Unsolved Murders

Peter Henry Hurburgh

Age: 57

Sex: male

Date: 15 Dec 1988

Place: Black Mans Lane, Chelsham, Surrey

Peter Henry Hurburgh was murdered on 15 December 1988. Three men were convicted of his murder at the Old Bailey on Monday 26 February 1990, but their convictions were later overturned on 17July 2000 following an appeal which ruled that because one of the witnesses was a police informant and had been paid for his evidence, a fact that was not disclosed at the time of the trial, that the case against them was as a result not safe. However, the judge noted that the appeal decision was based on a technicality and that the case against some of the men was still overwhelming and they were freed without a judicial declaration of innocence.

The 1990 trial had lasted six weeks, and the jury took five hours to reach its verdict. At the trial, the men, along with another accomplice, were described as 'acid house party freaks' who were 'driven by ecstasy and cocaine and the kill thrill'. It was said that they were not interested in the financial gain but were only in it for the kicks. A police spokesman said, 'The 1970s film 'A Clockwork Orange' is now a horrifying reality'.

Peter Hurburgh had been having sex with another man in his Austin Princess car which he had parked up in a field in Black Man's Lane in Chelsham in the early hours of Friday 16 December 1988, when they were attacked and tied up. Peter Hurburgh was beaten and died from heart failure. He also had five fractured ribs and a fractured sternum. His injuries had bruised his heart and had caused him to suffer from a cardiac arrest from which he died. His body was later found tied up hand and foot in a field.

Following Peter Hurburgh's death, the police said that they were linking his murder to a series of crimes committed by a group they were labelling as the M25 Gang and the M25 Three. It was later heard that the M25 Gang were based in Lawrie Park Road, Sydenham but used the M25 to get to their targets and to return quickly. Two other robberies were committed on the same night that were connected with the gang as well as a number of other crimes on previous dates.

It was said that the three men convicted of his murder, aged 21, 23 and 25 had gone out in a stolen Triumph Spitfire car on the night of 16 December 1988 and that when they came across Peter Hurburgh and his friend that they had attacked them, armed with a gun and a machete.

They poured petrol over the two men and beat Peter Hurburgh about the head and chest and kicked him, and it was said that after pouring the petrol over them that one of them had lit a cigarette. They then stole £10 from the man that Peter Hurburgh was with and drove off with his Austin Princess car. Peter Hurburgh's friend said that when the gang arrived, they were dragged from their car and stripped and beaten and that he soon after lost consciousness and that when he woke up he found Peter Hurburgh tied up and dead.

At the trial, the 20-year-old friend said that they had been dragged from the car and trussed up like chickens with rope and gagged. He said, 'While I was being searched, I could hear shouting and screaming coming from the car. I got the impression that Peter was being dragged from the car. I couldn't see properly because I was face down'.

In the initial stages of the investigation the police said that it was possible that one of the attackers might have been injured in the attack on Peter Hurburgh and his friend, stating that it was possible that he had turned a machete on his killers.

It was said that following the attack that the gang drove off in Peter Hurburgh's Austin Princess car, leaving the stolen Triumph Spitfire car behind, and went to a house, Stonewall, in Woodhouse Lane in Oxted, Surrey, 10 miles away, where they attacked a retired toy company executive, his wife and their 41-year-old son who was staying with them at the time. During the attack the son was slashed in the arm which severed his artery. The men were later acquitted of attempting to murder the son at their trial in February 1990.

After that, the gang abandoned Peter Hurburgh's Austin Princess car and then went off in the retired toy company executive's car and were said to have gone to the house of a woman in Hillyfield Lane in Fetcham, Surrey, 18 miles away, arriving at about 5.30am. They then tied her and her boyfriend up at gunpoint and robbed them, taking jewellery, credit cards, cheque books and other things. When they left, they drove off in two cars owned by the woman and her boyfriend, leaving the retired toy company executive's car behind.

Following the murder, the police released a photofit of one of the men. The police said that they thought that the murderers might have been high on drugs.

Twelve people, a woman and eleven men were arrested in dawn raids at two addresses on Monday 19 December 1988 and three of them were later charged with murder. It was reported that the police had been looking for the gang for six weeks at that point in connection with the series of other crimes, it being stated that they had already linked them to eleven other unsolved crimes. It was said that the gang had on a previous occasion raped a woman in front of her children. It was heard that the 25-year-old had blind folded the woman at her house and asked her whether she had had sex the previous night and had then put his gloved hand up her pyjama top and then fondled her genitals and then raped her next to her two year old child after which he said to her, 'I'm sorry, don't hate me'. Whilst that was going on, the gang, which had been downstairs, stole £13,000 worth of valuables from the property.

The dawn raids were carried out by Scotland Yard's PT17 Unit and the police operation to find the murderers was called 'Operation Triangle'.

Two of the men that were convicted of Peter Hurburgh's murder, the 21 and 23-year-olds, were arrested at a probation hostel in Sydenham, London whilst the third man, the 25-year-old, was not arrested until 6 January 1989 in Station Road, Dartford in Kent during what was described as a 'dramatic shootout'. He was also charged with attempting to murder a policeman as a result of the shootout although the charge was later reduced to using a firearm with intent to endanger life. When he was arrested, he had been in possession of a revolver. He was found after he hijacked three cars and was chased at high speed by the police. He was caught after he drove into Station Road near Dartford railway station in Kent which was a dead end. He jumped out of his car and climbed over a fence, during which he shot at a policeman that was chasing him. The 25-year-old was then brought to the ground with a rugby tackle.

When the police searched the probation hostel in Sydenham they found several items that had been stolen from the robberies in Woodhouse Lane, Oxted and Hillyfield Lane, Fetcham.

The police also found the 23-year-old man's fingerprints on porcelain figures at one of the houses that they had robbed on the night from which they had taken other items.

Of the other people arrested in connection with the robberies, two of them admitted to having stolen the Triumph Spitfire car, but said that they had stolen it at the request of the 21-year-old man on 13 December 1988 and that they had kept it at the probation hostel in Sydenham until the evening of 15 December 1988 at which time the 21 and 23-year-old men, and another man they did not know, but who was assumed to have been the 25-year-old man, came by and took it. The men said that they came by sometime between 11pm and midnight and asked for them to help them bump start it. The men said that the three men also asked them for balaclavas. The two men also said that they saw the 21 and 23 year-old men return later in the morning of 16 December 1988 with the stolen Renault and Vauxhall Cavalier cars along with a quantity of stolen items which they then helped to unload and hide. The two men said that they were then asked to burn the cars out as they were 'a bit warm'. It was noted that none of the men were ever charged for their parts in handling the stolen goods or disposing of the vehicles.

Shortly after the murder, the police said that whilst two of the stolen cars were found, two were still missing:

  • A Blue Ford Sierra, registration E559 MHG.
  • A Black Toyota Corola Coupe, registration C791 UPC.

The 21-year-old man's 16-year-old girlfriend said that the 21-year-old man had left at approximately 1.30am and had not returned until about 6.30am at which time he had been wearing different jeans and shoes and had had a Sainsbury's bag with him which was said to have been similar to one taken during the Hillyfield Lane robbery in Fetcham.

The 21-year-old man's 16-year-old girlfriend said that she saw the 21-year-old man then take several items out of the Sainsbury's bag, including:

  • A pendant with a gold chain (this item was later traced to the Hillyfield Lane robbery).
  • Muddied jeans.
  • Muddied boots.

She added that the 21-year-old man also later gave her two rings which were later determined to have come from the Woodhouse Lane robbery in Oxted and a watch which was later found to have come from the Hillyfield Lane robbery. She was also later found to have had a watch strap that had come from the Woodhouse Lane robbery. She handed the items to the police on 19 December 1988.

When the police further searched the probation hostel in Sydenham they also found a brooch that had come from the Hillyfield Lane robbery in a waste paper basket in the 21-year-old man's room.

The 21-year-old man's  girlfriend also said that when the 21-year-old man had gone out that he had been wearing a particular type of footwear and the police said that they later matched the sole impression of the footwear described with marks found at the Woodhouse Lane robbery in a flower bed and also in some blood found in the hall there.

At the time of the initial investigation it was said that the police had been inundated with calls from the public with information about the gang and that many of the leads had come from other criminals that had been sickened by their violence. The police said, 'It is certain that we have received calls from the criminal fraternity'. Rewards for information regarding the M25 Gang totalled £25,000 at the time of the arrests.

It was later determined that one of the witnesses for the prosecution had also been paid about £10,000 by the Daily Mail for his story.

At the trial it was heard that there were some weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. In particular that a witness said that they had seen a green Triumph Spitfire car at 12.30am on 16 December 1988 in the spot where the stolen Triumph Spitfire car was later found which would have meant that the 21-year-old, who was said by his girlfriend to have been at the probation hostel in Sydenham at that time could not have been involved in the robberies and murder.

It was also noted by the judge during his summing up that many of the witnesses were essentially accomplices in the various crimes, including the 21-year-old man's girlfriend who had admitted to handling stolen goods.

It was also noted at the trial that there were discrepancies regarding the descriptions of the men at the various crime scenes, which was particular given that the three men convicted were all black. In the first instance, the 20-year-old man that Peter Hurburgh had been having sex with in the car had said that although the three men that had attacked them had been wearing balaclavas, that only one of them had been black and that the other two had been white.

Further, it was heard that the man and his wife from the Woodhouse Lane robbery had said that at least one of the attackers had been white, as was the case with the woman from the Hillyfield Lane robbery.

Also, before the arrests of the 21 and 23-year-old men, it was noted that the police said that they were looking for three men, one black and two white.

One of the witnesses had gone so  far as to say that one of the attackers had had fair hair and blue eyes, although it was heard that at the time of the trial that the witnesses were a little vaguer about what they had seen.

It was noted that much of the prosecution’s case relied on prison a confession that the 25-year-old man was said to have made to another prisoner whilst on remand in which he had used the term 'redskin' to describe one of the other men involved, it being noted that the term 'redskin' was often used by Jamaicans to describe a person with lightly coloured skin, which the 21-year-old man had.

It was also heard that there was no physical evidence linking the 25-year-old man to any of the crime scenes or to the property stolen from them.

It was noted that although much of the property stolen from the two houses in the early hours of 16 December 1988 was found at the hostel, many of the people initially arrested could have just as well have been involved in stealing it.

At the trial, the three men denied the murder or robbing the properties in Woodhouse Lane and Hillyfield Lane, but they admitted many of the other robbery charges brought against them with the 25-year-old admitting the rape of the woman as well as the robbery at her house and the 23-year-old also admitting the robbery at the woman’s house.

The 25-year-old also admitted two other armed robberies on a newsagent and an off licence.

The man that was initially said to have been the third man involved in the murder by the police informant was tried at the same time on similar charges and he admitted to five burglaries in the Croydon and Dorking areas and a couple of other burglaries in Ashtead and had another 38 similar charges taken into consideration. The fourth man described himself as an honest burglar because he was not 'into people' and usually only broke into offices.

When the police raided their hostel, they said 'It was a robbers' lair. A mass of property linked to these crimes was found there'.

It was also noted that the three main prosecution witnesses, who it was noted were accomplices to parts of the crime sprees, fitted equally the descriptions of the men that murdered Peter Hurburgh. It was also noted that they had all admitted to handling items stolen from the robberies and hiding them, that they all admitted to having stolen the Triumph Spitfire car, admitted to handling the gun used in the robberies and admitted to disposing of the stolen Vauxhall and Renault cars from the Hillyfield Lane robbery.

Along with the murder, the men were convicted of a number of the other crimes and their sentences were considerable.

  • The 25-year-old was sentenced to 134 years in total for his crimes which included the murder and rape as well as using a firearm with intent to endanger life.
  • The 23-year-old was sentenced to an additional 64 years for his robberies and burglaries.
  • The 21-year-old was sentenced to an additional 54 years for his offences.

It was also noted that all of the men had convictions dating back to their juvenile years.

When they were sentenced, the judge said, 'Just before Christmas in 1988, you struck terror into your victims in various offences of violence. You must have caused great alarm to many living in close reach to the M25 motorway in south-east London and north Surrey'.

Following their convictions, the three men appealed on 23 July 1993, and the following grounds were put forward:

  • The 25-year-old man had not been identified by anyone, including the three prime witnesses who similarly matched the descriptions of the attackers.
  • That there were discrepancies regarding the colour of the men seen by witnesses.
  • That the man that the 25-year-old was said to have confessed to was unreliable.
  • That the three primary witnesses were also themselves unreliable.
  • That there was a significant discrepancy between the evidence of the 21-year-old's girlfriend regarding his movements and the Triumph Spitfire car and that of the witness that said that they had seen a green Triumph Spitfire car at the scene of the murder.

Another significant point that was raised was that of the reward money that was paid out for the information that led to the arrest of the men and the fact that the identity of the people that received it was not disclosed which it was said was vital to the case as it could have been paid out to suspects. It was also further noted that one of the three main witnesses, who could have been all also been considered suspects, was paid £10,300 by the Daily Mail in reward money, a fact that was never revealed to the jury at the trial.

However, the 23 July 1993 appeal was dismissed, with the judge saying, 'Taking all the evidence relating to the timing and events on the Thursday night and the succeeding days into account we conclude that, on the whole of the material we have reviewed, there is no basis for saying there is even a lurking doubt about the safety of the convictions of the 21-year-old and the 23-year-old, the same applies to the 25-year-old. On the contrary, the case against them all was, and remains, a formidable one'.

However, in 1997 the Criminal Cases Review Commission carried out an enquiry into the case and put forward the following points:

  • One of the key witnesses was a registered police informant who had contacted his handler on 18 December 1988 about the crimes.
  • Over two days of questioning, the registered police informant had alleged that the gang consisted of the 21-year-old, 23-year-old and another unemployed 18-year-old man, not the 25-year-old. It was reported on 24 December 1988 that the other man first implicated by the witness was himself later charged with a robbery in Ashstead on 9 December 1988, a burglary in Croydon on 15 December 1988, and possession of an illegal firearm. When the men were convicted, the 18-year-old, who was said to have been part of the gang of four, was described as being addicted to burglary and cocaine.
  • Investigating officers had discussed the possibility of a reward being paid to him at the conclusion of the case.
  • No prosecutions were carried out against any of the other witnesses who had been complicit in crimes associated with the robberies, such as handling stolen goods and stealing cars.
  • One of the key witnesses was himself a known burglar with a previous conviction for robbery.
  • The foreman of the jury had visited the site of the murder without the knowledge of the court. It was noted that one of the jurors had gone to the crime scenes to see for himself, it being noted that the distance between them and the time taken to travel between them was significant and that that raised issues because he would have been basing his verdict on evidence not presented to the court which the defence would not be able to challenge.
  • There was no evidence to link the 25-year-old to any of the scenes of crime or to any property stolen from them.
  • Witness testimony suggested that at least one of the gang was white.
  • There existed a possibility of the persons responsible for the attack upon Peter Hurburgh and his 20-year-old friend having returned to the bail hostel in the Austin Princess car before the same vehicle set off for the Napier's residence with a different team inside.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission report concluded by stating 'The new evidence and arguments create a real possibility that the 25-year-old man was not one of those three persons. Whilst there is evidence specifically linking the 21-year-old man and the 23-year-old man to the robberies, if the prosecution against one of the three, the 25-year-old man, might no longer be sustainable, in the Commission's view the Court of Appeal ought at the same time have the opportunity to consider whether the case can still be sustained against the 21-year-old man and the 23-year-old man'.

The case was next taken to the European Court of Human Rights  where a judgment in respect of the 21-year-old man and the 23-year-old man found that there had been a violation of Article 6 (1) of the European Convention on Human Rights in that there had specifically been a failure to disclose the fact that one of the main witnesses was in fact a police informant at the trial. It was also noted that the police informant had also named another person as being the third man before naming the 25-year-old and that his doing so might have been as a result of the prospect of the reward.

When the case was then heard again before the court of appeal on 14 June 2000 the judge said, 'We cannot say that any of these convictions is safe. They must be quashed, and the appeals allowed. Ten years on it is not appropriate to order a retrial'. After the convictions were overturned, the judge said, 'The case against all three appellants was formidable. The evidence against the 21-year-old was overwhelming. For the better understanding of those who have listened to this judgment and of those who may report it hereafter this is not a finding of innocence, far from it'.

It was noted that the 21-year-old man went on to work for the BBC as an investigative journalist and was involved in a documentary on Barry George's conviction for the murder of Jill Dando and which was said to have been a significant factor in Barry Georges later acquittal.

Peter Hurburgh was a widowed hairdresser.

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see www.courtnewsuk.co.uk

see Open University

see The Telegraph

see Court News UK

see Wikipedia

see Guardian

see BBC

see Innocent

see Miscarriages Of Justice

see Irish Independent - Tuesday 18 July 2000

see Sandwell Evening Mail - Monday 19 December 1988

see Dundee Courier - Monday 19 December 1988

see Irish Independent - Tuesday 27 February 1990

see Dundee Courier - Tuesday 27 February 1990

see Dundee Courier - Saturday 24 December 1988

see Sunday Mirror - Sunday 18 December 1988