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I stared deep into the convicted murder’s eyes and asked him: ‘Did you do it?’ STEPHEN WRIGHT interviews the man who’s spent 36 years in prison with monsters such as Charles Bronson and Jeremy Bamber despite claiming he’s innocent. So do YOU believe him?

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The highly charged moment came just ten minutes before the end of our two-hour encounter.

Eyeball to eyeball, I confronted the convicted murderer across the table from me in the drab interview room at HMP Leyhill in Gloucestershire.

‘I need to ask you this question, Clive, and I need to look you in the eye as I do it: Did you kill Alexander Hardie?’

Clive Freeman, a fragile 80-year-old with a distinctive grey beard, stared back at me intently.

‘I’ve never murdered anybody in my life. Unfortunately, I have probably killed people while in the Army… But my conscience is clear. We were forced to do things in the Army to survive, but I have never murdered anyone.’

Clive Freeman, a fragile 80-year-old with a distinctive grey beard, stared back at me intently

Clive Freeman, a fragile 80-year-old with a distinctive grey beard, stared back at me intently

'We were forced to do things in the Army to survive, but I have never murdered anyone.’ Clive Freeman, at the age of 20

‘We were forced to do things in the Army to survive, but I have never murdered anyone.’ Clive Freeman, at the age of 20

And what about ‘Burking’, the brutal method of suffocation that jurors at his 1989 trial at the Old Bailey were told he’d learned as a soldier and had used to kill Mr Hardie?

‘Is it a technique you knew,’ I asked.

He shook his head: ‘I’d never heard of “Burking” in my life.’

He dismissed it as a ‘fairy story’ by the prosecution.

Do I believe him? I don’t know. But I do know that Freeman, one of Britain’s longest-serving prisoners, who has spent close to 36 years inside (including on remand) for murder and arson, could have walked free more than 20 years ago when he became eligible for parole – just as more infamous killers such as Kenneth Noye and Tracie Andrews have done.

However, that would have required him to admit his guilt – and he refuses to do so.

‘I said to my wife: “I promise you, I will not leave prison until I’m completely exonerated. I may leave in a box, but I will not leave until I am exonerated,”’ he tells me.

And if Clive Freeman succeeds in overturning his conviction, it will be one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British legal history – a man incarcerated for almost 40 years for a murder that never was.

As reported by the Mail earlier this month, Freeman’s case is now being investigated by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) – which has the power to refer suspected miscarriages of justice to the Court of Appeal – for the fifth time because of doubts about his conviction.

He is supported by eight forensic experts who have debunked the ‘Burking’ theory – employed in 1828 by Edinburgh’s infamous body snatchers Burke and Hare, who killed at least 16 people by suffocating them while kneeling on their chests.

The experts say Mr Hardie’s cause of death is, at best, ‘unascertained’. Some have suggested the 49-year-old, an alcoholic in poor health, died of natural causes.

In his corner, Freeman also has human rights lawyers, distinguished clergymen including Sir Terry Waite and respected ex-police superintendent Tony Thompson. It was Thompson, whom I’ve known for 25 years, who first alerted me to the case.

The Mail has spent months investigating Freeman’s claims of innocence, during which it has emerged that a key Crown witness retracted his statement to police about seeing Freeman leave the scene of the crime.

There are also troubling questions about the alleged non-disclosure of key prosecution documents to defence lawyers before his trial.

In the course of his imprisonment, he has rubbed shoulders with Britain’s most violent inmate, Charles Bronson, pictured

In the course of his imprisonment, he has rubbed shoulders with Britain’s most violent inmate, Charles Bronson, pictured

Last week, after the Mail first highlighted Freeman’s marathon quest to clear his name, two former senior judges added their voices to criticism of the CCRC for its handling of the case.

There are, however, important questions to be answered about damning circumstantial evidence which seem to point to Freeman’s guilt.

Why did he change his name by deed poll and take out a new life insurance policy just weeks before the alleged murder? And why did he fly to the US the day after?

It took two months to gain ministerial approval, but on a cold January afternoon I arrived at HMP Leyhill to ask Freeman myself.

When Clive Freeman began his sentence on May 2CHK 1989, Margaret Thatcher was still prime minister and the Berlin Wall had yet to fall.

‘It’s about 13,170 days,’ he tells me, his Zimbabwean accent still strong, when we meet at the Category D minimal security prison. ‘Or 315,600 hours, roughly,’ he adds. ‘I used to have it in my brain at one time, but leap years and that have confused me.’

In the course of his imprisonment, he has rubbed shoulders with Britain’s most violent inmate, Charles Bronson, Brian ‘The Colonel’ Robinson from the Brinks-Mat gold bullion robbery, and the ‘odious’ Jeremy Bamber, who shot his sister, parents and twin nephews. Bamber’s cell was a few doors down from Freeman at Wormwood Scrubs in the 1990s and, he tells me, Bamber would boast about all the attractive women writing to him.

He also met some of the most high-profile victims of miscarriages of justice – the Birmingham Six and the Bridgewater Four. Their cases – and that of Andy Malkinson who spent 17 years in jail for a rape he did not commit before the Court of Appeal declared him innocent last July – are what inspire Freeman. He says he knows of inmates who’ve falsely admitted crimes to get out of jail, but he has never contemplated it.

‘My word is my word and that’s it,’ he says firmly.

So what brought him to this point, to life in a small cell with a single bed, shower room and WC – and a wall covered with photographs of family, past and present (he dreams of meeting his five grandchildren for the first time)?

Clive Freeman was born in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe) in 1943 into a wealthy family.

His mother was the daughter of Lord Rawlinson, an aide to Lord Kitchener during the Second Boer War, while his British father fought in North Africa in the Second World War.

The family made their fortune in tobacco, but their gilded world fell apart following Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

Freeman, by then a farmer employing 600 people, was a well-known polo player and racehorse trainer. However, his work in the Grey’s Scouts, tracking down militants fighting for black majority rule in the Rhodesian Bush War from 1964 to 1979, put him on an unofficial death list after independence.

The twice-married father of three fled first to South Africa and then to London in 1987 and ended up working as a security guard.

He lived in a flat (normally occupied by a childhood friend) in the run down former dockland area of Rotherhithe, south-east London.

Hard up and separated from his family, he became depressed, drank heavily, and talked of suicide.

Then came that chance meeting with Hardie, a Scottish plumber, in a pub in April 1988 and a sequence of events that led to the Old Bailey.

The Crown’s case was that Freeman lured Mr Hardie, a sometime vagrant, to his flat, suffocated him, and then set fire to the property anticipating Hardie’s body would be mistaken for his own.

Jeremy Bamber shot his sister, parents and twin nephews. Bamber’s cell was a few doors down from Freeman at Wormwood Scrubs in the 1990s

Jeremy Bamber shot his sister, parents and twin nephews. Bamber’s cell was a few doors down from Freeman at Wormwood Scrubs in the 1990s

Brian ‘The Colonel’ Robinson from the Brinks-Mat gold bullion robbery was also in prison at the same time as Clive Freeman

Brian ‘The Colonel’ Robinson from the Brinks-Mat gold bullion robbery was also in prison at the same time as Clive Freeman

The motive was allegedly financial, according to the Prosecution: Freeman needed Mr Hardie’s body to fake his own death and claim on a £300,000 life insurance policy (£800,000 today).

However, Hardie’s body was only partially destroyed and he was later identified by his fingerprints.

Dr Richard Shepherd, the up and coming young pathologist for the prosecution, initially suspected Hardie had died of alcohol and acute pancreatitis. But during the third of four examinations of the corpse, he identified bruising and concluded Hardie had been suffocated. He later posited the Burking theory.

Freeman, known to have been living at the flat, was the prime suspect.

Having flown to New York the day after the murder – he says he was oblivious to Hardie’s death – Freeman went on to Australia where he was traced by Met detectives. He was visiting a friend on a long-planned trip as flight records and visa documentation appeared to confirm.

He tells me he returned to the UK voluntarily, believing he had nothing to fear.

‘I was brought up to believe in British justice,’ he says. ‘Even after I’d been wrongly convicted, I always expected to win my appeal.’

He says his Australian lawyer had urged him not to return to the UK voluntarily but to ‘make [Scotland Yard] extradite you and you will see what evidence they have against you’.

‘I said: “I’ve done nothing wrong… there’s no evidence. I’ve got a cast iron alibi. You cannot be in two places at once.”’

He regrets not heeding that advice.

I challenge him about aspects of his case that cause some to doubt his claims of innocence – not least that life insurance policy and why he changed his name.

‘I said to my wife Ora [back in South Africa], when I go to England, I would get the insurance fixed up because Zimbabwe money meant nothing.’ he says. ‘I renewed my insurance policy to be payable outside of Africa.’

But that was just a few weeks before Hardie died, a fact which – not surprisingly – raised the suspicions of police.

Indeed, after learning – via a phone call when he arrived in New York that a man had died in a fire at the flat he’d been staying in and that police were initially unsure who was dead, Freeman suggested – drunkenly, he claims – to a family member that they should claim on his life insurance policy.

He describes it as a ‘big mistake’, but says there was ‘never, never any attempt by anyone to claim’ on the policy.

Freeman’s supporters point out that he wasn’t charged in connection with insurance fraud. They say the suggestion was the rambling of a frequently drunken man suffering from PTSD (as assessed in 2021) due to his bush war experiences.

Eyeball to eyeball, I confronted the convicted murderer across the table from me in the drab interview room at HMP Leyhill in Gloucestershire. Clive Freeman's letters to Stephen Wright from prison

Eyeball to eyeball, I confronted the convicted murderer across the table from me in the drab interview room at HMP Leyhill in Gloucestershire. Clive Freeman’s letters to Stephen Wright from prison  

‘I was in a very, very bad state,’ Freeman explains. ‘I’d gone through war in Rhodesia. And the worst thing that happened to me in my life up to then was I had to flee the country … and try and start a new life in South Africa. [Ora] hated being away from her family. I could see South Africa also going down the tubes.

‘I was going to go to America and Australia to look for better places. I had contacts there. So I said to Ora, I promise I’ll get the insurance policy changed when I get to Britain and get my passport updated.’

He changed his name to Ray Rawlinson [his mother’s maiden name], he says, to get a new British passport so he could return to Africa without being detained at border crossings. He had previously been detained as an alleged ‘enemy of the state’ in Zimbabwe.

Why hadn’t he taken the stand to defend himself in court, I ask?

It is, again, something he regrets but he says he took legal advice and also believed he had a cast iron alibi – that he was at a hotel in Earl’s Court at the time of the murder.

I ask him about the last time he saw Alexander Hardie and he tells me he was lying on the settee in the flat and his breathing was shallow.

‘He was a very frail person. You know, I actually lifted him up and I think he weighed about 140lbs. I think he just drank himself to death.’

Freeman ridicules the Prosecution’s suggestion that he was a ‘trained killer’ who learned the ‘Burking’ technique in Rhodesia’s Grey’s Scouts.

He says police obtained dog tags – identification disks worn by soldiers – from his wife which had ‘TK’ on them. He said detectives believed – wrongly – this stood for ‘Trained Killer’ when in fact it meant ’Tracking Kommander’.

‘I’m a horseman and knew the bush very well,’ he says. ‘I was a tracker.’

He insists that his decision to invite Mr Hardie back to his digs after meeting in the pub was an act of kindness.

Clive Freeman's wife Wife Ora, who died in 1999. [Ora] hated being away from her family. I could see South Africa also going down the tubes

Clive Freeman’s wife Wife Ora, who died in 1999. [Ora] hated being away from her family. I could see South Africa also going down the tubes

‘In my country you help somebody you know, if you see a person on the side of the road, you stop and pick him up. You see a drunk, you help him out. And Mr Hardie was a drunk.’

Freeman is scathing of the CCRC and tells me angrily.

‘The CCRC’s raison d’etre is to kick you into the long grass.

‘I’ve been in court in Africa. I’ve been in the worst prisons in Africa and I got treated much more fairly… The Mugabe government imprisoned me and I’ve got more justice from them than I ever got from the CCRC.’

And yet Clive Freeman is clinging to hope that the line-up of forensic experts who have challenged the ‘Burking’/suffocation theory, might – along with other key evidence which appears to undermine the safety of his convictions – at last get his case before the Appeal Court.

He knows time is running out. Freeman has prostate cancer.

‘I was told about eight or so months ago that I needed radiotherapy. I said no. My brother-in-law has recently died of the same thing and he refused. I don’t want somebody looking after me.’

He has given a lot of thought as to his final resting place and wants his ashes intermingled with his wife’s – she died in 1999 – and buried in the Zambezi Valley in northern Zimbabwe.

During my long career, I have interviewed several murderers. Most of them didn’t admit their guilt, even when the evidence was overwhelming. Is Freeman another who can’t bring himself to confess to taking another person’s life? Or is he indeed the victim of a grave miscarriage of justice?

An artists impression of the victim Alexander Hardie. Experts say Mr Hardie’s cause of death is, at best, ‘unascertained’. Some have suggested the 49-year-old, an alcoholic in poor health, died of natural causes

An artists impression of the victim Alexander Hardie. Experts say Mr Hardie’s cause of death is, at best, ‘unascertained’. Some have suggested the 49-year-old, an alcoholic in poor health, died of natural causes

Edinburgh’s infamous body snatchers Burke and Hare, who killed at least 16 people by suffocating them while kneeling on their chests

Edinburgh’s infamous body snatchers Burke and Hare, who killed at least 16 people by suffocating them while kneeling on their chests

A few weeks after we met, he sent me a letter.

‘Sadly for me my trust in “British Justice” was brutally destroyed and I and my loved ones have suffered the gravest of injustices that could be inflicted on anyone,’ he wrote. ‘I am now a decrepit old man of [80] having been wrongly and unjustly imprisoned for 36 years for a crime that never was.

‘I have now lost, very sadly, over 12 members of my immediate family including my very beloved wife (I was privileged to be married to an exceptional lady, my only love ever, for 32 years and 135 days)… and many dear friends who all bore the shame and stigma of their association with me, a wrongly convicted murderer.

‘Before my beloved wife died… I made a pledge to her that I would never stop fighting to expose the horrific injustice done to me and all my loved ones, and this is a cause I am prepared to die for and I will never leave prison until I am completely exonerated. I am a man of my word and of devout faith.

‘Sadly the injustices perpetrated by the CCRC are not unique to me. There are many innocent people who have also had their cases “kicked into the long grass” and they and their loved ones are also victims of the British justice system.

‘Surely in a fair and decent society this horrific system must be done away with and replaced by true justice.’

It remains to be seen if the CCRC agrees.



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