Apart from insisting that the public - and more importantly the courts - accept the gospel of St Ram uncritically and reject all other accounts of what actually happened in the small hours of November 16, 1986 as biased or racist, Satpal Ram’s apologists have made a lot of noise over apparent contradictions in the eyewitness testimony. Up until the 1970s very little research had been done on this difficult subject; since then though the literature - both scientific and legal - has mushroomed.
At the time of writing - March 2001 - the world’s leading authority on eyewitness testimony is Professor Elizabeth Loftus, editor of, among other works, Eyewitness Testimony: Psychological perspectives. (1) The leading case on identification evidence in English law is Regina v Turnbull & Others. (2) Identification was not an issue in Ram’s case however, because nobody, including Ram, denies that he did it. Be that as it may, the question of determining exactly what happened, even without the lies of the Ram circus, is not an easy one.
Although as stated the pre-1970s academic literature is sparse, it is not entirely non-existent. One very fine study was published as long ago as 1908.
Hugo Münsterberg’s classic On The Witness Stand makes many telling points. For example, a victim stabbed with a pointed dagger may feel a dull blow. (3) And “The jurymen and the judge do not discriminate, whether the witness tells us that he saw in late twilight a woman in a red gown or one in a blue gown. They are not expected to know that such a faint light would still allow the blue colour sensation to come in, while the red colour sensation would have disappeared.” (4)
When the current writer spoke to Mrs O’Neill for the first time, one of the first things she insisted was that there had been no fight; Ram had attacked her brother with a knife and torn his neck open. It was as simple as that. This though is not what everybody in the restaurant saw that night, or thought they saw. Ram is a damned liar and has been proved a liar as well as a murderer, but Ram’s apologists insist that the waiters - who were not called to give evidence - would have exculpated their hero by reporting that they had seen a fight.
Again, as Mrs O’Neill pointed out, there was no fight, but there is a simple reason why an honest witness could have believed there was. Mr O’Neill made the point that when Ram lunged at his brother-in-law, he thought the assailant had simply attacked Clarke with his fists. Imagine a waiter standing on the other side of the restaurant, preoccupied with serving food. He hears a noise and looks up - what does he see? Two men swinging punches at one another.
A broader point about how an eyewitness can be mistaken is made in the judgment of Ram’s first appeal.
[Click here for the relevant passage.]
The waiter Abdul Mozomil said not only that he had seen the two men fighting but that although he didn’t see Ram stab Clarke, he thought Ram had used a table knife. He was clearly preoccupied with other things and did not in any case have a clear view. If Mr O’Neill, who was right in the thick of the action, didn’t realise what was going on, it is reasonable for another witness standing further away to likewise be honestly mistaken.
In this as in every case, which witness or witnesses (if any) and which version of events (if any) are to be believed, is a matter for the jury to decide. There was no shortage of witnesses in this case, and there was also very strong forensic evidence. The account given by Ram to the police (but not under oath) was also totally inconsistent with his oft’ trumpeted claim of self-defence. The weight of the evidence indicates that Ram killed Clarke Pearce in circumstances that any reasonable, sober adult would consider to be murder.
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