WILLIAM IAN COPELAND
DR ALAN CLIFT
William Copeland was convicted of the murder of Jane Taylor, aged 10, nine years after her murder on 14 August 1966 but was his conviction safe? Her disappearance from near Cannock Chase also came during a spate of crimes against children (including three other murders) and is widely misreported online. I’ve pieced together the facts using original news articles.
Jane Elizabeth Taylor
Jane Elizabeth Taylor, aged 10, was described as an intelligent girl. On 14 August 1966, Jane had been playing ball outside with other local children near her home in Bucklow Avenue, Mobberley in Cheshire. She had borrowed a pink bike called ‘The Pink Witch’ belonging to her next door neighbour and had ridden off in a circuit (once around three roads and a footpath surrounding her home). She returned minutes later and asked for a second go. That was the last time her neighbour ever saw her. The bike was found propped up against a fence in Pavement Lane, just 200 yards from her home. A young girl claimed she had seen Jane in an old grey car with two young men, which headed along the A34 towards Cannock Chase.
An investigation, led by head of Cheshire CID, Detective Chief Superintendant Arthur Benfield, was immediately undertaken as two children had been murdered nearby in Cannock Chase just months beforehand. 200 police were deployed to search the rural area and volunteers also arrived to assist the police.
Five days after her disappearance, police found a note scribbled on a piece of cardboard which said “To the police. Walk 50 yards north of this tree and dig. You will find something very interesting about four feet under“. The police did, but found nothing.
The search was then switched to Macclesfield after a newly dug ‘grave’ measuring 5ft by 2ft had been discovered but nothing was found. Despite trawling through 7,000 statements and 20,000 notes of telephone messages, police were no nearer to finding her killer and to add to their problems, a year later in August 1967, the body of another young girl aged 7 was found in Cannock Chase. She had been abducted from Walsall before being suffocated and sexually assaulted.
In February 1972 in Llanfairfechan, North Wales, a nine year old boy happened upon a skull. This led police to uncover Jane’s body 90 miles away from her home in a shallow grave in woodland. A signet ring found with the body was that belonging to Jane.
The killer confesses?
In 1970 two prisoners known to one another found themselves locked up together in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight. William Copeland and Peter Blythin/Blithin had previously known each other whilst at Mobberley Approved School and then worked on adjoining farms in the area. Blythin had become suspicious of Copeland after a conversation and ended up trapping him in to a confession by writing ‘Jane Taylor’ in chalk on the foot of Copeland’s machine in the prison’s tailoring shop.
The following day, it was claimed that Copeland had said to Blythin: “You know, don’t you? It was me that done her but I did not mean it. I saw her cycling and stepped in front of her. As she passed I threw a length of rope over her and dragged her off the bike“.
It wasn’t until four years later that Blythin finally told a prison officer what Copeland had said and thus Copeland, by then working as an agricultural labourer/gardener at Batchworth Park House in Arundel, West Sussex was duly arrested.
In November 1974, William Ian Copeland appeared in court charged with the murder of Jane. He denied the charges.
William Ian Copeland (b. 1941)
In May 1975 Copeland appeared in court charged with the murder of Jane Taylor. Blythin, who was still serving a prison sentence in Hull, appeared for the prosecution to explain how Copeland had confessed to the killing of Jane whilst in Parkhurst Prison. He also told that court that he was “putting his head on the chopping block by giving evidence at a murder trial“. On Thursday 22 May 1975 William Copeland was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Jane. His sister, Dorothy Feenan, of Paddington, London, collapsed when the sentence was announced.
Dr Alan Clift
On Thursday 19 July 1984, Copeland had his appeal against his sentence rejected. His appeal was based on the grounds that the expert who had given testimony against him in court during the trial was eventually discredited. The Home Office Principal Forensic Scientist, Dr Alan Clift, had been suspended from his post on 9 September 1977, when the police began making inquiries in to his professional work. In 1981 reports that Dr Clift had suppressed vital information about blood groups in a criminal trial led to the review of a murder conviction against Mr John Preece. Eventually his conviction was quashed but Preece had already served eight years in prison. He was awarded a record £70,000 in damages.
Despite calls for reviews of all cases where Dr Clift had provided evidence, Willie Whitelaw initially flatly refused to launch an investigation. However, months down the line, Whitelaw did a u-turn and agreed to reopen many of the cases in which Dr Clift had given evidence going as far back as 1967.
In September 1981, the Home Office announced the compulsory retirement of Dr Clift on ground of “limited efficiency”. He had been suspended on full pay since 1977.
Some of those whose convictions were overturned included:
On 18 December 1981 Peter Machin, who had been held in a mental hospital since 1975 after Clift had linked him forensically to an assault on a two year old boy, was cleared by the appeal court.
On 20 July 1984 Geoffrey Mycock was released following an appeal against the evidence provided by Clift during his trial in 1969. He had served nearly 16 years in prison.
On 26 July 1984, Ian Gilfellan had his conviction overturned. He had served three years in prison.
Michael Szpytma & Alan Sample
On 2 November 1984, Szpytma and Sample were both cleared after their case was reviewed. Szpytma had been sentenced to three months detention and Sample had been sent to borstal.
- National Archives Document – On extended closure until 2071
- Daily Mirror – 12 October 2014 (Incorrectly states body never found).
- Crime & Investigation (Incorrectly states body never found).
- ITN Source – 16 August 1966
- ITN Source – 22 August 1966
- ITN Source – 24 August 1966