Date: 3 Jun 1991
Place: Vardens Road, Battersea
Alison Shaughnessy was stabbed 54 times in her flat in Vardens Road in Battersea on 3 June 1991.
Two sisters, aged 18 and 21, were convicted of her murder but later appealed. Their convictions were quashed after it was heard that sensational and inaccurate reporting by the media might have prejudiced their trial.
They were convicted on 24 July 1992 at the Old Bailey, but their convictions were quashed on 11 June 1993 at the Old Bailey after their convictions were found to have been 'unsafe and unsatisfactory'. The judge also added that he was satisfied that press coverage of the sister's trial in July 1992 created a real risk of prejudice and said that a re-trial could not take place.
The two sisters said that they had been with a friend at the clinic that one of the sisters worked at the time of the murder.
However, it was heard that two girls had been seen leaving Alison Shaughnessy's flat around the time she was murdered, that one of the sisters fingerprints were found inside the flat and that one of the sisters, the elder one, had been having an affair with Alison Shaughnessy's husband and had kept a diary detailing the relationship in which she had expressed hate for Alison Shaughnessy and in which she had written that she wished that Alison Shaughnessy would just vanish so that she could have her husband to herself.
Further, the two sisters had said that they had earlier been out in Bromley, Kent, earlier in the day, but evidence was given that the sister's bank card had been used to take out £10 in Lambeth on the day. The sister whose card it was said that it was not the first time that money had been taken out of her account without her knowing, however, it was noted that the sister had never reported her card lost or stolen or complained before about money being taken out of her account by anyone other than herself before.
It was said that the older sister, who had been having the affair with Alison Shaughnessy's husband, didn't like being a 'bit on the side', and had so recruited her younger sister to help her kill Alison Shaughnessy.
Alison Shaughnessy had met her husband in a pub in London in 1986 when he was a purchasing manager for the Churchill Clinic in Lambeth.
However, in April 1989, Alison Shaughnessy's husband started an affair with one of the sisters after he met her at the clinic. They both had staff accommodation at the clinic and it was heard that they would go to bed together at least once a fortnight.
It was noted that Alison Shaughnessy had no idea that her husband was being unfaithful.
Three months after Alison Shaughnessy's husband started the affair with one of the sisters, in June 1990, Alison Shaughnessy and her husband, who at that time were only living together, married in Kilkenny. However, it was heard that Alison Shaughnessy's husband paid for the sister to attend the wedding ceremony and arranged for her to look after the clinic garden, for which he was responsible, whilst he was away on his honeymoon.
It was heard that after the honeymoon, Alison Shaughnessy's husband and the sister pretended to be friends, but that in reality their feelings were very different. It was said that she was obviously infatuated with Alison Shaughnessy's husband and that she hated Alison Shaughnessy.
At the trial it was claimed that the sisters had tricked Alison Shaughnessy into letting them into her flat and then stabbed her to death. It was said that they had waylaid her as she returned from work and persuaded her to let them into her flat and had then attacked her from behind.
Two of the knife wounds were fatal. One knife wound had plunged four inches into her body, penetrating her left lung and another knife wound had entered her throat, cutting her windpipe and severing an artery.
It was heard that a doctor had seen two girls running away from the flat at about 5.45pm. It was also noted that Alison Shaughnessy's post-mortem resulted estimated her time of death to have been about 6pm.
The court heard that the elder sister didn't admit to having the affair with Alison Shaughnessy's husband until two months after the murder.
During the initial stages of the police investigation, it was said that the police had little to go on and although they suspected the sister as she had worked with Alison Shaughnessy's husband at the clinic and that there were rumours that they had been having an affair, they had little evidence to work with. However, it was said that whilst the police were in the process of handling a complaint by the sisters parents over their use of bad language whilst interrogating her, they stumbled upon her diaries, which for them, it was said, made 'electrified reading' as it detailed in some depth the relationship that the elder sister had been having with Alison Shaughnessy's husband.
Both of the sisters denied murdering Alison Shaughnessy and said that they had been at the clinic watching the television programme Neighbours at the time of the murder, between 5.30pm and 6pm, with a friend, and had earlier been in Bromley. However, the friend who had given them their alibi, later told the police that it was not true, and a bank withdrawal was found to have been made in Lewisham earlier in the day with one of the sisters bank cards.
It was also heard that whilst both of the sisters claimed that the younger sister had never been to the flat, that her fingerprints were later found there inside of the door.
At the trial, excerpts from the sisters diary were read out which revealed the 'sinister feelings' of hate that the elder sister had for Alison Shaughnessy.
It was heard that in one entry, dated October 1990, written after the sister had accidently walked into Alison Shaughnessy's bedroom, she had found her there with her husband, and later wrote, 'They were in bed together. Used would be the word I feel at this moment. I am crying right now.
The court was told that the diary revealed a sinister forecast of what was to come'.
It was also heard that on 2 November 1990, the sister had written, 'I hate Alison the unwashed bitch. My dream solution would be for Alison to disappear as if she never existed, then maybe, I could give everything I want to the man I love'.
However, the sisters defence stated that the diary entries had been taken out of context and that the extracts referenced had been written when she was off work and ill. The sisters defence went on to say that if the entire diaries were read in context that they in fact showed that the sister had later become less attracted to him and to have started to develop sympathy for Alison Shaughnessy. It was also heard at the trial that the sister said that she knew that there was no realistic chance of Alison Shaughnessy's husband leaving Alison Shaughnessy for her and that she was hoping to meet someone else that could be hers.
It was also noted that no 1990 diary was found. The prosecution stated that that was because it had contained incriminating evidence, but the sisters defence stated that if she had destroyed the 1991 diary, then surely she would have also destroyed the 1990 diary. the defence stated that the most probable reason for the non-existence of the 1991 diary was that the sisters crush on Alison Shaughnessy's husband had faded and so she had no need for a diary.
When the issue of the younger sisters’ fingerprints being found inside the flat door was addressed, the sisters said that they had in fact later been to Alison Shaughnessy's flat about three weeks before the murder to offer to clean her windows but that she had declined. At the trial it was heard that Alison Shaughnessy's husband admitted that the windows were dirty and that it was possible that he had mentioned that fact to the sister, whose father ran a small cleaning business which gave them access to the equipment needed and it was further heard that they needed the money.
It was also heard that the elder sister might not have told the police about the visit as she had wanted to protect her younger sister from any involvement and so they had both decided to deny that she had ever been to Alison Shaughnessy's flat.
When the defence addressed the evidence of the doctor who said that he had seen two girls leaving running down the steps from Alison Shaughnessy's flat it was determined that when the police had initially carried out house-to-house enquiries on 5 June 1991, the doctor had said that he had noticed nothing unusual, but that when they had gone back to him on 4 August 1991 and asked him again he had then said that he had seen the two girls, but that he had also said that he had also seen a man coming down after them.
When the doctor attended an identification parade, he only identified the younger sister, and it was said that his identification was so unsatisfactory that the prosecution didn't use it at the trial.
It was also heard at the appeal that the doctor had again later changed his story and had said that he thought that one of the two girls that he had seen might have been black, but that the defence were not told of that.
Although the sisters were convicted of Alison Shaughnessy's murder, they later appealed.
At their appeal it was heard that other than the fingerprints of the younger sister behind the door, for which the defence had an explanation, there was no forensic evidence against them, although the defence stated that considering the nature of the crime, there should have been plenty if they had committed the act, and stated that all the other evidence was circumstantial. The defence then noted that the fact that there was only one piece of contested evidence against the sisters, that the publicity that the case had received in the press had influenced the outcome of the trial.
It was also said that the timing also went against the sisters having been the murderers.
It was noted that Alison Shaughnessy, who worked at Barclay's Bank in the Strand, had clocked off work at 5.02pm, a time that was undisputed. As such, she would have had a certain amount of time in which to return to her flat and be murdered that fitted with the next undisputed time when the sister was seen at the clinic at 6pm arranging flowers for the wards.
As such, it was noted that Alison Shaughnessy would have had to have walked from the bank after leaving work to the bus stop and then taken a bus to Waterloo and then a train to Clapham Junction and to have then walked back to her flat, a journey that the police estimated would have taken 35 minutes, without delays, for her to have arrived back at her flat at about 5.37pm.
This, then, would have given the sisters 23 minutes to murder Alison Shaughnessy, stabbing her 54 times, and to then return to the clinic in a composed state to have been seen at 6pm.
The police estimated that the journey from the flat would have taken 11 minutes.
This meant that the girls would have had about 12 minutes to have met Alison Shaughnessy, tricked their way into her flat, and to have stabbed her 54 times, and to have left.
However, the defence stated that that didn't take into account the difficulty in parking in Vardens Road or traffic.
The defence further stated that whilst the 12 minute window was plausible, it didn't account for the fact that Alison Shaughnessy had telephoned her husband at 4.30pm to say that she had something to do after she left work on her way home. The husband said that he didn't know what that was. It also didn't account for the fact that the upstairs neighbour to Alison Shaughnessy's flat said that when he had got home at 5.45pm, he had found the mortice lock to the front door still on, which he said indicated that Alison Shaughnessy had not yet arrived home. Further still, it was heard that a 73 year old woman who used to watch the world from her window, had said that she had seen Alison Shaughnessy come home, and accurately described what she had been wearing, but that it must have been after 6pm as the 6 o'clock news had already started on the BBC, a time that would put the sister already at the clinic. It was noted that the police had ignored the evidence of the 73-year-old woman. However, it was noted that although the 73-year-old woman had made her statement in a calm manner soon after the murder, she had later become so anxious over the case that it was not possible to call her as a witness at the trial and so her statement was just read out and the prosecution undermined it by referring to her medical condition.
At the appeal it was also heard that a window at Alison Shaughnessy's flat had been forced open and that some jewellery had been stolen, including a bracelet that she always wore. The defence also presented evidence detailing other attack on women in the Battersea area, one of which bore what was described as 'striking similarities' to the murder of Alison Shaughnessy.
It was also heard that the police had been provided with the details of man who had confessed to someone in a distressed state, that he had killed a woman in Battersea. However, it was noted that the court had not heard that evidence.
At the Court of Appeal in June 1993 the court heard that newspaper headlines at the time of the trial had been prejudicial.
It was heard that the newspapers had focussed on the prosecution arguments and paid little attention to the arguments of the defence. It was heard that the newspapers, and in particular, the tabloids, started a series of 'splash' coverages with large headlines such as, 'Sisters 'Knifed Bride 54 Times'' and that titles such as, 'first pictures of the sisters accused of murdering bride' just reinforced their guilt in the minds of the readers. It was noted that the press paid little attention to the defence side of the trial and that whilst one newspaper mentioned the statement of the 73-year-old woman that said that she had seen Alison Shaughnessy come home after 6pm, their headlines reinforced their guilt, whilst most other newspapers didn't report that aspect of the case at all.
Other headlines included:
At the trial at the Old Bailey on 9 July 1992, the husband denied that he had murdered Alison Shaughnessy. He admitted that he had spent the night before his wedding with the sister, but insisted that they didn't have sex, although he admitted that he had had sex with her intermittently before that.
It was also suggested at the trial that Alison Shaughnessy might have been killed by an intruder.
see Newcastle Journal - Thursday 09 July 1992
see Evening Herald (Dublin) - Thursday 10 June 1993
see Irish Independent - Friday 24 July 1992
see Irish Independent - Tuesday 14 July 1992
see Irish Independent - Tuesday 07 July 1992
see "Sisters are jailed for murdering bank clerk." Times [London, England] 25 July 1992: 1. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 6 Sep. 2012.
see Court News
see The Herald
see Nick Davies
see The Sun