Mark Alexander – a Miscarriage of Justice
This is the story of a son wrongly accused of killing his father – of a family torn apart by tragedy, but united in their belief in their son’s innocence. As Sami’s hidden past slowly begins to emerge, so too does the evidence that could finally exonerate his son, Mark.Reading Time: 13 minutes
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 only 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 eyewitnesses 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 ever 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 17 November.
The prosecution argued that if Mark was responsible for the top layer, then he must – by inference – have been responsible for all of 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 and edge 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”.
Mark simply doesn’t have the expertise required to conduct building work of a standard anywhere near to this. According to the haulier’s own description, “I remember thinking he was out of his depth. He looked as though he had never used a wheelbarrow before. He clearly didn’t have a clue what he was doing”. Mark’s work clothes, still unwashed, were forensically examined with no trace of the burial or body found. He had ordered the concrete truck for 2 o’clock in the afternoon, blocking the road and holding up local traffic as he took the delivery. By contrast, the first 3 layers of mortar seem to have been laid in complete secrecy. The neighbours maintain that they neither saw nor heard any construction work prior to Mark’s delivery on 19 November.
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.
What the court failed to consider at trial is whether Mark actually spent long enough at the house to carry out the crimes alleged. Mark’s movements have now been meticulously accounted for and just aren’t consistent with the prosecution’s case. It would have been next to impossible to excavate the 2 metric tonnes of soil, and then lay the 1.09 cubic metres of mortar, within the time that he was there – less still while avoiding detection or leaving any evidential trail in the process. Indeed, the frequency of Mark’s visits are so spaced out that they render the prosecution’s version of events implausible.
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”. Of course, by this point in October Mark was living 50 miles away, studying at university. The jury were never asked to consider whether the burial could have occurred while Mark was in London.
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 scour the local area for clues.
It should have been possible to subject samples of the mortar to scientific analysis to help establish when the burial actually took place using relative dating techniques, but this was overlooked at trial. When experts were finally called upon to conduct these tests, they discovered that the samples had been corrupted even before Mark had been charged, due to incorrect sampling and storage.
Evidence has since come to light through a Serious Case Review of a meeting Samuel arranged “having occurred on 8 September” at his home, by which time Mark had of course long moved out. This wasn’t disclosed at trial and further undermines the prosecution’s assertion that Samuel died on the 5th, since their case hinges entirely upon this date. This has been further confirmed by a sighting of Samuel from a neighbour who told police that he was ‘80%’ sure that he had seen Sami on either 11 or 18 October, on his front drive. “I am 100% certain it was Sami”.
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 the most regular contact with – including housekeepers, casual labourers, and online associates – were not established by the police and never came forward. At least three of these people had access to the family home at the time of Samuel’s death. Yet they were never traced and could not have been 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 relate 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 when he wanted”. In fact, Samuel had been leading a double life for years using multiple aliases (at least eleven) 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 he had made 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 from 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 apparent silence – his continued calls going answered – 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 be 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 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 affect upon him, given that he had had no previous experience of police arrest. The prosecution later sought to capitalise upon honest mistakes made in his 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 upon 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 only 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 had spent his gap year working at IBM on the strength of his A-level results from Rugby School, where he had 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 for murder 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.
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 3000 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, through 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.
Mark’s Mother – January 2021
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 as parents. He nursed Sami when he was very ill with colitis and that alone shows how much concern 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.
I’d like to send my heartfelt thanks to all who have loyally stood by Mark through thick and thin. Your amazing kindness and generosity have sustained both him and our family through some very dark times. My unconditional love for Mark has only strengthened over the years, as he’s faced huge challenges, and felt hopes of freedom raised only to see them cruelly dashed at the last hurdle, time and time again. The injustice is obviously agonising to me, and I hope and pray that we can find the fresh evidence needed. Perhaps, in getting Mark’s story out to a far wider audience, someone who knows the truth of Sami’s death will have the courage to step forward and end this nightmare for all of us.
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.
Rev’d Canon Grant Fellows
It seems vital that all potential strands of new evidence should be thoroughly investigated and the decision to allow an appeal based on that evidence should surely not rest solely on the decision of one [Criminal Cases Review Commission] case manager.
Last updated: 5 June 2020.
Unpick the Myths behind the press reporting at trial