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Wrongly jailed man who paid £38k for prison ‘food and water’ demands refund

by nytime
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Michael O’Brien (pictured) spent 11 years in prison before his conviction for the murder of Cardiff newsagent Phillip Saunders in 1987 was overturned

Michael O’Brien (pictured) spent 11 years in prison before his conviction for the murder of Cardiff newsagent Phillip Saunders in 1987 was overturned – Jonathan Myers

A man wrongly jailed for murder who paid for his prison living costs after his conviction was overturned has demanded a refund.

Michael O’Brien spent 11 years in prison before his conviction for the murder of Cardiff newsagent Phillip Saunders in 1987 was overturned.

However, he said that £37,500 was deducted from his compensation award to account for “food and water” while in prison.

Mr O’Brien has now renewed his calls for the “outrageous” move to be reversed, following the case of Andrew Malkinson, 57, who was cleared last week of a rape he did not commit after a 20-year legal fight.

While guilty people do not have to pay prison living expenses, a decision made in 2007 by the House of Lords meant that money could be subtracted from compensation for “saved living expenses”.

Andrew Malkinson was cleared last week of a rape he did not commit after a 20-year legal fight

Andrew Malkinson was cleared last week of a rape he did not commit after a 20-year legal fight – Rii Schroer

Last week, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk confirmed the rule would be scrapped, sparing Mr Malkinson from the charge. However, the Government is not doing so retrospectively, meaning Mr O’Brien is poised to miss out.

Mr O’Brien told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I am seeking legal advice at the moment because the way I see it, you can’t say to one person ‘we’re not going to charge you, but we’re going to charge [someone else]’, you’ve got to treat everybody retrospectively.

“You can’t pick and choose who you can do that to, so I think there is a big argument for change.”

He also said it was “very worrying” that the Court of Appeal rules those in overturned cases as “unsafe and unsatisfactory”, rather than innocent, which requires a cleared defendant to “prove his innocence before he can get compensation”.

“The onus shouldn’t be on the innocent person,” Mr O’Brien added. “I thought the onus was always on the prosecution to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt and if they do not do that, then everybody who has been wrongly charged or wrongly convicted is to be entitled to compensation.”

His campaign has been reignited after Mr Malkinson’s fight for innocence gained national attention last week, as he called the living costs rule “kind of sick” after spending 17 years in prison and said he faces a two-year wait for his refund, even after the Government rethink.

It is understood that the Ministry of Justice has no plans to change the rules retrospectively.

Asked about retrospective refunds for living costs, Sarah Dines, the Home Office minister, said “you’d have to ask the Lord Chancellor that, but I understand that these costs have been deducted in very few cases in any event; that’s not to say that it is not important, of course it is”.

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