Mystery intruder recalled as new witnesses in Allan Chappelow murder case give evidence to Court of Appeal
Victim said to have met strangers at 'spanking bench' on Hampstead Heath
25 July, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
Forensic officers at Allan Chappelow’s home in Downshire Hill in 2006
NEW witnesses in the decade-old case of a reclusive pensioner killed at his Hampstead home have told the Court of Appeal how a mystery intruder tried to break into a neighbour’s home months after the murder.
In other evidence, a hearing which will decide whether the man convicted of murdering Allan Chappelow will secure a re-trial was told how the victim was known to have brought back strangers to his house. Wang Yam has always protested his innocence but is serving a 20-year prison term for the killing. Parts of the original trial of the former Chinese dissident and ex-MI5 informant were heard in secret after an order was made by the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who cited national security concerns.
The evidence of the new witnesses who have come forward was not heard by the trial jury. Mr Chappelow, 86, the author of two self-published books on playwright George Bernard Shaw, was found dead at his ramshackle Georgian home in Downshire Hill in 2006.
Yam, a former Beijing physics professor and political dissident, listened to this week’s hearing via a video link to a Nottingham courtroom, near the prison where he is serving his sentence. Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas was joined by Justice May and Justice Sweeney at the one-day hearing. They reserved judgment and said they would issue a verdict “as soon as possible”.
The appeal followed a Criminal Cases Review Commission decision that the case should be looked at again after it emerged that potentially crucial witnesses were never brought before the Old Bailey jury.
A neighbour, Jonathan Bean, described how he heard a noise in his front porch in February 2007. “I thought it was the postman but it went on for some time. I opened the door and saw a glint of a knife,” he said. Mr Bean told of his fear as the intruder told him he would kill his wife and child if he called police. He added: “My neighbour had been killed in similar circumstances so I wanted to find something to defend myself with or find a way to escape. I was in fear for my life and that of my family.”
Later, Mr Bean was interviewed by police and was told there was no link with the death of Mr Chappelow. Another new witness, Peter Hall, said he had met a man he knew as “Allan” over a period of around a decade at “the spanking bench”.
He said: “Last year there was an article in the New Journal asking for information, so I contacted the paper and they put me in touch with solicitors.” He added that Mr Chappelow was a regular visitor to the area on Hampstead Heath frequented by gay men, and would come armed with a leather paddle or a home-made cat o’ nine tails. He believed Mr Chappelow would occasionally take men to his home from the Heath.
“Allan was always dressed in black and wore a black leather, French-style beret,” said Mr Hall. “He stood out because he would spank the bench with a paddle to attract like-minded people.” He added that he thought he lived locally as “on one occasion he asked me if I wanted to go back to his house, but I declined as I did not want any sexual contact. I saw him with other people and I saw them leave the Heath together.”
A third new witness, Michael Dunn, revealed how he had heard of the appeal though the New Journal and contacted Mr Yam’s solicitors. He told the court how he had seen a man acting suspiciously in Mr Chappelow’s garden in the weeks before his death. He said: “I knew the house, knew it was derelict. It stood out.”
Mr Dunn said he noticed the man, described as around 50 and with a northern Irish accent, as he was carrying a plank of wood in an uncomfortable way. “I was concerned why he was going into the place with a plank of wood,” he added. “I asked about [Mr Chappelow’s] welfare and he said the man was hale and hearty.”
Mr Dunn added he had noticed Mr Chappelow kept two motorbikes in his front garden – and his suspicions were raised when the man claimed Mr Chappelow had recently driven one of them to Liverpool. “I was amazed,” said Mr Dunn. “It was obvious the bikes had not been moved for ages. No way were they roadworthy.”
Barrister Peter Wilcock QC said the new witnesses could have had a “real impact” on the jury. He pointed out that there was no forensic evidence linking Yam to the crime scene. “It offers a real possibility that this may have meant Yam would have been found not guilty,” he added. Crown barrister Duncan Atkinson said the witnesses would not have altered the guilty verdict had they been heard at the trial, adding: “The Crown’s submission is about the relevance of this evidence, not it’s accuracy.”