IT is 22 years since Raphael Rowe was cleared of a murder he didn't commit, but even today the scars are still visible.
The 54-year-old – one of the so-called M25 Three – says the miscarriage of justice ruined his relationship with his eldest son, who still won’t speak to him and is “traumatised” by his time inside.
Raphael explains: “In prison I kept a diary for him to understand I still loved him and I hoped to be able to present that to him one day, but that had never happened.
“Sadly, that relationship hasn’t been rebuilt. That has traumatised everyone on all sides, not just me but him.”
Raphael was among three men who were wrongly convicted of murdering a gay man, Peter Hurburgh, in 1988 during a series of robberies around London’s orbital road system.
Since being freed on appeal in 2000, the Londoner has worked as an investigative reporter, including on a BBC Panorama documentary which exposed flaws in the Jill Dando case and helped exonerate suspect Barry George.
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Now he has spoken to other men wrongly sent to prison in bungled police investigations for a two-part series titled British Injustice on the Crime+Investigation channel.
They are Michael O’Brien, one of the Cardiff Three whose convictions for the murder of newsagent Phillip Saunders were quashed in 1999, and John Kamara, who spent 19 years in prison for the killing of Liverpool betting shop manager John Suffield in 1981.
'I was beaten by guards, it was brutal'
In 1988, Peter Hurburgh and his partner, Alan Eley, were beaten and robbed by a gang while parked in a field near Fickleshaw, Surrey.
The vile thugs poured petrol around them before someone lit a cigarette. Alan survived, but Peter suffered a fatal heart attack.
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Raphael was convicted as part of the M25 Three along with Michael Davis, and Randolph Johnson, but after years behind bars and a series of appeals, the convictions were overturned.
It was the evidence of unreliable witnesses which put Raphael in peril, with the jury not knowing that the key one received a reward.
Several eye-witnesses said the attackers were one black man and two white men – yet all the accused in the dock were black.
Raphael says: “In my own case the evidence was overwhelmingly that the perpetrators consisted of two white and one black man, blue eyes, fair hair, so how dare they put me and two other black men in the dock for the jury to test it?”
Prison struggles and family heartache
During his 12 years inside, Raphael's toughest test was getting on with prison life knowing he hadn’t committed the crime.
He says: “I was held in segregation, I was beaten by prison guards, I witnessed incidents between prisoners and prisoners and prisoners and guards.”
“In Wormwood Scrubs it was notorious for its brutality.
“Those prison officers who were aligned to the far right, or turning up for work drunk and brutalising prisoners were getting away with it, but fortunately lawyers took legal action which brought that behaviour to an end.”
Raphael was the father to a baby boy when he was jailed and all the time he was in high security prison he dreamed of one day getting to know him.
Sadly, three decades on they remain estranged. He has, though, been able to explain his imprisonment to his youngest son and daughter.
Raphael reveals that he did so by showing them a scrapbook of all the press clippings about his wrongful conviction.
He says: “Apart from the conviction, probably the most challenging thing I had to do in my own life is to use the scrapbook, with headlines, to show my son what had happened.”
'It will be difficult to ever find Dando killer'
A common thread between Raphael, Michael O’Brien and Barry George is that the real murderers are still out there.
On the shooting of 37-year-old Crimewatch presenter Dando on her West London doorstep in 1999, Raphael says: “I don’t think the police have ever tried to pursue it, as high profile as the case is, for the right person to be found.
“So much time between the conviction of Barry George and the crime has lapsed. If they didn’t pursue the right suspect at the time, it’s going to be difficult.”
Raphael made two Panorama documentaries about the Dando case, with one in 2006 leading to a successful appeal against Barry’s conviction and life sentence a year later.
The main evidence against Barry, 62, had been a tiny speck of bullet residue on his clothing.
Raphael believes too much of the other evidence was 'manipulated'.
He explains: “The prosecution said Barry George was obsessed with Jill Dando because he had piles of newspapers.
“It was true he had piles of newspapers in his home, hundreds of them – but that was because he was a hoarder. Only four of them covered the story of Jill Dando.”
In Raphael's moving new documentary, Michael O’Brien meets the sister and nephew of murdered Phillip Saunders for the first time.
He sheds tears of relief and joy as the two relatives tell Michael they are sorry for what he’s been through.
Raphael says: “No one had ever spoken to the family of Phillip Saunders before and humanised him, it was important to show both sides of the story.
“It is is important to show that the victim’s family is also suffering this miscarriage of justice.”
But Raphael opted against meeting any of Peter’s relatives because it might trigger terrible memories.
He reveals: “I was in recent years messaged directly by one of the relatives of Peter Hurburgh, apologising to me for the ordeal I went through.
“They did want to meet me, but I didn’t take up that request because I had moved on. I don’t want to go back there.
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"It was so traumatic for me, I don’t think it is good for my own mental health to go back there.”
British Injustice with Raphael Rowe premieres on Crime+Investigation on Monday May 23.
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