Date: 1 Jul 1991
Evangeline Smith was beaten to death in her home.
She had been struck over the head 13 times with a blunt instrument. Her post-mortem stated that two of the blows were strong enough to have fractured her skull.
Her stepson was tried for her murder but acquitted after it was heard that his trial had been prejudiced through evidence being lost and a delay in his arrest.
It was heard that one exhibit in the case had been released back to Evangeline's family and that another important exhibit had been lost during a move at a police station.
The stepson said that he had been in Devon at the time of her murder. He had lived near to Evangeline Smith at the time.
It was heard at the trial that the prosecution’s evidence relied on a number of bloodied palm prints that were found in three locations at Evangeline Smith's home. However, it was heard that it was not possible to firmly establish whether the substance that the prints were made in was blood and that two of the three items referred to had since gone missing and the third item, a length of bannister rail, was no longer in its original condition and suitable to be tested.
The first of the other items was a marble tabletop that was returned to Evangeline Smith's family in April 1992 at the request of the stepson's father.
The second item was an envelope that had gone missing when Forest Gate police moved premises.
It was therefore heard that as the items could not be examined by experts that they could not be submitted as evidence. It was also noted that no one had taken photographs of the length of bannister rail, marble tabletop or envelope insitu. However, it was noted that polaroid pictures of the palm prints had been taken at the time and that the forensic scientists involved had made detailed statements on their findings.
It was also heard that there had been an element of delay in the stepson's arrest. He was first arrested in December 1992, about 17 months after the murder. It was also noted that he had not been amongst the initial 61 suspects that the police had drawn up at the start of the murder enquiry, even though he was known to the police and had a criminal record. It was said that the stepson had not been on the initial list of suspects as they were told that at the time that he had gone abroad and had been on the run. However, it was noted that as he had a criminal record, that the police already had his fingerprints at that time and could have checked then.
However, it was said that the stepson's fingerprints were not compared to the prints found on the bannister rail until November 1992 and that that was just done by chance after the police reviewed a large number of prints as part of their investigation. At the trial the defence said that the delay meant that it was impossible for the stepson to remember where he had been on the day of the murder. However, the police said that Evangeline Smith's murder would have been known to the stepson within a few days of it happening and that it was reasonable to assume that he would have then attempted to have recalled where he had been at the time of the murder and would have remembered some details.
The stepson's fingerprints were determined to have been a match after the police drew up a list of 6,000 people who had lived in the area over the previous 20 years and who were known to them. Their fingerprints were then compared to the three sets that they had. It was said that that process started in August 1992 and that it wasn't until they had compared 2,804 potential matches that they found the stepsons fingerprints matched in November 1992. The stepson was then arrested, for the first time, in December 1992.
After finding the match, the police interviewed the stepson, who at that time was serving time in prison on another matter.
However, at the trial, the judge upheld the defence argument that the case should be halted because of the missing evidence and the delay in the stepson's arrest and he was acquitted.