Mark Alexander’s Fight to Clear His Name
When retired English teacher Samuel Alexander disappeared in 2009, the alarm was soon raised. His body was later discovered buried at his family home. His son, Mark Alexander – a 22 year old law student and entrepreneur – was wrongly accused of the murder and is now serving 16 years mandatory life imprisonment. He has always maintained his unqualified innocence.
The case is highly unusual in a number of aspects, in that the time, method and circumstances of death were and remain unknown, and there is no direct evidence that Mark ever committed the crimes alleged. No DNA or fingerprints were found at the scene where the body was discovered and there were no traces of blood or even of a disturbance at the house. There are no eye witnesses and no murder weapon. In his sentencing remarks at Reading Crown Court, the Honourable Judge Reddihough commented that, “We may never know what happened to Samuel Alexander” and “there is little evidence as to precisely what happened”. He was also “prepared to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt in terms of intent”.
The motive was said to be that Mark wanted to get away from home because his father was “controlling and violent” towards him. The prosecution claimed that Mark’s decision to move into a flat in London, rather than study in Paris, was the cause of an argument between them and that – fearing his father’s reaction – “it was, in the end, simpler for him to kill his father rather than tell him” about his plans. This seems illogical, given that Mark was due to leave home either way. There is no evidence that Mark was either verbally or physically antagonistic toward Samuel, indeed, the evidence from prosecution witnesses is that “Mark was charming, gentle and polite, an exceedingly good son, and very respectful of his father”.
The prosecution invited the jury to draw inferences from an accumulation of circumstantial arguments, each of which alone was unlikely to be sufficient to persuade a majority of the jury. As such, the case against Mark depends entirely upon the prosecution’s creation of doubt as to his account of events. The prosecution were reduced to this because none of the evidence available rendered the defence’s version of events impossible.
Samuel’s body had been buried beneath three layers of professionally laid mortar and a further –fourth - layer of concrete, later identified as of amateur installation. Mark had ordered the concrete that formed this top layer himself on 17 November, taking delivery of it on 19 November, as part of ongoing construction work at the house. Mark freely admitted that he was responsible for this, indeed he’d conducted the work in front of witnesses, but said he had no idea at the time that his father’s remains had been hidden within the layers below. He explained that when he visited the house to survey progress made by the builders since his last visit a month earlier, this particular site had been dug up and prepared with what looked like a specialist foundation. There is no evidence to identify when the site was prepared, or by whom, prior to Mark’s arrival on 17th November.
The prosecution argued that if Mark was responsible for the top layer, then he must- by inference -have been responsible for all the layers, and thus the burial itself. This is not supported by the evidence. Stark differences between the materials, workmanship and methodology used in laying the mortar, as compared to the concrete, demonstrate that they were done by different people in two very distinct phases. This was confirmed by an expert geologist and chartered surveyor, who described Mark’s work as “less well-compacted and more voided at the upper edge and surfaces, suggesting a non-specialist installation and the absence of shuttering”. By comparison, the “mix quality and consistency (both thoroughness of mixing and degree of compaction) of the mortar layers suggests preparation by an experienced person”.
Date of death
There is a 2-month-long period within which Samuel could have been killed. The exact date remains unknown, but for the purposes of their case the prosecution argued that this could only have happened on 5 September 2009, because this was Mark’s last day at the family home before moving into his flat in London. It was on this basis that Mark was convicted. The prosecution relied chiefly upon evidence from an entomologist that Samuel’s body had been “buried after exposure for a minimum of two months”, to refute Mark’s testimony that he had last seen his father alive on 15 October 2009.
If the prosecution is correct, then Samuel’s burial in 3 layers of mortar could have taken place no earlier than 5th November. What the court failed to consider at trial is that, in all of November, Mark spent little more than 3 hours at the house over two visits – one and a half hours of which were spent taking delivery of the 0.80 cubic metres of concrete that arrived on 19 November. Mark just wasn’t there long enough to carry out the crimes alleged. It would have been impossible to excavate the 2 metric tonnes of soil, and then lay the 1.09 cubic metres of mortar, within such a short timescale – less still while avoiding detection or leaving any evidential trail in the process. Each layer alone would have taken 3 to 4 hours to dry before the next one could be added, never mind the amount of time required to mix and lay them professionally.
Mark’s movements were meticulously accounted for at trial and are completely inconsistent with the prosecution’s case. It doesn’t stop there however, because the defence believe that the Crown’s estimate as to Samuel’s date of death is more than a month out. The entomologist explained that his calculations were reliable as long as the prosecution were correct to assume that Samuel’s body had only ever been stored in a garage at the family home. “If that assumption was wrong, my estimate of when the body was last alive would be wrong”. “If where the body lay was 2 or 3 degrees warmer than in the garage, it certainly would have been sufficient to make a difference between the person last being alive in September, as opposed to the middle of October. A pathologist confirmed that “it is entirely plausible that the deceased could still have been alive in October”.
The lack of either odour emanating from the street-facing garage, or decompositional staining inside it – and the fact that the species of insect found on the body did not correlate with that found in the garage – indicates that Samuel’s remains had in fact been stored elsewhere. Fractures identified by the pathologist were also consistent with transportation of the body. Given that the body had been burnt prior to burial, alarm bells should have started ringing when no sign of fire, smoke or soot contamination could be found at the house itself. All of the evidence suggests that the murder didn’t take place there at all – yet this was never considered at trial. It is unclear why, in the absence of such evidence, the police failed to search the local area for clues.
If the prosecution was wrong and Samuel in fact died in mid-October 2009, Mark still couldn’t have been responsible. He was 60 miles away by this point, studying at university in London, and – as the prosecution accept – had been away from home for a month by the time of his visit on 17 and 19 November. The jury were never asked to consider whether the burial could have occurred prior to Mark’s visit. In either scenario, however, Mark can only be innocent.
It should be possible to subject samples of the mortar to scientific analysis, to establish where the burial actually took place, using relative dating techniques. The very possibility of this never occurred to the prosecution or Mark’s defence team, and so potentially exculpatory evidence – proving that Samuel’s burial happened while Mark was away – was overlooked at trial. Mark’s legal team want to conduct these tests now, as part of fresh evidence to present to the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the Court of Appeal, challenging Mark’s conviction. Any cause to doubt the prosecution’s case now, is cause to doubt the safety of the verdict.
Evidence has since come to light through a Serious Case Review of a healthcare visit “having occurred on 8 September”, by which time Mark had, of course, moved out. This wasn’t disclosed at trial and further undermines the prosecution’s assertion that Samuel died on the 5th, since their case very much hinges upon this date. Moreover, another trial witness admitted changing a statement she had made about an encounter with Samuel in October, when prompted by police to ‘reconsider’ her account.
Samuel’s past and disappearance
One of the concerning aspects of Mark’s case is the existence of significant unanswered questions as regards the deceased’s life. The identity of those who Samuel had regular contact with – including carers, casual labourers and online associates – were not established by the police and never came forward. Many of these people had direct access to the family home but were neither traced nor excluded from the investigation. Despite the lack of direct evidence linking Mark to the crime itself, the police appear to have been convinced that they ‘had their man’ and seem not to have explored serious gaps in their knowledge of Samuel’s interactions with others or the circumstances of his death.
Samuel was an extremely private man with a predilection for avoiding contact with even close relatives, if it suited him. In new evidence, his family relates how “he used to disappear and stop writing to us from time to time, then return again, saying he was busy or ill. We tried to telephone him several times and no-one was home. After that he changed the phone number and we did not know why”. At trial neighbours described how “he was perfectly capable of dropping off the radar if he wanted”. In fact, Samuel had been leading a double life for years, using multiple aliases (at least eight) and going to extraordinary lengths to maintain the secrecy of his activities. A Serious Case Review noted that “he seemed not to exist”. Witnesses told the Court that Samuel “could easily accumulate many enemies” and “knew that he had many enemies”. Yet, the police made no attempt to develop these lines of enquiry or investigate Samuel’s fake identities. The scant attention paid to any alternative explanation for Samuel’s death is one of the factors that makes us question the safety of Mark’s conviction.
The prosecution relied heavily on the notion that the deceased’s disappearance was wholly out of character and that Mark’s failure to react to this was indicative of his guilt. This just isn’t consistent with what we know about Samuel’s lifestyle. New evidence form the Serious Case Review confirms that he was habitually elusive and that his “non-engagement was familiar to staff”. Nurses were often “unable to gain access” to his home and he often “failed to attend” appointments. This is at odds with the Crown’s implication, for example, that Samuel abruptly ceased a previously regular contact with all medical professionals.
Although Mark was concerned at his father’s silence – his continued calls going unanswered – this had become something of a norm to him and he assumed that this would eventually pass. It was only reasonable for Mark to expect that his father would disengage from time to time. In the circumstances of his father’s strong preference for privacy, Mark’s reluctance to take matters up with the authorities is perfectly understandable. In particular, he had been relying upon Buckinghamshire Adult Social Care to monitor his father’s welfare, while he was away. Their lack of communication allayed his concerns and contributed to his assumption that all was well. They only informed him that there may have been cause for concern on the day of his arrest. The Serious Case Review found that this was caused by “a lack of scrutiny…passive oversight…and flawed practices” on their part.
This, and other corroborating evidence, goes a long way toward rehabilitating Mark’s credibility, undermined as it was by the Crown’s emphasis upon false statements he had made to neighbours and to the police. Even though Mark admitted to these and gave innocent explanations for what he had said, the prosecution used this to cast doubt over the rest of his testimony. Mark’s account went largely unsupported at trial, but can now be independently contextualised and corroborated to neutralise the Crown’s attack.
In an effort to help the police with their enquiries, and in expectation of his father’s return to resolve the misunderstanding, Mark proceeded for the first three hours in interview without a solicitor. Mark shortly discovered that his mother was, in fact, still alive, after being told to the contrary for most of his life. This revelation, taken simultaneously with the news of his father’s likely death, threw him into a state of turmoil and disarray. Over the course of his interrogation, Mark spent one hundred hours in solitary confinement. This had a profound and debilitating effect on him, given that he had no previous experience of police arrest. The prosecution later sought to capitalise upon honest mistakes made at interview.
Prosecutors repeatedly misled the jury during the opening of Mark’s trial, for example: claiming that a water leak had been staged, when it was merely a burst pipe; or that saw blades were missing from an open packet, when the pack was in fact unopened. Similarly, lurid allegations that Samuel’s body had been dismembered went uncorrected for over a week – despite having been discounted by the Crown’s own experts a month earlier – allowing them to be sensationalised in the press. This would have had a damaging and irreparable effect on the jury, long after its retraction.
Financially and socially independent, Mark had no reason to wish his father any harm. Described by friends as “genuinely selfless”, he had nursed his father back to full health in 2008, after a colostomy operation which left Samuel wholly dependent on his son’s care for more than six months. Prior to his arrest, in February 2010, Mark was running a successful software business, while reading Law at King’s College London. He spent his gap year working at IBM, on the strength of his A-level results from Rugby School, where he won a scholarship.
It is surprising that Mark was ever convicted on the basis of what was ultimately a weak and speculative prosecution case. Nonetheless, on 8 September 2010, after a six-week trial and more than twelve hours of deliberation, the conviction was finally secured by majority (10 of the 12 jurors). We are extremely concerned that Mark was found guilty on the basis of doubt created about his version of events, rather than any evidence of his involvement in a murder. No such evidence exists. It is difficult to see how a proper acquaintance with Mark’s case does not cause the suspicion that a grave injustice was done in his conviction and continues to be done in his imprisonment.
Mark has since been reunited with his mother, and spends his time studying, writing and playing his violin. Friends and colleagues continue to call for his conviction to be overturned, in a growing campaign supported by both sides of his family. We urge the Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer Mark’s case to the Court of Appeal as a matter of urgency.
Supporters include: Terry Waite CBE, Rt. Hon. Mark Field MP, Rev’d Canon Grant Fellows, Right Rev’d Bishop Tim Stevens, SAFARI
Rt. Hon. Mark Field MP - “I am supportive of Mr Alexander receiving a re-trial, in light of the lack of conclusive evidence”.
SAFARI – “This is a case which clearly requires a thorough investigation to find the real perpetrator. There is obviously very serious doubt as to whether this crime was committed by Mark”.
Terry Waite CBE - “I am disturbed by the conviction of Mark, as I find it difficult to believe that a complete forensic examination was conducted before the jury found him guilty by a majority verdict. It was pointed out by the judge in his summing-up that the evidence was circumstantial, but even so, he was convicted and sentenced. It is in the interests of justice that Mark’s request for a full forensic examination of the site be conducted without delay”.
Mark’s mother – “I have been blessed to have Mark back in my life after all these years. Mark was always a very caring son to his father. He showed unconditional love and always appreciated his dad’s nurturing and encouragement to be a success. Mark has always made us proud parents. He nursed Sami when he was very ill with colitis, and that alone shows how much care and love he had for him. Mark made it his priority to support him when he needed his help. Any humane person can see that Mark would never wish to harm his dad in any way. I will only be at peace when Mark is free to live his life as it should be”.
Mark’s grandmother – “I still can’t believe or understand why Mark is in prison. It doesn’t seem right to us. A lot of people didn’t like his father. Somebody knows what happened to Sami, but that person isn’t Mark. Mark has been a victim in this as well as his dad. It’s a very sad time for him, but the truth will come out. We will always support him, as does all the family”.
Mark Alexander, April 2015 – “Over five years have passed now since my father’s death – years dogged by grief, loss and injustice. Yet I try not to view my plight in isolation. I see my case as representative of a much wider miscarriage of justice phenomenon, in which some 3,000 innocent men and women are wrongly convicted each year in the UK alone. So long as I remain in prison, I will continue campaigning for justice, not only for my family and me but for the wider cause of penal reform. If, though my case, I am able in any way to raise awareness of the urgent and continuing need for change in our justice system, then it may just make all this a little less meaningless. It is clearer to me now more than ever that some deeper purpose can be derived from tragedy and that channelling positive outcomes from seemingly senseless life events is possible. This is as much a fight for my father’s dignity as it is a fight for my own freedom. I have faced many setbacks and I may well face many more, but the most important principle is perseverance. In the pursuit of truth, righteousness and vindication, it is essential to keep the flame of hope alive – to pick yourself back up and to bear the burden of injustice with dignity and strength.
Thank you to all my family and friends, who have stood by me, and to all those supporters who have joined us without knowing me directly. Your generous words and prayers have carried me through each obstacle and every disappointment – in moments of despair, exhaustion and disillusionment. Without you this would all be so much harder to bear. There is much left to be done, but with your help I know we will get there”.