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'£1m award' as murder conviction is quashed

BILLY JOE FRIEND: beginning a new life
BILLY JOE FRIEND: beginning a new life

A £1 MILLION compensation package awaits a man who spent nearly 10 years of his life in jail for a murder conviction that was later quashed.

Billy Joe Friend, whose family live in Star Lane, Orpington, is determined to rebuild his life after spending 3,467 days in prison since his conviction at the age of 15.

He refuses to be drawn on "the living hell" he went through in prison, but will only discuss his hopes and dreams for his future with pregnant girlfriend Donna and their terrier puppy Lucky.

"I am trying to forget about it. The day I got out – that’s the day I started my life again. I’m just trying to forget all the bad stuff in my life.

"I am going to marry my girlfriend, and we are going to build a new life together as a family," said Billy Joe, who is living in a friend’s caravan in Batts Bridge caravan park, Maresfield in Sussex.

The teenage Billy Joe was jailed in 1996 after being found guilty of the stabbing of Ben O’Connor, 18, while at a party in Conway Road, Plumstead in 1995.

Although a previous appeal against his conviction was dismissed by The Court of Appeal, the case was referred back to the Criminal Cases Review Commission last year because of new psychological evidence.

This showed he was suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at the time of the initial trial, which meant he was not able to give evidence properly.

The Commission ruled the jury had been allowed to draw adverse conclusions from the fact Billy Joe did not testify on his own behalf at the trial.

It was his brother, who is serving a life sentence, who committed the murder on the 19th floor of a block of flats, without the involvement of Billy Joe.

The judge ruled Billy Joe’s conviction could not now be considered safe, and as a result of the time he had already spent in prison, the prosecution did not apply for a retrial.

He was freed in October last year.

"I was sentenced so young I got used to being away. I didn’t like it. It was hell and I know I’ve missed loads, but I don’t really know what I’ve missed. I had no proper childhood, so how can you miss it?

"I know it’s time to live my life now and be happy. But we are really struggling. Since I have been out I have had no help at all. No help and no support.

"I know I’ve done some silly things but I intend to stay out of prison. I ain’t a criminal. I just want to survive. I want to be free."

According to Billy Joe he has been awarded an initial loan of £200,000 in compensation until the full compensation claim is settled.

He expects the full claim to be as much as £1 million. To date he has not received any money.

But according to Billy Joe even £1 million will not compensate him for losing his childhood.

"It might help me build a better future and help me forget the past, but it doesn’t even nearly compensate me. I will make sure though, that it ensures a better life for my baby so the child doesn’t have to go through what I went through."

The Home Office declined to confirm Billy Joe’s compensation package. A spokesman also declined to comment on when the compensation would be awarded.

He said: "It is Home Office practice to respect the privacy of applicants claiming compensation by not publicising the outcome of applications."

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