The Trial and Conviction of Ronald Castree for the Murder of Lesley Molseed
30 August 2017, by Michael O'Connell
In my book Delusions of Innocence (Waterside Press, 2017) I describe how, following the release of Stefan Kiszko, who was wrongly convicted of that murder in 1976 in one of the UKs most tragic miscarriages of justice, the police continued to keep the case under review. Also about how Ronald Castree was then convicted of Lesleys murder effectively vindicating Stefan.
In November 2000 the Forensic Science Service had been able to compile a DNA-profile of the killer from two pieces of Sellotape. What had happened was that Peter Guise, one of the scientists in the case, had used a hand roller, popular with DIY painters, to roll the Sellotape over the little girls underclothes in 1975 and thereby acquired enough material for a DNA-profile eventually to be done. By this date Lesleys heavily bloodstained clothing had been destroyed, thereby removing vital evidence from subsequent examination.
In October 2001 the police had carried out a cold case conference, looking again at the evidence in the murder case. I find it surprising to read that Ronald Outteridge attended that conference and stated his view that it could not be proved that someone who matched the DNA taken from the childs clothes necessarily murdered her. It was always the prosecution case at the original trial in 1976 that the murderer had left this forensic evidence at the scene of the murder. And this was supported by Stefans (false) confession. But Mr Outteridge later developed that theory at Castrees subsequent trial when he gave evidence, essentially for the defence.
On 1 October 2005, Ronald Castree, now aged 51, was arrested in Oldham. A woman who worked as a prostitute claimed that she met Castree by arrangement in a room in a local hotel. When they went to a bedroom she claimed that she became upset at what he had in mind, and she made an allegation of sexual assault against him. Ronald Castree totally denied that allegation and the case was not proceeded with.
However, because Castree had been arrested, and even though he was not charged with any offence and was therefore regarded as quite innocent in law, he had to submit to a routine buccal scrape for his DNA profile. It was placed on the complementary section of the National DNA-database. He could not have known at that time, even though he might have feared or suspected that by November 2000 the forensic scientists had been able to compile a DNA-profile of Lesleys killer from the two pieces of Sellotape. The evidence he provided was a perfect match for the sample which had been taken from Lesley Molseeds clothes.
On 5 November 2006, Castree was arrested by police at his home in Brandon Crescent, Shaw, in the Oldham district of Greater Manchester, on suspicion of murdering Lesley Molseed. As he was taken into police custody he was alleged to have told one police officer, I have been expecting this for years, something he later denied saying. He was charged with murder the next day. He appeared before the magistrates court on 7 November, 2006, where he was remanded into prison custody. After several more court appearances he applied for bail on 23 April, 2007 but that was refused.
Ronald Charles Edward Castree was born on 18 October 1953 in Birch Hill Hospital in Wardle, Oldham, Lancashire, where he was brought up by his parents. He was an only child. At some stage in his life he lived on the Turf Hill estate in Rochdale but at the time of his arrest he was living with his wife Beverley and three children in a local authority house on Brandon Crescent in Shaw. He told the police in interviews that he was a small child who habitually wore glasses which resulted in him being constantly bullied at school. That became so bad that his grandfather decided that he should be sent to a private fee paying school where life was apparently happier and easier for him.
At the age of 19 he married his first wife Beverley, aged 18, in 1973 but the marriage was not a tranquil and happy one. He was said to have had a very nasty temper, was not faithful to his wife towards whom, it was alleged, he was violent on more than one occasion. She allegedly described him as being foul with his mouth and foul with his fists. Beverley told the Sunday Express in 2010 that weeks after the wedding he punched her in the face for the first time. She soon realised her husband was sexually deviant. The violence was a turn on for him. He forced me to have sex. He didnt want a normal marriage. He wanted a prostitute on tap, she told the newspaper. She said he would go out in a car with friends and she never knew where he was or what he was doing. She knew he had girlfriends all over the place. Their marital difficulties could not have been lessened by the fact that on 19 September 1975, that is about two weeks before the murder of Lesley Molseed in October 1975, Beverley Castree gave birth to a son, Jason, whose biological father was a man with whom she had had an affair. Her husband knew apparently that he was not the childs father but agreed to bring him up as a child of the family. He had visited his wife in hospital and drove her and the new born baby back to their home in Oldham Road, Rochdale. On the day that Lesley was murdered however, Beverley had been readmitted to the hospital suffering from deep vein thrombosis. It is thought that he may have been on his way to visit his wife in hospital when he murdered Lesley Molseed.
On 23 October 2007 Ronald Castree appeared at Bradford Crown Court before Mr Justice Openshaw on an indictment charging him with Lesleys murder. The jury panel summoned into the courtroom consisted of 25 members. Eventually six men and six women were sworn in to try the case and render a true verdict in accordance with the evidence. Mr. Justice Openshaw asked them if any of their number knew the accused man, or any member of the Molseed family, or a man called Raymond Hewlett, or had any connection with the Turf Hill estate in Rochdale. He told them that they might know that a man called Stefan Kiszko was wrongly convicted of this murder and asked them whether they had any connection with Stefan or his family. In accordance with the usual practice he warned the jury not to discuss the case outside the jury room, or judge the case on reports of it that appeared in the press. He expressly warned them against the use of the internet and anything that appeared on it relating to the case.
Ronald Castree entered a plea of not guilty. At the outset on that first day of the hearing there was much legal argument relating to the admissibility of evidence and the judges ruling on points of law before counsel for the prosecution, Julian Goose QC, opened the case before the jury. He told them in a carefully crafted opening speech, forcefully and emphatically delivered, that at about 7.30 am on the morning of Wednesday 8 October 1975 the body of Lesley Molseed was discovered high on the moors between Oldham and Ripponden. She was aged eleven at the time she was killed. She had been stabbed 12 times and she had been left by her killer clothed, but with her skirt up and showing her red underwear. Her face was down onto the moorland grass.
Counsel continued, as the jury leaned forward, listening intently, telling them that on Lesleys clothing was the semen of the man who had abducted her from Rochdale and had then driven her to that isolated moorland scene, some 30 to 40 yards from the A672 Oldham to Ripponden Road, not very far from the M62 motorway. At that lonely spot Lesley was murdered. Counsel claimed that the identity of the murderer was contained within the sperm found on Lesleys clothing, but, he told them, in 1975 and in the years that followed it was not possible to extract and compare a DNA-profile to identify the true murderer. The forensic science behind DNA-extraction and analysis did not develop until many years later.
But it was the prosecution case then that the semen on the clothing was that of the accused. His motive for killing the little girl was sexual for he had abducted Lesley, sexually assaulted her and then repeatedly stabbed her, leaving her for dead on the open moor land. Lesley was, said Counsel, a small girl for her age, just three stones in weight. She was only about four feet tall. She had breathing problems due to a heart condition she had had since birth. In spite of these difficulties she was a cheerful, ordinary and happy child, known as Lel to her family. Because of her learning difficulties she attended a special school near to where the family lived.
Julian Goose QC told the jury that the DNA-sample provided by Castree after his arrest in 2005 was an exact match with the semen traces preserved on the Sellotape. He told the jury that the chances of the DNA-profile showing the wrong person were one billion to one. It was the prosecutions case that the motive for Lesleys abduction was a sexual one, and that Castree had left Lesley dead on the moorland:
The man who carried out those acts had a sexual interest in very young girls and in a violent rage killed Lesley Molseed in a frenzied attack with a knife. That man was definitely not Stefan Kiszko. The prosecution say it was Ronald Castree.
This was yet another public enunciation of Stefan Kiszkos innocence, based on unimpeachable forensic evidence. One witness, who gave her evidence to the jury over a video link so that she would not be in the same courtroom as Ronald Castree, was the person who as a nine-year-old had been abducted and sexually assaulted by him in July 1976. The woman, now aged 41, described how she had been playing tig with a friend when the driver of a red taxi grabbed her and pulled her into his car. He just grabbed me and shut the door. I just said, I want to go home now. Let me go. She said that the man had ginger hair with a bald patch. He took her to an old empty house and there he performed a sex act in front of her. While he was doing so she kicked out at him and got away. She later identified him. Her evidence was clearly admissible under the similar fact evidence principle. It showed that Castree had a tendency to lure little girls into his motor vehicle, take them to an isolated spot and there subject them to a sexual assault falling short of full sexual penetration. This led the jury to the conclusion that this was the modus operandi of the same man in both cases. There can be little doubt that her evidence made a very strong impression upon the jury.
The main witness for the prosecution, however, was Dr Gemma Escott, whose youthful appearance concealed her substantial experience and knowledge of forensic science. In July 1999, in a series of controlled experiments with other pieces of tape, she had devised a method designed to make the most of the evidence on the Sellotape and ensure that nothing was left to chance. Enough material was found on the tape to create a genetic fingerprint that eventually led the police to Ronald Castree. In her professional opinion, being extremely careful with the wording of the statistical significance of the match, she said that the probability of obtaining that profile if the semen did not originate from Ronald Castree, but matched somebody else at random, was in the order of one to one billion. She told the jury, in addition, and no doubt for the avoidance of any argument, that she had compared the material on the tape with the semen provided by Stefan Kiszko. They did not match.
The prosecution also called, I suspect at the request of defence counsel, the retired forensic scientist, Ronald Outteridge, in order that the defence could cross-examine him. If the defence had called him they had to treat him as their own witness and lead him through his evidence-in-chief, not cross-examine him. Effectively the evidence he gave supported the defence case.
Nothing was said by anyone about his previous court appearance as an accused person. He had told a cold case review meeting with the police in 2001 that Lesley might have been a victim of another assault before her murder. Notes of that meeting read out to the jury by Rodney Jameson QC quoted Mr Outteridge as saying, She might have been wearing her knickers in a bed where intercourse had taken place between other parties. So, he said, it could not be proved that someone who matched the DNA taken from Lesleys underclothes murdered her. To do that, Mr Outteridge said, it would be necessary to prove that the semen was deposited during the murder of the little girl and he found no evidence to show that was the case. It might have been, it might not. This approach completely contradicts what Lord Lane said in the appeal court on 18 February 1992:
The result is that it has been shown that this man cannot produce sperm. This man therefore cannot have been the person responsible for ejaculating over the little girls knickers and skirt, and consequently cannot have been the murderer.
The jury at the trial of course did not know that.
It had always been the prosecution case that the person who killed Lesley required her presence at the scene while he was in the process of committing a sexual act against her. Rodney Jameson QC, defending Ronald Castree, tried to make the most of this point, as one would expect him to do. He suggested other possibilities as to how the semen could have been found on Lesleys clothing, including that she was subjected to a sexual assault unconnected to the murder or that she had been wearing the knickers and had come into contact with semen in some other way.
Prosecuting Counsel Julian Goose QC caused Ronald Outteridge to retreat from the position he had adopted when he admitted that it was highly unlikely that the semen could have got on Lesleys clothes from a taxi seat. He accepted it was not a terribly valid scenario. What was his view of anothers involvement at the time of the trial in 1976? Mr. Outteridge said that his examination of Lesleys body on the moor in October 1975 did not indicate it was a sexual murder. He commented: The knickers were in normal wearing position, the skirt I think, was rucked-up, it was not indicative of a normal sexual assault.
I consider that might contradict what Peter Taylor QC told the jury at Stefans trial in 1976 and it was a sexual murder and Lesley Molseed was abducted for that purpose.
In his evidence Ronald Castree told the jury that he had had numerous affairs during his first marriage. They were mainly a series of casual relationships and this was standard behaviour in the taxi trade at that time. There was an awful lot of casual sex to be had, so he claimed. Asked how many lovers he had at that time he could not say exactly, but said something would occur most weekends. Was he hinting in a most cunning fashion during his evidence that he had had a sexual encounter with a woman in the back seat of his taxi early in October 1975 and this might explain, if Lesley sat in the vehicle soon afterwards, how his semen might have contaminated her clothing? He never actually claimed that this had happened and, if he was hinting at it, the jury, by their verdict, totally rejected it. He said that his sexual partners were numerous. He would pick the women up at various venues including a social club near to the premises of the Rochdale Football Club.
When dealing with the incident involving the little girl he had taken to the derelict house and there indecently assaulted her in July 1976, he told the jury that he could not remember anything about the incident. Clearly he was unable to deny it, since he had pleaded guilty to the charges against him. He maintained that he was baffled why he did it, a fact which may not have greatly impressed the jury that listened to his evidence and his unwillingness to face up to the truth about his shameful past behaviour. The jury convicted Castree by a majority of ten to two, by coincidence exactly the same numbers as in Stefans case.
On 12 November 2007, some 32 years after the little girls murder, Ronald Castree was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation from the trial judge, Mr Justice Openshaw, that he serve not less than 30 years and would not even be considered for parole until after that time. He would then be 84-years-of age, and thus likely to die in prison. The judge told him that he had carried out a truly dreadful murder on a young girl made even more vulnerable because she suffered from learning difficulties:
You approached her, you would have no difficulty in luring her away for she was trusting You repeatedly stabbed her. You left her for dead, drove back to Rochdale and carried on with the rest of your life as if nothing had happened it was a pretence you kept up for years You then kept quiet while an entirely innocent man was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced for her murder. He served 16 years before his conviction was set aside, living only a couple of years after his release. I am surely entitled to take into account not only the effect on Mr Kizskos family, but also the effect on the family of your victim. They have had to endure long years of uncertainty, and after his release come to terms with the knowledge that the guilty man was still at large. I have no doubt that the memory of this dreadful murder is and always will be a burden they must endure for the rest of their lives.
Ronald Castree called out, I did not do it as he was taken from the dock down to the cells to begin to serve his sentence of life imprisonment. Lesleys mother April read a prepared statement outside the court saying, We are relieved that after so long our quest for justice for Lesley is now over.
Ronald Castree continued, as he did then and does now, to maintain his innocence. His appeal against conviction was dismissed on 29 July 2008.
Michael O'Connell is a retired barrister and criminal lawyer. His previous books include A Guide to the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (with Professor Terence Walters) (Financial Training, 1985), and he was joint editor, with Phil Huxley, of the first nine editions of Blackstone’s Statutes on Evidence (OUP). His book, In Search of the Truth (2017), about British injustice and collusion in Northern Ireland during The Troubles is published by Collins Press, Cork.