Date Of Execution: 28 Mar 1950
Execution Place: Liverpool
Executioner: Albert Pierrepoint
George Kelly at Liverpool for murder, but had his conviction quashed posthumously by the Court of Appeal in June 2003.
George Kelly was executed and Charles Connolly spent ten years in prison because prosecutors concealed evidence they were not involved in an attempted robbery during which two men were murdered
On June 10, 2003, England’s Court of Criminal Appeal quashed the 1950 conviction of George Kelly for the March 19, 1949 murder of Liverpool’s Cameo Cinema manager during a botched robbery. Mr. Kelly was hanged on March 28, 1950. On the same day the Court also quashed the conviction of Kelly’s alleged accomplice, Charles Connolly. Mr. Connolly had been convicted of robbery and conspiracy to rob the cinema. Released in 1960 after ten years in prison, he died in 1997.
The crime became the focus of one of the most intense police investigations in English history and over 65,000 people were questioned. However there were no suspects until the police received a letter by an anonymous writer who offered to name those involved in exchange for immunity. The police accepted the deal by placing an ad in a local paper, the Liverpool Echo. The informant was James Northam who claimed to have planned the robbery. He fingered 27 year-old laborer George Kelly as the robber, and Charles Connolly, 26, as the lookout.
During the botched robbery, during which no money was taken, the cinema manager and another theater worker were killed. However, under British law each murder had to be tried separately, so the two men were charged with the manager’s murder. No physical evidence tied the men to the crime and the case against them, based on shaky testimony, was so insubstantial that their 13 day trial ended in a hung jury.
The men were then retried separately: Connolly first. With the eyes of the nation focused on him, he caved under the pressure and minimized his punishment by admitting at his trial to participating in the robbery as the lookout. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. However, Kelly steadfastly proclaimed his innocence. After what was then the longest criminal trial in English history he was convicted of murder on February 8, 1950. He was sentenced to death.
The quashing of the convictions on June 10th was based on the prosecution’s concealment of a statement that a Donald Johnson had confessed to the crime months before Kelly and Connolly were tried. During the hearing, the government’s attorney acknowledged that witness statements that could have destroyed the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses, including that of a senior police officer, were concealed by prosecutors from Mr. Kelly and Mr. Connolly. Admitting that the men’s trial had been unfair and the evidence against them was tainted, the government did not oppose the quashing of Kelly’s conviction.  However it did oppose quashing Connolly’s conviction. Although the same exonerating evidence was concealed from both men, prosecutors could not acknowledge Connolly’s false confession without publicly undermining its methods for obtaining convictions – which are the same today as in 1950.
In announcing the decision to quash both convictions, Lord Justice Rix said, “we regard the circumstances of Kelly and Connolly’s trials as a miscarriage of justice which must be deeply regretted.” The Court did not act hastily. Over 28 months passed from the time the Court’s review of the case began on February 9, 2001, to its decision.
The break in the case came in 1991 when a person interested in Kelly’s case requested to see the Merseyside police files. The exculpatory information concealed from Kelly and Connolly were in those files. The government admitted the authenticity of the documents and offered no rebuttal to the information concealed from the men. Proving once again that the wheels of “justice” turn slowly, it took 12 years for the two men to be officially cleared by the courts.
During and after the hearing the government’s attorney tried to deflect attention away from formulating a conspiracy theory related to the concealed information. However, an unknown number of police personnel and prosecutors knew Kelly and Connolly were innocent. All of those people participated in a conspiracy of silence as the men were wrongly convicted, sentenced, and Charles Connolly spent a decade in prison and George Kelly went to the gallows.
Released from prison in 1960, Charles Connolly lived for 37 more years protesting his innocence, and that he had been pressured into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit. He also lived everyday with the knowledge that for refusing to do what he had done, an innocent George Kelly walked to the gallows in March 1950 and was hung by the neck until dead.
Buried at the Walton jail where he was executed, Mr. Kelly’s daughter, Catherine, will now be able to bury him with other family members. She is represented by Mr. Makin, a lawyer who has peripherally been involved in the George Kelly saga for over 50 years. When the case was accepted by the Court of Appeals he said, “I was a very young solicitor, making a living by the sweat of my tongue, Frank and Joe [George’s brothers] came to see me not long before Kelly was to be hanged to complain about how George had been represented and about he injustice being done to their brother. I could do nothing about it, and their faces haunt me to this day.” He described Kelly’s trial as a “farce” and the case against him as a “fit-up” – but without the information concealed by the prosecutors and police neither he nor anyone else could do anything to stop Kelly’s execution.
Eddie Connolly said after the quashing of his brother Charles’ conviction, “A lot of doubters at the time will have been proven wrong today. We’ve known all along that they were innocent.”
George Kelly’s family wouldn’t let the case die, and the appeal of his conviction was driven by their desire to clear his name. Thanks to them the British judicial system finally admitted it erred by convicting him of a murder he didn’t commit – even if it was 53 years too late to save his life.