A prisoner who believes he was wrongly convicted of killing his father has won a High Court challenge over a refusal to allow him to be interviewed by a journalist over the phone.
Mark Alexander, then 22, received a life sentence with a minimum term of 16 years after a jury found him guilty of murdering 70-year-old Samuel Alexander in September 2010.
Currently being held at HMP Coldingley in Surrey, Alexander took legal action against the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) after the prison’s governor rejected his request for a phone interview with Robin Eveleigh, a journalist who wants to make a podcast about his case.
In a written ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Andrew Baker concluded the refusal from governor Niall Bryant was “misdirected and irrational”.
The judge said the decision to refuse a phone interview should be “quashed” and the governor “will need to consider the claimant’s request afresh”.
In a comment issued by the Justice for Mark Alexander campaign, Alexander said: “Today’s ruling is an important milestone in the fight for an open, transparent and accountable justice system in which prisoners’ voices are heard; wrongful convictions can be properly scrutinised; and our free press is able to work without resistance or obfuscation from government.”
A 2010 trial at Reading Crown Court was told that Alexander, then a law student, killed his father in a bid to escape his “controlling influence” and buried his body in concrete in the garden of the family home in the small village of Drayton Parslow in Buckinghamshire.
Attempts to appeal against his conviction in the years following his imprisonment were rejected by the Court of Appeal.
Alexander’s lawyer told a High Court hearing in London last month that he had “always insisted he is innocent of the crime, and is the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice”.
The prisoner, who has gained two law degrees in prison, wants to “raise awareness of his case” and use a podcast because of the “success of the best of them – such as Serial – in overturning unsafe murder convictions”, his lawyer told the judge.
Alexander thinks a podcast would help encourage people to come forward with new information, amid his belief that “his father’s killers remain at large”, the court was told.
The MoJ defended against Alexander’s claim, arguing a phone interview “might cause distress to others, and that there was a risk of outrage to public sensibilities”.
John Jolliffe, for the department, said in written arguments that telephone interviews between a prisoner and the media that might be published or broadcast were only allowed in “exceptional circumstances”.
But Greg Callus, representing Alexander, said in written arguments that the “wrong criteria” and “wrong standard” were applied over the interview request.
He said it was “fanciful” that the public might be “outraged” by Alexander claiming he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and that it was “the baldest of hypothetical assertions” to say victims may be distressed.
The court was told Alexander’s mother and grandmother support his claim of wrongful conviction.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Andrew Baker said he was not indicating any view about the “credibility” of Alexander’s claim of innocence as it was not something he was in a position to assess.
The judge said the governor had “failed to consider at all on its merits the request actually made”.
He concluded any “reasonable decision-maker” could not take a view that the public would be outraged by Alexander speaking about his case “under appropriately controlled conditions” rather than only writing about it.
A MoJ spokesperson said after the ruling: “The public rightly expects that prisoners who have committed horrific crimes should lose their freedom, including speaking to the media, and we are pleased the court did not find the policy on prisoner access to the media to be unlawful.”
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