Police prosecuted a brain-damaged man for a murder they had already been told he did not commit, the Court of Appeal has been told.

Oliver Campbell, now 53, spent 11 years in prison after a jury convicted him of shooting dead a Hackney shopkeeper in 1990.

He is now seeking to quash his murder conviction and a conviction for conspiracy to rob.

The jury in his trial was never told that his co-defendant had already admitted Mr Campbell was not involved and told the police the name of the man he said was his real accomplice.

A change in the law since means that if Mr Campbell stood trial today, the jury would have to be told that information – but at the time it was banned as ‘hearsay’.

”There is irrefutable proof that he repeatedly told people over ten years that Oliver was not with him on the robbery,” said Mr Campbell’s lead barrister Michael Birnbaum KC.

Lawyers for Mr Campbell say police exploited his mental impairment, extracting false confessions to the shooting, which then became the main evidence used to convict him.

Everybody who knows Mr Campbell, said Mr Birnbaum, knows him to be “naive” and “gentle”.

The Government is contesting the appeal and fighting to uphold the conviction, but has not yet made any arguments in the two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Hackney Gazette: Oliver Campbell was swarmed by press as he arrived at the Royal Courts of JusticeOliver Campbell was swarmed by press as he arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice (Image: Charles Thomson)

Shopkeeper Baldev Hoondle was shot dead on July 22, 1990, when two young black men robbed the G&H Supermarket in Lower Clapton Road.

As they fled, one of them dropped a distinctive “British Knights” baseball cap in the street.

Police spent months looking for vendors who had sold that baseball cap and decided Mr Campbell, who lived in Stratford, was a suspect because he had bought one.

They put him in three ID parades. None of the witnesses picked him out.

All of the witnesses said the shooter was 5ft 10ins tall - whereas Mr Campbell is 6ft 3ins tall - and the shooter was older than Mr Campbell.

These included Mr Hoondle’s son, who Mr Birnbaum said had looked the shooter in the face at a short distance for a significant period of time.

But six weeks later, one of the eyewitnesses changed his mind and said Mr Campbell was the shooter.

Mr Campbell, aged 19 when he was arrested, was severely brain-damaged as a baby. He has “impaired capacity”, said Mr Birnbaum, and an expert later found that “when he is unsure of the answer to questions, he is likely to give unrealistic and unreliable answers.”

Despite this, he was repeatedly interrogated by police without a lawyer.

During the interviews, police kept suggesting forensic evidence tied Mr Campbell to the crime scene, even though none ever has.

Mr Birnbaum said Mr Campbell’s various confessions contradicted one another and were often far-fetched.

“Most of them are contrary to the known facts,” he said.

Mr Birnbaum said it was now “the consensus of experts” that Mr Campbell “decided, under pressure from the police, that confessing to an accidental killing was the least bad option”.

Hackney Gazette: Oliver Campbell greets his lawyers Glyn Maddocks KC and Michael Birnbaum KC outside the Royal Courts of JusticeOliver Campbell greets his lawyers Glyn Maddocks KC and Michael Birnbaum KC outside the Royal Courts of Justice (Image: Charles Thomson)

Eric Samuels – who confessed to being one of the two robbers - told police Mr Campbell was innocent, even giving them the name of the man he said was his real accomplice, who shot Mr Hoondle.

He said he and his accomplice had encountered Mr Campbell in Leicester Square earlier that day and stolen his hat.

None of the hairs contained in the hat found near the supermarket, in Arrows Close, belonged to Mr Campbell.

However, because Samuels did not testify at Mr Campbell’s trial, the jury were banned from hearing about his revelation to police because he could not be cross-examined about it.

Samuels, who later repeated the claim in a covert recording obtained by BBC’s Rough Justice documentary series, has since died.

A leading firearms expert told the BBC in 2002 he could say with 99% certainty that the shooter was right-handed - but Mr Campbell is left-handed, as his brain damage left him with very limited use of his right hand.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) referred Mr Campbell’s case to the Court of Appeal based on new analyses of the extent of his mental impairments and the reliability of his confessions.

Two expert witnesses are expected to testify at the appeal.

”I confess that there is no one feature here that proves innocence,” said Mr Birnbaum. 

He said the appeal relied on “a combination of factors so compelling that, taken together, they prove Oliver cannot be the man who shot Mr Hoondle.”