In December 2000, when 19-year-old Rachel Manning was found strangled and mutilated in a Milton Keynes wood, her longtime boyfriend, Barry White, was devastated.
But his grief turns to disbelief when he is arrested for his murder – along with a friend who had helped find him on the night of his death.
Barry – who went to a party with Rachel but left her looking for a taxi – was convicted in 2002.
But while Barry was in prison, Rachel’s real killer, Shahidul Ahmed, went free for ten years – and was finally caught after assaulting another young girl.
Rachel’s murder is re-investigated in the first episode of Murdertown, returning tonight on Crime+Investigation.
In front of Anita Rani, the documentary reveals shaky evidence that Barry and pal Keith Hyatt were wrongfully imprisoned and talks to reporters from the TV show Rough Justice, whose own investigation led to The guilt was proved.
But 14 years after being released, Barry, 41, says he is still struggling to come to terms with his time behind bars.
“I haven’t been able to hold on to a relationship, I haven’t been able to hold on to jobs, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression,” he says. “It ruined my life.”
Tracy Alexander, the forensic director of the City of London Police, was again involved in the investigation that helped free Barry, and says the police shifted their focus too soon.
“The justice cases I have worked on have one thing in common is that the police are attracted to a particular person, instinctively, or perhaps to circumstantial evidence,” she explains.
“Since the senior police officer decided long ago about one person in the investigation, other people, or other leads, are not followed as aggressively as they could have been.
“Plus, they don’t have a great defense attorney when it comes to actually going to court. Those are common factors. “
Disappeared after a scuffle at the party
The evening of December 9, 2000 began as a joyous occasion, when the young couple celebrated Barry’s mother’s 40th birthday with a seventies-themed party at a bar above the Milton Keynes bus station.
But when Barry gets into a scuffle with some of the boys outside, and Rachel splits them up, the couple called it a night and went their separate ways.
Says Barry, “I had to go home because I had to work in the morning. So I was going to take the lift to my friend’s house and asked him to go back and get a taxi.”
Barry went near Keith Hyatt’s house, but when he got there, he received a call from Rachel from a phone box, telling him she was lost.
He arranged to meet her at a nearby video store, but when he got there, five minutes later, Rachel was nowhere to be found.
Keith drove Barry to his van for over an hour and called at 5 p.m.
Knowing that he has few friends in the area, Barry assumes that she has gone back to live with them and becomes more concerned the next day as he repeatedly calls her flat, but no answer. met.
But when she did not turn up for work, she called the police on Monday morning and reported her missing.
Throttled and mutilated by steering lock
On December 12, three days after Rachel went missing, her body was discovered by the groundskeeper of a local golf course just outside Milton Keynes.
He was strangled and his face was severely disfigured after being beaten with a steering lock found near the body.
“Rachel’s aunt called my mother and said a body was found and they think it’s Rachel,” says Barry. “That’s when I found out. I was ruined.”
But just two hours after the shocking news, the police arrested the acquittal.
“I think the police were just watching me,” he says. “It’s like they didn’t do any investigation. Instead of creating evidence and interrupting me, they middle me and then build evidence around me. That’s what it felt like.”
“I was speechless. When they first accused me, I was standing at the custody desk, and I was thinking it was a joke.
“I’m waiting for hidden cameras to jump on me. It just didn’t feel real.
“I didn’t do anything wrong, so I still thought justice would be done. There’s no way I could be found guilty for a crime I never committed.”
As CCTV footage shows two men walking around in the van, Keith Hyatt was also arrested and his van confiscated in the early hours of the morning.
In the 2002 trial, it was said that there were several calls between the phone box and Keith’s house, not just the one Barry told them.
Prosecutors claimed that Barry was the one who called his friend to plead for help in confessing to killing Rachel and dumping the body.
The court heard that there was no traceable DNA on the steering lock, and forensic expert Professor Pai claimed that the particles found on the van’s seat matched those found on Rachel’s skirt – suggesting that she The night was sitting in the passenger seat.
Tracy Alexander says the case was flawed from the start.
“If sophisticated DNA analysis technology had been available at the time of the crime, the steering lock results would have taken them in a different direction,” she says.
“But the technology then was low copy number – a way to amplify a small sample of DNA in the laboratory – which was later found to have fundamental flaws.
“The prosecution expert for the fiber and articulated trace evidence was wrong. We’re talking about tiny contact traces, fibers that move around very easily.
“Professor Pai looked at the van’s fibers and said, ‘It’s exactly like Rachel’s clothes, so she must be sitting on this seat.’
“But car seats are messy and unless you do a thorough study of what particles are found in any car or van that moves on the road, you cannot say that those particles are in a van. are unique to.
“Plus, if Rachel was already dead, they would have put her in the back of the van, not put her in the passenger seat.”
The lack of blood and mud that would have covered a man who had crushed a victim and then carried him into a muddy underground was also overlooked.
“It’s fair to say that a good forensic scientist knows that lack of evidence is evidence, but that message isn’t always followed,” Tracy says.
trauma in prison
Despite the lack of concrete evidence, Barry was found guilty of murder and given a life sentence, while Keith was sentenced to life imprisonment.
“I never in a million years thought I’d work for it, because we never committed a crime,” says Barry.
“It was difficult to deal with going to jail. They say that everyone in jail is innocent, and when you are trying to prove that you are indeed innocent, no one listens to you,” he says.
“The news kept coming in, ‘Barry White charged with murder of teenage girlfriend,’ and then when people hear in prison, they want to fight you.
“At times I used to sit in my cell and think, ‘Did I do this? Did I really do this and it’s so bad that I blocked it from my memory?’
“But then you think, ‘No, I never did—I know I never did it, I know for a fact that I never did it.’
“Or you hear the footsteps descending and you think, They’re coming into my cell and saying, ‘We made a mistake, Barry, you’re free to go.’ Then they go straight to your cell. It was quite difficult to deal with.”
settle the matter
The erasure of evidence started only after the Rough Justice came to the notice of the investigative team.
A new forensic investigation commissioned by the team found that the “unusual” particles found in the van were produced by the flint of a standard disposable cigarette lighter, so were in fact extremely common.
The van’s CCTV footage suggested the two men would have had just 13 minutes to drive Rachel into the woods, back home, clean up the blood and mud, and then drive the vehicle around the area – an impossible feat.
In the end, when Tracy’s team was able to use improved technology to examine the DNA of the hair found on the steering lock, they found that it did not belong to Barry or Keith.
Barry was acquitted of murder in a trial in 2008, and two years later, a new breakthrough came when Shahidul Ahmed, a 41-year-old taxi driver, sexually assaulted a young girl in his car.
The victim managed to escape and a concerned lorry driver noted down the number plate of the attacker, leading to his arrest.
The DNA database showed a match for Rachel Manning’s killer – and Ahmed received 17 years in prison.
Worryingly, Tracy — who works with the Inside Justice charity to investigate possible miscarriages of justice — says Barry’s case is not isolated.
But she says the change in law is now making them difficult to reverse.
“Inside Justice has a fair number of them in their books and there are probably four or five of them, where you can see the same kind of pattern,” she says.
“Where at some point someone decides ‘this is my boy’ and then all avenues of investigation lead to that person.
“But during a recent murder case, we asked Suffolk Police to demonstrate so that we could re-examine them and they categorically refused and the Supreme Court ruled that disclosure rules did not apply after sentencing. There are.
“Since then, we haven’t been able to get any demonstrations for either case until we have ‘new and compelling evidence,’ but you can’t get it without examining the demonstrations.”
For Barry, the trauma of prison has left deep trauma.
“It’s been 21 years to Rachel and the hardest part of it is trying to get my life back…