Criminal Law, Murder, Police and Prosecutors, Soering, Uncategorized

Ten Söring Myths, Part 2: Söring was Denied Access to a Lawyer

Welcome to Part 2 in my series of Ten Söring Myths. These are intended as a teaser for a very long article (over 15,000 words) which will shortly appear in German in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The article discusses a 454-page report authored by retired Scotland Yard detective Terry Wright, which exhaustively analyzes claims made by Jens Söring during his trial and appeals. Wright initially investigated Söring in 1986, testified at his trials, and has access to many primary documents. This post will deal with Söring’s claim that he was held ‘incommunicado’ by the London police and denied access to his lawyers — a crucial claim he uses to bolster the argument that he gave false confessions to the murders of Derek and Nancy Haysom.

Jens Söring and Elizabeth Haysom were arrested on suspicion of fraud in London on April 30, 1985. They had worked out a complex scheme to earn money by buying and returning expensive items to departments stores, but got sloppy. They gave consent for a search of the apartment they shared in London. Detectives found not only Sörings real German passport, but diaries and letters containing veiled references to a serious crime which had happened in Virginia. Over the next five weeks, Detective Terry Wright, the author of the new report on the Söring case, determined that Söring and Haysom could be suspects in the murder of Elizabeth Haysom’s parents. The English police contacted the authorities in Virginia, who flew over to assist in questioning Söring and Haysom.

On June 5, 1986, Söring and Haysom, who were still in custody on the fraud charges, were officially informed that they would be questioned for the killing of the Haysoms. Over the next four days, both of them were questioned separately. Söring says that he consistently asked to speak to his English solicitor (he already had a lawyer to represent him on the fraud charges), but was denied the opportunity. In Söring’s own words, from his book “Mortal Thoughts” (p. 136):

For three days, from June 5 to June 7, I told the detectives as little as possible; before I placed my head on that guillotine I wanted to ask my lawyer whether I would in fact be protected by partial diplomatic immunity! But even on June 5, the first day of questioning, I tried to protect Liz from execution by insisting that she had been in Washington when the murders occurred.

On June 7, while I was still trying to persuade the policemen to allow me to see my attorney, I nearly panicked and told the truth.

Söring later claims (p. 172):

Like Detective Gardner, Detective [Kenneth] Beever also failed to tell the truth on at least indisputable occasions. At 4:00 p.m. on June 5, 1986, he told my English lawyer over the telephone that I did not wish to see him, although at that time I was demanding counsel.

In the online pdf document “The Soering Case Made Simple“, which is written in Söring’s first-person voice but was formatted by one of Söring’s supporters, he cites the conclusions of Dr. Andrew Griffiths, a police interrogations expert (p.15):

In particular, Dr. Griffiths faulted the police for denying me access to my attorney throughout the four days that I was questioned: “The fact that legal protocols appear to have been breached meant that Soering did not receive the appropriate legal advice … It is clear that there was no legitimate reason why Soering was held incommunicado.”

According to Söring, therefore, he was held “incommunicado” and denied access to his lawyer for four days despite “demanding counsel”. He successfully held out against the pressure for days, but then finally decided to give in and confess to the crime Elizabeth Haysom had committed, to save her from the electric chair.

Is this account true? The answer is no. There are many problems with Söring’s story, including the fact that he gave a full, detailed confession to the crimes on June 5, 1986 — including a hand-drawn sketch of the crime scene. Further, he was not held “incommunicado”. He and Haysom were held incommunicado for a brief period, but then the authorities lifted the order and he was allowed plenty of contact with the outside world, including at least three telephone calls with the German Embassy in London on the 5th and 6th of June, 1986. And finally, even though Söring claims he was “demanding counsel”, he waived his right to see a lawyer in a signed document from 12:50 PM, June 5, 1986.

Further, even despite this waiver, he was not denied access to his lawyer. As Detective Wright’s report notes, there is an entry by a custody officer dated 5 June 1986, 5:28 PM, which reads as follows: “5.28pm – Returned to Charge Room, no untoward incidents took place whilst at interview spoke to Keith Barker at 4.30 pm Solicitor.” As Wright notes, this comment was written in the custody logs in Söring’s presence.

Söring was allowed to speak to his lawyer at the very beginning of his questioning on murder charges. His claim otherwise is untrue. Further, as documented elsewhere on the authoritative Soering Guilty as Charged blog, was asked repeatedly during his interrogations whether he wanted to end questioning or talk to his lawyer. Each time, Söring chose to continue answering most questions, and simply said he did not wish to answer certain other questions before speaking to a lawyer. Every time he said this, detectives moved on to another subject.

Söring was never cut off from the outside world and was not denied access to a lawyer while in custody. This is why his confessions were correctly ruled admissible and used against him in court.

In the next post, we’ll look at Myth Number 3: Sörings Confession was Inaccurate.

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