A well-organised campaign by the supporters of a vicious killer is trying not only to win his freedom by whitewashing his crime but is engaged in a long-running hate campaign against the victim and his family. Satpal Ram was convicted of the brutal knife murder of 22 year old Post Office worker Clarke Pearce at Birmingham Crown Court in June 1987, after an argument about music in an Indian restaurant. The Court of Appeal has twice rejected submissions that Ram’s conviction was flawed, stating both that he received a fair trial and that Ram’s defence counsel was not incompetent, contrary to his claims.
Ram and his apologists have lost the fight in the court of law, so like Sara Thornton (one of his most vociferous supporters), they are fighting on in the court of public opinion which has no rules of procedure and evidence, and where the most outrageous lies and distortions are taken at face value by a compliant and spineless media. Ram you see is Asian, five foot nine and weighs in at nine stone. Clarke Pearce was white, six feet two, and thirteen and a half stone. But this David and Goliath encounter did not happen quite as the Ram campaign would have the public believe.
The story according to Ram’s supporters varies depending on whom they are trying to dupe, but the version put out in an undated leaflet (apparently published in late 1999 or early 2000) goes like this.
Satpal Ram was the victim of a “brutal racist attack” but due to police racism he himself was charged. After a farcical trial, he was convicted of a murder he did not commit. Six drunken white people came into the restaurant where he and his friends were dining, and over the course of the evening racially abused the staff. After the gallant Ram protested, Clarke Pearce slashed his face with a broken glass and backed him into a corner. In fear of his life, Ram drew “a small knife” that he used in his work, and after the drunken brute lunged at Ram, he was stabbed in the ensuing scuffle.
Ram left Pearce “still shouting racist abuse” and went to have his injuries treated while Pearce himself went to hospital but was very abusive to the medical staff, refused to be treated by a woman doctor, pulled out his drips, went home and died.
Ram’s barrister was incompetent and changed his defence from self-defence to provocation (without his client’s consent). Important witnesses were either not called or were not heard properly because the court failed to provide interpreters. Satpal Ram is innocent, framed by a corrupt, racist system.
The truth though is very different. Ram was armed with a knife; Clarke Pearce wasn’t. In Britain it is an offence to carry a knife or any offensive weapon without a lawful excuse, but there is no lawful excuse for carrying a flick knife, the weapon Ram used in a frenzied attack on his victim. Ram’s supporters continue to claim that the knife used was a pen knife, but the weapon was never recovered, and the dead man’s sister, Mrs Nadine O’Neill, gave compelling evidence that her brother was stabbed with a flick knife: he opened it with one hand, she said.
After stabbing Pearce, Ram went into the toilet and calmly cleaned himself up, then as he left the restaurant he asked if Clarke was dead. It is true that Ram sought medical treatment himself after the incident; he attended a different hospital, but according to a contemporary press report “he was so drunk and abusive that doctors could not attend to his injury”.
Clarke Pearce did not go home after refusing treatment. This claim was repeated in a briefing issued by the National Assembly Against Racism which called to make Ram “an honorary President of your Students Union”.
A subsequent briefing by the Ram campaign gives a slightly less inaccurate version of his death. Quoting Dr Jeanne McGivern, who treated him, he was “shouting at the top of his voice and had to be held down by a porter, some ambulance men and some nurses. He was extremely uncooperative.”
He was pronounced dead at 4.23am, less than two hours after the attack. Mrs O’Neill saw her brother’s neck gashed open and said that Clarke, who was obviously in shock, probably thought he was still in the restaurant and being attacked. She was disgusted that Ram’s supporters tried to plead this “refusal of medical treatment” as the reason her brother died. So was the Court of Appeal.
What of the claim that Ram’s barrister was incompetent? Douglas Draycott advised Ram not to give evidence, and the jury took a mere half an hour to convict him. An accused’s failure to give evidence is a double edged tactic. On the one hand a jury will inevitably draw an adverse inference from such failure, whatever warnings the judge may give to the contrary. On the other hand, an accused who holds his tongue cannot be cross-examined. Ram gave himself up a week after the killing accompanied by his solicitor, and the transcript of his interrogation by the police was put before the court. If he had given evidence he would have had to explain what happened to the knife, why he was carrying an illegal weapon, and other things, like the attempt he made to procure a passport (Ram was born in Britain) from an Asian taxi driver. In short, he would have been the star witness for the prosecution. Draycott clearly realised that he was defending a hopeless case and advised Ram to take the course which would give the prosecution the least ammunition to shoot his client down.
Far from being incompetent, Douglas Draycott was a top flight QC; called to the Bar in 1950, he took silk in 1965 and was Leader of the Midland and Oxford Circuit (an elected post) from 1979 to 1983. He was also a Recorder. Ram’s junior counsel, Stephen Linehan, took silk in 1993.
In its 1995 judgment, the Court of Appeal stated that “It was clear that counsel made a much deeper appraisal of the implications of the evidence likely to be given and concluded that self-defence could not be argued...The evidence of the weapon used by the appellant and the stab wounds in the back were quite inconsistent with self-defence as was the evidence of his aggressive behaviour and words.”
Ram’s supporters claim that Douglas Draycott - who died in December 1997 - admitted later that he had made a mistake. His chambers tell a different story. A spokesman said that in 1995, Draycott demanded, and received, a retraction from Radio 5 over claims that he had misread the pathologist’s report.
He also described Draycott as a gentleman, very kind-hearted and a first class advocate who thoroughly prepared his work. Draycott was a wonderful character and a bright personality.
On November 28, the Criminal Cases Review Commission was due to report on Ram’s case; the decision whether or not to refer it back to the Court of Appeal has now been deferred until the New Year. In the meantime the Ram campaign’s propaganda machine rolls on. There has been a picket of Downing Street, and the group Asian Dub Foundation continue to peddle their cult hit Free Satpal Ram, which was described by the prestigious New York Times as “one of the band’s most powerful English singles”.
Free Satpal Ram!
Free Satpal Ram!
Another innocent man
Just another innocent man
Nadine O’Neill describes the song as garbage. She and her family have had to endure anonymous phone calls, veiled and not so veiled threats, and a torrent of abuse directed at the family’s supposed racism. In fact, the night her brother was murdered he had been playing snooker with an Asian friend, and it was not him but Ram who stood up and shouted: “Don’t you like Paki music?” She is also scornful of the media who after seeking her and her family’s version of events the night her brother died invariably shut up like clams and claim they can’t report them for “legal reasons”.
Ram’s campaigners have claimed persistently that their hero has been systematically abused both physically and psychologically over the past 13 and more years, but representations to Prisons Minister Paul Boateng have fallen on deaf ears. It is true that Ram has been transferred more than sixty times during his sentence, but this is a standard procedure for disruptive inmates, and Ram has only himself to blame.
In 1989, Sara Thornton murdered her husband as he lay on the settee in a drunken stupor. After intense lobbying by “women’s groups” her murder conviction was quashed and in 1996, after a retrial, she was sentenced to five years for manslaughter, and walked free time served. Thornton’s supporters successfully portrayed her late husband as a drunken brute, in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary. This time it is not “women’s groups” but the “anti-racist” lobby who are slandering the dead.
Over the past ten years and more, Satpal Ram and his apologists have spread all manner of vile and hurtful stories about Clarke Pearce and his family. Hopefully, if Ram does succeed in dragging his case before the Court of Appeal a third time, the Law Lords will again ignore “public opinion” and judge the case squarely on the facts.
Nadine O’Neill is resigned to the fact that her brother’s killer will one day walk the streets again, but she is determined that it will not be for a good few years yet, and that when he is eventually released he will bear the mark of Cain for the rest of his life.
[An edited version of this article was first published in Identity, January 2001].
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