Mahmood Hussein Mattan, a Somali seaman, in Cardiff for murder. The Court of Appeal quashed his conviction posthumously in 1998 after hearing that crucial evidence implicating another Somali was withheld at his trial.
Mahmood Hussein Mattan (1923–1952) was a Somali merchant seaman who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Lily Volpert on 6 March 1952. The murder took place in the Docklands area of Cardiff, Wales and Mattan was mainly convicted on the evidence of a single police informer. Mattan was executed in 1952 and his conviction was quashed 45 years later on 24 February 1998; his case being the first to be overturned by the newly formed Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Mahmood Hussein Mattan was born in British Somaliland in 1923 and his job as a merchant seaman took him to Wales where he found work at a foundry in Tiger Bay. In Cardiff he met Rhondda-born Laura Williams, a worker at a paper factory. The couple married just three months after meeting, but as a multiracial couple they suffered racist abuse from the community; forcing the couple to live in separate houses in the same street. Despite this the couple stayed together and had three children, but in 1952 Mattan lost his job at the steelworks.
On 6 March 1952, Lily Volpert a 42-year-old, described as working in a pawnbrokers, was found murdered in her shop in the Cardiff Docklands area. Her throat had been cut with a razor, and a hundred pounds sterling had been stolen. Within a few hours Mattan was arrested by the Cardiff City Police and nine days later he was charged with Volpert's murder. When the police raided Mattan's home they discovered a broken shaving razor and a pair of shoes with blood specks on them. There was no evidence of any blood-stained clothing or the missing money.
The trial took place at the Glamorgan Assizes in Swansea in July 1952. The main witness for the prosecution was Harold Cover, a Jamaican who came forward with information after the family of Volpert raised a reward fund of £200. Cover, who was also a suspect in the murder, claimed to have seen Mattan leaving Volpert's shop, though it has been noted that his description actually matched another Somali living in the area at the time, Taher Gass. The jury was not told of Cover's background during the trial, or that Cover had been paid for his evidence. Neither were the jury informed that Taher Gass was a leading suspect, or that four witnesses all failed to select Mattan from an identification parade. One 12-year-old girl, who saw a black man near the shop at the time of the murder, stated that Mattan was not the person she witnessed, but the police ignored her statement and did not take the evidence to court. Furthermore the shoes belonging to Mattan with specks of blood were second hand, and no forensic information was brought forward linking the samples.
Mattan was described as having a limited understanding of English, and was not afforded an interpreter. In a trial slanted with racial overtones, Mattan's own defence barrister described his client as "half-child of nature, a semi-civilised savage". On 24 July 1952, Mattan was convicted of the murder of Lily Volpert and the judge passed the mandatory sentence of death.
Mattan's appeal was dismissed in August 1952, and on 3 September 1952, six months after the murder of Volpert, Mattan was executed by hanging at Cardiff Prison. His wife, Laura, had turned up for a visit on the day of his death, unaware that he had already been executed. He was the last person to be hanged at the prison.
In 1954 Taher Gass was convicted of murdering wages clerk Granville Jenkins. Gass was found insane and sent to Broadmoor; after his release he was deported to Somalia. In 1969 Harold Cover was convicted for the attempted murder of his daughter, using a razor.
The Mattan family's first attempt to overturn the conviction was denied in 1968 by then Home Secretary James Callaghan - by this stage, three years had passed since the death penalty's abolition.
It took until 1996 for the first signs that the British Government was considering the case, when the family were given permission to have Mattan's body exumed and moved from a felon's grave at the prison to be buried on consecrated ground in a Cardiff cemetery.
When the Criminal Cases Review Commission was set up in the mid 1990s, Mattan's case was the first to be reviewed. On 24 February 1998 the Court of Appeal came to the judgement that the original case was, in the words of Lord Justice Rose, "demonstrably flawed". The family were awarded £725,000 compensation, to be shared equally among Matan's wife and three children. The compensation was the first award to a family for a person wrongfully hanged for a crime they had not committed.