I just came across this case and was a little sad that I did not recall it. I am a Merseyside boy and as a young child lived in the area of Whiston where this case occurred. Another unsolved murder in the UK, this time it was two eleven year old boys. 40 years on the family still have no answers just the grief and frustration that comes with such a terrible loss.
A Quick Look at the Times to Set the Scene
At the time of this crime: In Poland Solidarity were protesting at the ship yard in Gdansk and a deliberate nightclub fire killed 37 people in London. The famous ‘Dingo Baby’ case occurred in Australia’s Northern Territory.
In the UK, the top selling cars were the led by Ford. You had the Cortina Mk5 and the boxy early Fiesta. Liverpool FC had the like of Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish in the side. On the day of the murders Everton lost while away to Sunderland 1-3. It was the year Kel Coslett became coach at St Helens and that started a two year barren streak for the club.
In politics Thatcher was in charge and Labour was in a bit of disarray. Later that year Michael Foot became leader and things did not improve. Finally, Olivia Newton-John was singing ‘Magic’ as number one top selling single in the UK.
The Brief Circumstances
We are looking here at the evening of Saturday 16th August 1980. John Greenwood and Gary Miller were friends last seen alive and well going through a hole in the fence of a local rubbish dump. They were found severely beaten and hidden under a mattress at about 7.20pm. John died in the early hours of Sunday morning. Gary lasted until Wednesday the 20th. A local man was arrested, charged and tried in 1981. He was acquitted. He had confessed but later denied the murders. The Merseyside Police were criticised for how they had obtained the confession.
Last year an appeal was given in the media for more information. This appeal had some differences from other similar cases. I have written articles on this site about the unsolved murders of Janet Brown and Michael Meenaghan for example. They have been highlighted on various anniversaries. What was different here is that both the police and family want to have the law reviewed. The local man who was tried, John Cheeseman, cannot be easily tried again as a principle. It is called double jeopardy.
This law, which had been part of the British framework for 800 years was repealed in 2005 after many public campaigns. However, it was laid down that if someone, like Cheeseman, was to be tried again the new evidence has to be compelling. The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has refused permission for this. The office has stating that the new evidence presented to them is insufficient. Here is the controversial bit. The guidelines on this also prevent questioning a suspect unless compelling new evidence exists.
The Original Trial
John Cheeseman was 20 years of age at the time. I read an original court report and it was clear there was problems with fibre transfer evidence that should of been there given the clothes all parties were wearing. The confession he had made was done when he should have had a responsible adult present due to his low IQ and it was noted the interview was not conducted properly otherwise.
The idea behind the double jeopardy law was to prevent continued, tyrannical prosecution and so it was not repealed without strict guidelines being put in place.
A Bit More In depth
The boys left John Greenwood’s home that afternoon on Raleigh Avenue, Whiston. It was the long summer school holidays. They would have been one of thousands of pairs kids out and about that day all over the country. Doing what? Well we all know how it goes on those summer days. Thinking about it maybe those under the age of 20 might not. There was no endless TV or internet available for a start.
Back then in the UK the summer holidays were nothing but being out or watching the rain hoping to be out. There was very little scary restriction on you as well. Possibly you could have called them more naïve times. If the weather was good you just called to someone in the house. It would be a loose shout about vague plans and out the door you would go. If it was raining and you thought you might be grounded you might just claim later you had shouted.
The boys walked across the grounds of a nearby pub and behind a social club. The sighting of them going through the fence into the local dump is also a sign of the times. Now refuse collection and sorting is a fine art. It is surrounded by legislation and security. Back then they were just one of many places that were seen as extended adventures to kids.
These days the former mine area is a park called Stadt Moers Park. A man was walking his dog and found the boys. He called emergency services and they were taken to the nearby Whiston Hospital. The witness also saw a young man acting suspiciously.
Sightings and Appeals for Help
The dog walker said the man he had seen was wearing a brown leather jacket and had black hair that was swept back. Since then it has been reported that two attacks had been carried out on other boys in the area in the weeks before the murders.
On the evening in question, a man was seen nearby with two other boys and despite requests none of these have come forward. This last sighting was between 6.45pm and 7.20pm on the wall of a church hall in Dragon Lane. Given the legal efforts to speak to Cheeseman again it is possible these sightings could shed a whole new light on that original trial.
So Who Killed John Greenwood and Gary Miller?
The family and the police are desperate to know, but it appears no progress has been made since last year. Of course the problem with appeals for witnesses that were on a wall in Whiston four decades ago are many.
Not only has memory faded, but also they were two boys who since then have become middle aged men. If still alive they could be in Australia or the USA or somewhere totally oblivious to this appeal. That is cold comfort to the family who with each passing year still carry punishment for a crime they did not commit.
Personally speaking the idea that anyone is immune from at least one more round of carefully put together questions seems a bit ridiculous. Of course I could see why even an innocent man, once tried, might be reluctant to get involved again.
However I feel about double jeopardy laws, I don’t think there should be double interview laws. What do you think?
If you can help regarding this case please contact Merseyside Police in the UK. If you have any issues with that by all means shout me and I will find the right person for you to talk to.
Since originally writing this we have developed a list of missing and unsolved child murder cases between 1960s and 2000.
Cheers for now
Contact details on the banner