, visits her son at least twice a month.
At Bullingdon to mark his 22nd birthday, she revealed that she suffered from shock after his conviction and was prescribed Valium to deal with shaking fits and anxiety attacks.
She said: “I was crying last night. That’s five birthdays now since he was put in prison and this year will be our sixth Christmas without Sam.”

Trial: Conflicting eye-witness accounts

ESSAYAS Kassahun was murdered on Finsbury’s St Luke’s estate during a chaotic attack described as “looking like a rugby scrum”.
He died from a stab wound to the head as he came to the aid of his friend, Louis Colley, who was being assaulted by a 40-strong gang.
Sam Hallam was found guilty of the murder along with another defendant, Bullabek Ringbiong, 20, at the Old Bailey in September 2005. Supporters of the Sam Hallam Campaign point out that there was no CCTV or forensic evidence linking him to the crime. He was convicted solely on the basis of eye-witness evidence, which his defence counsel claimed was so weak there was no case to answer. However, the judge ruled that the evidence was strong enough to go before the jury. The prosecution argued it proved Mr Hallam’s guilt.
During the trial, witnesses gave conflicting accounts of whether Mr Hallam was at the scene. Paul May, who is leading the campaign, said a key witness made a statement to police that Mr Hallam was at the scene but in court testified he could not identify him as having been present.
Two witnesses who gave evidence said they saw a white youth with blond hair. Mr Hallam has dark hair.
A witness questioned in court about the accuracy of her identification of Mr Hallam said the most she could say for sure was that “if it wasn’t him, I saw someone who looked like him”.

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