The conviction of Ronald Castree marks the final chapter

13 November 2007
Manchester Evening News
Nicola Dowling

THE conviction of Ronald Castree marks the final chapter in one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British criminal history. A series of blunders by detectives investigating the murder of Lesley Molseed resulted in an innocent man - Stefan Kiszko - spending 16 years in prison for the crime while the real killer remained free. Last night, West Yorkshire Police made a public apology for their handling of the case. Det Chief Supt Max McLean said: "We are very, very sorry for what happened. It was a dreadful miscarriage of justice.  "I am so pleased today we have put things right. We have got the real killer." 

Tax clerk Stefan, then 23, was jailed for killing Lesley in July, 1976 - even though police had evidence that proved his innocence.  The real killer, Castree, sexually assaulted another schoolgirl in the same month, but detectives still failed to link him to Lesley's murder for the next 30 years. 

Detectives were convinced that Stefan, a social misfit with learning difficulties who lived with his mother, had been turned into a sex killer after he received testosterone injections to tackle his sexual immaturity. He signed a 'confession' after two days of questioning without a lawyer and was put on trial even though he later retracted his statement.  Before the case came to court, police scientists discovered the evidence which would eventually prove his innocence.  Stefan had a zero sperm count while a sample found at the murder scene showed that the real killer was not infertile. 

In an error that has not been fully explained, this crucial piece of evidence was not handed over to prosecution or defence lawyers and was not presented to the jury at his trial.

Days before Stefan was jailed for life, Castree abducted and sexually assaulted a nine-year-old girl in a crime with chilling echoes to the attack on Lesley. His victim in this second case was able to break free and run away.Castree admitted the crime in court and was allowed to walk free with a fine. But, despite several striking similarities in the two attacks, police didn't regard him as a suspect in the Lesley Molseed case.

It was not until 1990, after years of campaigning by Stefan's mother Charlotte and lawyer Campbell Malone, that a police inquiry was ordered which uncovered the suppressed evidence which proved his innocence. In 1992, at the age of 40, Stefan's conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal. But 20 months later he died of a heart attack at his home. Five months later his exhausted mother also died. 

Former Det Supt Dick Holland and retired forensic scientist Ronald Outteridge were charged in 1994 with perverting the course of justice by allegedly suppressing evidence in the Lesley Molseed case, but the case was dropped.  

As the Lesley Molseed inquiry was re-opened, police went down another false trail, focusing on car thief and sex offender Raymond Hewlett.  He was known to have carried out a string of sex attacks against girls and had disappeared to Ireland with his 15-year-old lover the day after Lesley's body was found.  The Director of Public Prosecutions decided there was not enough evidence to charge Hewlett, but detectives remained privately confident he was the killer.  

When a 21st century advance in DNA profiling provided police with a genetic fingerprint of Lesley's killer, they believed that they would finally be able to pin the crime on Hewlett.  But his DNA profile did not match and neither did any others on the national police database.  

The trail had gone cold again and a public appeal for information on BBC's Crimewatch failed to supply any leads.  When the breakthrough finally came it was simply a matter of luck. Castree was arrested in 2005 on an unrelated matter and his DNA was logged onto the police computer, proving a perfect match to the sample at the Lesley Molseed murder scene.

But, even then, the police investigation was hit by yet another blunder as Castree's name had been incorrectly entered into a computer.  It took several months for officers to track him down.  They eventually discovered him in the same area of Oldham where he had been living for the past 30 years, just a few miles from the stretch of moorland where he had dumped Lesley Molseed's body in 1975.

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