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The case of Wang Yam, a former MI6 informant convicted of the murder in 2006 of Allan Chappelow, a reclusive author and photographer, is being re-examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
The move comes after developments in forensic DNA analysis, which led to the successful appeal of Andrew Malkinson, whose 2004 conviction for rape was overturned in July.
Wang, who is serving a life sentence, says he is hopeful that new DNA evidence from the murder scene could point towards the people he claims are responsible for the killing.
He also hopes that evidence of shoe prints at the scene, which are neither his nor Chappelow’s, can back up his claim that a Chinese gang he had infiltrated with the knowledge of his MI6 handlers was responsible for the killing. It is understood that none of the DNA found at the murder scene is traceable to Wang or anyone on the existing DNA database.
If the new evidence indicates that it belongs to someone else of Chinese origin this could back up Wang’s claims.
Forensic evidence, which the Guardian has seen, about how many different pairs of shoe prints were found at the crime scene concluded that “the safe answer is … there may be five”. A CCRC spokesperson said: “An application has been received related to this case. It would be inappropriate for us to discuss the application or make any further comment at this stage.”
Chappelow, who was 86, was found dead in his crumbling home at Downshire Hill near Hampstead Heath in north London, after police had been alerted by his bank about suspicious transactions. He had been beaten and there was evidence of melted wax on his body.
Use of his stolen credit cards was traced to Wang, who lived nearby. He was later arrested in Switzerland. In a recent letter to the Guardian, he claims that he never knew anyone had been murdered until the Swiss police told him.
At his trial in 2008, the prosecution suggested that Wang could have been confronted by Chappelow when stealing mail and credit cards from his letterbox and could then have entered the house and killed him. At his trial the judge, in an unprecedented move in an English court, ordered that his evidence be heard behind closed doors in the interest of national security. No reporters were permitted to attend.
In his first trial he was convicted of theft and fraud but the jury could not reach a decision on murder. At a second trial he was convicted of murder and jailed for a minimum of 20 years. He is currently in Highpoint prison in Suffolk.
Now 61, Wang, a grandson of one of Mao Zedong’s deputies and a graduate in computer technology, fled China via Hong Kong in 1992. He worked initially as a researcher at Imperial College and ran his own computer company, Quantum Electronics Corporation, from 1997 until it folded in 1999. From prison he contacted the Guardian claiming he was innocent. After the Guardian’s re-examination of the case in 2014, new witnesses came forward.
A close neighbour of Chappelow’s later gave evidence in the court of appeal that, soon after the murder and with Wang already in custody, he heard a rustling noise at his front door and saw “a glimpse of a knife”. An intruder told him: “Do not call the police or we will kill your wife and baby.” He told officers about the incident but the information was never passed on to Wang’s defence team. As a result, the CCRC referred the case to the court of appeal in 2014.
Another witness also emerged who told the appeal court that Chappelow was a regular visitor to the “spanking bench” on Hampstead Heath and on occasions had left the bench with young men. In 2017 Wang’s conviction was upheld by the court of appeal, despite the evidence against him being, in the words of the court “entirely circumstantial”.
Wang has also written to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which is responsible for examining complaints about the activities of the security and intelligence agencies. The tribunal neither confirms nor denies whether it is considering individual cases unless there have been open hearings.
The CCRC faced criticism in the case of Malkinson, who was convicted of raping a stranger in 2003 in Greater Manchester and had always insisted upon his innocence. The court of appeal overturned his conviction in July after forensic testing linked another man to the crime. An inquiry is taking place into the handling of his conviction and appeals.
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