In a maximum security prison, time moves slowly. Andrew Malkinson thought he would very likely die in prison. As the months turned into years and hope became a distant memory, two things kept him alive. The first: the thought of what it would do to his mother, Trish, if he were to die. The second: a fire that was still flickering somewhere inside him, spurring him on to sit tight and wait for the day he could clear his name. “I thought, I’m going to live and show them the truth someday, one day.”
This week, when a judge spoke the words he had longed for nearly 20 years to hear, he began to shake, the final statement echoing in his ears: “You can walk away a free man.” It had been 7,298 days since Malkinson was plucked from his life and thrown into a hell from which he would not emerge for two decades. Until this week, he still bore the label: rapist. “The worst thing a man could ever be accused of.”
When we meet in his lawyer’s office in Clerkenwell, east London, the relief still hasn’t quite kicked in. It has been 24 hours since his conviction was overturned and Malkinson is, more than anything, worn out. After his victory he came back here for a small celebration with his team (who he first approached to take him on in 2016) then went to his hotel, collapsing into an immediate sleep. “I’ve had it hanging over me for 20 years,” he says. “I was emotionally exhausted. It’s such a long time coming.”
That description barely does justice to the ordeal Malkinson has been through. During those years in prison, the idea of sitting with a journalist, eating a sandwich and being given the chance to tell his full story was a “repetitious fantasy”, he says. “[I thought] if I ever, ever get through this they’re not getting away with it, I’m not going to shut my mouth.
“I’ve always known I’m innocent. The fact they’ve overturned it is vindication, but they’re just confirming the earth isn’t flat to me.”
The first he knew of the crime for which he would be wrongfully jailed was on August 2 2003, when Greater Manchester Police (GMP) handcuffed him in Grimsby. He was 37 and muddling through life, going where the wind took him. Born in Grimsby, he had been living in the Netherlands for 10 years having spent much of his twenties backpacking. In the summer of 2003 he was back in Britain, picking up temporary work in Manchester as a security guard in a shopping centre.
Two weeks before, a young mother had been raped and left for dead on a motorway embankment in Salford. She was strangled until unconscious, suffering a broken neck and fractured cheekbone. There was no DNA linking Malkinson to the attack; he was only known to police because two officers had recently pulled him over for riding on the back of an off-road motorbike. A description of the assailant did not match Malkinson’s appearance. He was taller and had chest hair, while the victim said the attacker had none. Malkinson also lacked the Bolton accent she remembered, and bore no sign of the “deep scratch” she said would be on his face – she’d scratched him so hard she had broken one of her nails.
The police investigation failed Malkinson at every turn. After his arrest, identity parade guidelines were breached when the victim and a witness were taken together to a late night police video line-up. The victim chose Malkinson while the witness picked another man, switching to Malkinson after leaving the room with a police officer. Six months later, the witness’s partner (who said he was driving with her the night of the attack) picked Malkinson too. This week, the judge said that in 2003, the jury were never informed that the couple had racked up 16 convictions and 38 offences between them. Malkinson’s legal team, Appeal, also found evidence the male witness (who claimed to have been able to recognise a man he had seen six months previously, for a moment, through a window) was a long time heroin addict.
GMP also failed to disclose a crucial photograph showing the victim’s clearly broken nail, which would have supported her account. But the court case failed Malkinson too. At the trial, the judge invited the jury to consider the idea the victim could have misremembered the scratch. Another witness, who painted a picture of Malkinson in court as an oddball, revealed in 2021 that police had threatened her and her husband with arrest if they didn’t appear as witnesses. She admitted that in fact, she was doubtful that Malkinson was truly the rapist.
Malkinson was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of seven years. Twenty years on, after serving 17 years, the Court of Appeal was finally provided with new DNA material which, along with revelations of police failings, proved Malkinson’s innocence. The victim’s vest, knickers and bra had been destroyed by GMP after the trial, despite a court order requiring them to be preserved; in March 2021 Malkinson’s legal team had uncovered small fragments of her clothing in an archive. These items held the DNA breakthrough needed to bring the case back before the courts and clear Malkinson’s name.
For three years, Malkinson has occupied a strange kind of purgatory. He was released from HMP Durham in December 2020. But though he was relieved to no longer be behind bars, he was “still imprisoned” – the licence conditions he was released under were “stringent”.
Now 57, it is the sheer number of years Malkinson has lost that he finds hardest to cope with. He has a son (who he is understandably reluctant to talk about) but always wanted more children. “I was 37, I was still a young man. Now I’m 57. And I have been cheated, I have been left behind.
“One can never say what might have happened to you. I might have met the most wonderful woman of my dreams. I could have had more children. At one point I wanted to have a daughter. But that’s never going to happen now, it simply won’t.”
Malkinson has a gentle way of speaking and a ready smile. He wears a t-shirt with the word “innocent” emblazoned across it, camouflage shorts and sandals. He runs his left hand over his cropped hair continuously as he talks, and fidgets with his glasses. He is most at ease when his lawyer’s dog, Basil, a black spaniel, is close by angling for attention which he gives, gladly. “He’s a real sweetie, aren’t you? He follows me everywhere.”
It seems terribly sad that he can’t see himself in a relationship again. He smiles kindly. “I’m used to it.”
For the 17 years he spent behind bars, getting through each day was a battle. “If you’re innocent, it’s a vile thing to be subjected to for so long. It’s an immensity of time. Most of those 20 years were inside, and inside time has no relation to outside time. It’s a joyless existence.”
In prison, he felt his “horizons narrow”. “In maximum security, I looked forward to bang-up, because it meant I could just close the door and go to sleep immediately.”
Sleep rarely came quickly. Instead, he’d read. He ordered books about the justice system for the prison library, becoming an expert in ID parades and their flaws. When he couldn’t focus on a book, he’d switch on the television and watch something “inane”. “I’d source things that made me laugh, because I know that you get an endorphin kick out of laughter. Family Guy, 8 Out of 10 Cats. It might sound infantile but they cheered me up. A bit of irreverent humour – it just made you feel cheerful and connected.”
In his darkest moments, Stephen Hawking’s writing became a source of comfort. “He said we should be no more afraid of being dead than [we are of] the 13.8 billion years since the big bang, since a time existed when you didn’t exist.”
Hawking wrote of how short and precious life is, which “brought home” how much of Malkinson’s own life had been stolen from him. “Hawking said I’m not afraid to die because it’s no experience whatsoever. You just cease to be. And I thought: yes, it’s a release.”
There were moments when the prisoner “fantasised” about dying, confessing: “I didn’t want to experience any more pain. I wanted to not exist.” He clung on however because “I wanted to prove my innocence”.
For the first seven years, a carrot was dangled over Malkinson, a get out of jail card handed to sex offenders willing to admit to their crimes. If you submit to “addressing your offending behaviour” by attending group therapy sessions, you stand a chance of getting out early. The thought was abhorrent to Malkinson, who knew a false confession would “stick in my throat”. “I haven’t done anything, so I would have to go with the prosecution narrative and have my story picked apart by genuine paedophiles and rapists.
“They’ve done terrible things. You’d have to listen to each of their horror stories. What kind of choice is that? I couldn’t pretend that I’d done something like that.”
Though he “desperately wanted to be released”, he wouldn’t admit to something he didn’t do. He endured a further 10 years behind bars, almost three times the specified sentence.
In the very early days, his mother and other friends and family would visit. Eventually, he asked them not to come. “It’s too traumatic, and it’s another display of power that the screws have over you. They’re enjoying it, they’re rubbing down your loved ones, treating them like criminals. I didn’t want to subject my family to that.
“It breaks prisoners’ hearts because you have to keep saying goodbye. Each time they visit they’re tearing you apart.”
He is scathing about the prison staff who “gleefully” made his life “a living hell”. “It’s incredibly hard to describe in ordinary language the ever present sense of oppression,” he says. “The sense that you are a pariah.”
Malkinson was in a section for “vulnerable prisoners”. “That sounds like you get extra care. It’s the opposite. You’re the lowest of the low. You’re separated from the main population because you’re hated so much.”
At mealtimes, one orderly used to stare him down every day. “He’d try his level best to intimidate you,” he says.
“It’s psychological attrition. They wear you down. They want you to have the worst possible experience.”
Malkinson describes himself as a pacifist. You don’t have to spend much time in his company to see that for all his tattoos, he doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body. He felt “constantly” in danger in prison. “You have to walk a fine line between maintaining your dignity and not appearing too wimpish,” he says.
“Showing fear is a big no no because you would be bullied forever. So you have to look them square in the face. Often I wouldn’t say anything, I’d just look at them.”
“Precious” letters from loved ones helped him cope. “It gives you a window into normality.” Knowing they believed him mattered hugely. His former partner and great friend Karin, who lives in the Netherlands, stood by him. “She knows me. If you’ve been with somebody for some years, you know each other intimately and you know very well someone is not capable of doing something like that.”
Weekly lessons with a Buddhist minister also provided comfort. “He was very kind, very calm and compassionate. It was always a joy to spend a brief hour with him once a week and meditate together.”
He kept himself busy studying for an Open University degree in mathematics. “I’m a nerd,” he smiles. “I love mathematics.”
Living on the outside has been a case of slow, careful acclimatisation. Malkinson has, quite understandably, had to learn to trust people again. “People seem very nice. You have to adjust yourself from being totally mistrustful of people’s motives to slowly thinking, ah, this guy’s alright, I think. It takes a lot of effort to do that.”
He has become practised, too, at presenting himself in as truthful-yet-unthreatening a way as possible.
He is determined to be open with people, but it isn’t easy. “You become very aware of how you’re coming across. You’re hoping that it’s not visible that you’ve been so long in prison. Almost like it’s tattooed on your forehead or something, and you’re not sure…” he trails off. “You’re not sure about anything, really.”
He lives on benefits in a seaside town, taking low paid jobs when he can get them. Finding work is often impossible – applying for a job is an exercise in bracing for judgment. He was thrilled to get an interview with the Post Office. “I thought that would be a great job, delivering mail.” He’d declared his convictions, but somehow they had gone overlooked. When they realised, they called the interview off. “They wouldn’t let me because it was too much contact with the public. They saw me as a danger to women.”
When he left prison, he began a masters in data science which he found “so fascinating”, particularly as it had been difficult to keep up with “the advances in computer technology” in the years he’d been away. “After the news of the DNA I had to defer because it was too much emotional overload.”
Among all the many injustices in Malkinson’s case, the one that is the hardest to bear is the idea that GMP “systematically and wantonly destroyed evidence”. “It wasn’t peripheral evidence, it was singularly important. The victim’s clothing and her underwear. Things even an imbecile knows will be useful for scientific testing.
“I was apoplectic when I heard they’d done that. I thought, that’s kind of evil.”
At the time of his trial, Malkinson knew he was “being set up but I didn’t know how”. His solicitor, Emily Bolton, who runs legal charity Appeal, has said previously the police “got tunnel vision” and should admit “their original investigation got it wrong”.
On Wednesday, in a statement outside court, her message to parliamentarians was clear: “Reform these institutions. Make them transparent and accountable. Force them to apologise and learn the lessons from Andy’s case.
“Otherwise, we will see more wrongful convictions, more trauma, more justice denied.”
Malkinson can still recall those days after his arrest, which felt like “a kidnapping”, when police “wouldn’t listen to anything I said”. Even then, he trusted justice would be done – how could he go down for something he didn’t do? “I’ve always been trusting. I trusted in humanity.”
How long did that trust last? “Until they found me guilty. Then the world fell from under me.”
DNA retrieved from the uncovered clothing has been matched to a man on the national database. On Tuesday, GMP said a 48-year-old man, who can be identified only as “Mr B”, had been arrested in Exeter in June and released under investigation. He lived near the scene of the attack.
Bolton hopes this is “a watershed moment” for cases like Malkinson’s. The system in this country, she says, is “structured to impede appeals”. “The route to exoneration in the US is more direct and better resourced. I would rather be wrongfully convicted in Louisiana than London.”
Malkinson’s ordeal is, in many ways, over. He is relieved for his mother that she can now have some peace. “She was crying a lot yesterday, with joy, I suppose. She’s over the moon that it’s finally being put to rest.”
There is still the matter of a civil case. He recently learned he could be forced to sacrifice a chunk of any compensation he may receive (which could take many years to reach him), to account for costs he would have incurred on the outside had he not been imprisoned. “The idea of having to pay my torturers, when I heard about it, it just enraged me beyond… I almost couldn’t cope with it, the idea. I thought that’s so sick.
“Proven innocents have to pay for their torture? What the hell? Are you serious?”
For now though, all talk of future legal battles can wait. Tomorrow [Saturday, July 29], Malkinson will travel to the Netherlands, where Karin is waiting to welcome him home. “She is really excited. Her father, who is in his eighties, started crying when he heard I was coming back. I was really touched by that.”
He is desperate to leave the country for a while “to try and heal myself, away”.
“Holland is an old familiar place that I have good memories of. It’s home to me.”
After everything he has been through, after the many years in a prison cell and the long battle to clear his name, who could deny him a chance to find his way home.
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