Code Of Silence: A UK Bikers Battle For Justice
On 23rd April 1989, Seaham teenager Stephen Rowley was involved in a disagreement with several members of motorcycle gang, known as the Druids, at Scarborough Mere. An argument took place over accusations of dangerous driving and noise pollution, at the onsite racing circuit. Sometime after the confrontation, members of the gang made their way to Rowley’s campsite, where a fight broke out and Rowley was stabbed to death. At the ensuing court case, John Megson, who was at the time the Druids Vice President, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life with a recommended minimum 15 years in prison.
A matter of honour
Although Megson was present when Rowley was killed and the victim’s blood was found on his sleeve, he was in fact innocent of the charges. However, in keeping with the bikers’ Code of Silence, he refused to provide evidence to the trial as to who had in fact been involved in the fight that resulted in Rowley’s fatal injuries. Despite Megson’s father trying for two years to convince his son to give up the names of those directly involved, his please fell on deaf ears. Eventually his father arranged for Steve Smith, a solicitor in Rotherham, to visit his son at Wakefield Prison. After just one meeting the solicitor was convinced that Megson was serving a sentence for a crime that he had not committed and began putting together an appeal.
The Power of TV
Whilst Megson’s solicitor was working on securing a retrial, the movement gained some unexpected support in the form of a BBC TV series Rough Justice. The series broadcast an episode dedicated to Megson’s case, which highlighted several flaws in the conviction. The exposure served to swell awareness and support for the biker and an appeal hearing was arranged for May 1994. At the Teesside Court Of Appeal a woman, who was present when the killing occurring, volunteered the name of the person that actually inflicted the fatal blows. As a result Megson’s murder charge was quashed and he instead accepted a 7 year sentence for manslaughter. Having already served 5 years, Megson walked free. The Rotherham solicitor who had represented Megson then wrote a book, Hell is Not for Angels, which detailed the case and appeal, whilst offering an insight into biker life. The BBC also made a follow up Rough Justice episode, which told the story of the appeal and subsequent release.
The evidence heard at the appeal saw charges brought against 4 other Druids members, who were accused of murder. However, Rowley’s role in the story was not yet done and scientific evidence relating to him saw the judge order the jury to find the defendants not guilty of murder. However, the case did continue with two of the accused, Simon Negrotti and Colin McCombie, facing charges of manslaughter. The two bikers were finally found guilty in February 1997 and later sentenced to 6 years. Although the judge accepted that the pair had not intended to kill Rowley, he did state that they were both responsible in some part for the death.
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