Jimmy O’Connor was due to be hanged for murder on his 24th birthday. He survived to enjoy celebrity as a playwright, married to one of the most famous barristers of her time. But he still wants his name cleared.
Friday 12 September 1997 23:02
One Easter in 1941, a 56-year-old Kilburn rag-and-bone man, a fence in stolen goods called “Donk” Ambridge, was belted on the head with an iron bar by a robber in his north-London flat. It happened during the Blitz, and a week went by before a worried neighbour got the local grocer to knock Ambridge’s door down.
A 24-year-old petty thief called Jimmy O’Connor was swiftly convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. It all seemed very straightforward. At Pentonville prison, he spent eight weeks in the condemned cell, listening to the air-raids and the maudlin singing in the pub over the Caledonian Road.
He was to hang on the very day of his 24th birthday. But then, just two days before, the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, mysteriously reprieved him.
O’ Connor has been campaigning ever since to prove his innocence – even now, 55 years and a couple of strokes later.
Today, he sits quietly in a Roman Catholic nursing home, being fussed over by Irish nuns called the Little Sisters of The Poor.
The television is tuned to Channel Four racing. But scattered at his feet are wartime Home Office documents relating to his case. He has always flatly denied any involvement in the crime.
The injustice of his conviction has dominated O’Connor’s subsequent life, yet in many other respects he has been remarkably successful.
Released from prison in 1952, he went on to write television plays which in the 1960s gave him celebrity.
He has also had a famous marriage, one as eventful as it has been unlikely.
In 1959, he married someone who was his exact social opposite. Nemone Lethbridge was a pretty, upper-class young barrister, 14 years his junior and the impeccably-accented daughter of a general. Whereas he had lapsed, with a vengeance, from the Catholicism of his Irish background, she had rebelled against her agnostic parents and converted to Rome.
Release date: 21 November 2017