Man freed as murder conviction quashed

A MAN jailed for life for murdering his partner has walked free after having his conviction quashed at the Court of Appeal.Steven Puaca, now 38, from Lowestoft, was found guilty by a jury at Norwich Crown Court in November 2002 of murdering Jacqueline Tindsley at the home they shared in The Hemplands, Lowestoft, in March of that year.

A MAN jailed for life for murdering his partner has walked free after having his conviction quashed at the Court of Appeal.

Steven Puaca, now 38, from Lowestoft, was found guilty by a jury at Norwich Crown Court in November 2002 of murdering Jacqueline Tindsley at the home they shared in The Hemplands, Lowestoft, in March of that year.

But three judges, sitting at the Old Bailey in London yesterday , overturned his conviction.

Puaca, whose defence case was that his girlfriend died after taking a drug overdose and suffering a fit, was present in the dock to hear the judges announce their decision.


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The key ground of appeal related to the evidence of pathologist Michael Heath, who the court heard is facing disciplinary proceedings in connection with two cases, including that of Puaca.

Dr Heath's evidence was that he believed 55-year-old Miss Tindsley died of asphyxia, but the judges heard that a number of other pathologists said there was no evidence to support that finding.

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The judges quashed the conviction after hearing more than a day of legal argument and will announce their reasons at a later date.

Lord Justice Hooper said: “For reasons which will appear in the judgment that we shall hand down later, in our view there was no evidence, independent of the medical evidence, which was sufficient to make a jury, properly directed, sure that the cause of death was that advanced by Dr Heath.

“Even if we had not reached that conclusion we would in any event, in the light of the evidence which has been placed before us, taken the view that it would not be in the public interest for there to be a retrial.”

Puaca's solicitor, Chris Brown, who visited his client in the cells after the ruling while awaiting his release, said afterwards: “He is very pleased, but he is also understandably sad that he has been accused of what he was accused of and that he has carried that stigma for three-and-a-half years.”

Mr Brown said that Puaca did not plan to return to the Suffolk area: “He has got options and he is going to make telephone calls to sort out what he wants. He wants to get on now with rebuilding his life.”

Mr Brown said: “Our whole contention was that this was a case which should never have gone in front of a jury.”

One of the grounds of appeal, he said, was over new evidence that the injury to Miss Tindsley, which the prosecution said happened at the time of death, “could have happened earlier”.

But the “key limb” of the appeal related to evidence in the case from Dr Heath, whose work has included a number of high-profile cases.

A number of experts were prepared to put their names to a conclusion that the cause of death was a drugs overdose, he said, while others said the cause of death was unascertainable, but that an overdose was a possibility.

But they all agreed “categorically” that there was no pathological evidence of asphyxia.

The Crown told the judges that a Home Office disciplinary tribunal hearing was expected to be held in January and pointed out to the court that “there has been no finding against Dr Heath”.

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