Police ‘deeply regret’ mistakes that led to man’s 26 years in jail

Published On Sun Oct 31 2010


VANCOUVER—Of the 10 men in the police lineup, he looks the least guilty, in part because he is the one restraining the suspect who looks the most guilty.

He is in a police uniform and is grinning as he holds suspect Ivan Henry in a headlock — unacceptable practice, according to a criminology professor, even at that time. In total, there were three police officers in the 1982 lineup.

A year later Henry was convicted of assault and rape. The photo was later entered as evidence at his appeal trial.

Henry, a father of two young girls, insisted he did not commit the crimes and over the decades kept filing appeal after appeal. In fact, one of the reasons he was declared a dangerous offender was this unwavering insistence that he had done nothing wrong.

That designation kept Henry behind bars for nearly 27 years until B.C.’s highest court ordered him freed last week. The three-panel judge acquitted Henry of all charges, saying there had not been enough evidence to convict him.

Marilyn Sandford, a lawyer for Henry, said it’s clear that even before Henry was sentenced to jail police were aware of another suspect committing similar crimes in the same Vancouver neighbourhood.

However, at Henry’s appeal hearing in June, the defence was not able to question the police officers involved in the original investigation.

“We don’t know what was in their minds,” said Sandford. “Definitely tunnel vision came into play in this case. From the time they had one witness making a weak identification the police believed . . . that they had their person.”

Henry’s family and lawyers have not said whether they will seek financial compensation for the nearly three decades he has spent in jail based on a body of evidence that the Court of Appeal said was incapable of convicting him.

David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said while he believes the police have improved their practices regarding police lineups since Henry’s conviction, there is good reason to hold an inquiry into what led to police identifying him as a suspect and why they forced him into a lineup.

“Whenever someone may have taken active steps to conceal evidence or breached their duty as police officers that should be thoroughly investigated,” said Eby.

“It could have been an honest mistake. The justice system is a human enterprise and mistakes can be made. But police officers should be held accountable.”

The Vancouver police department will not name the officers in the photo or say whether they are still with the force.

In a statement to the Star, Const. Jana McGuinness said the department’s investigative practices are “much different today than they were in the early 1980s.”

“We deeply regret that mistakes were made at all levels of the justice system that led to Mr. Henry’s lengthy incarceration on evidence the court ultimately found could not sustain a conviction,” she said.

Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said such a lineup — in which officers have Henry in a headlock — was unacceptable practice even 30 years ago.

Boyd said despite advances in forensic tools, there are still criminal investigative failures.

“We now know eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable,” he said.

Cameron Ward, Henry’s defence lawyer, said Vancouver police have said they are not prepared to apologize for their investigation but he believes they should at least reflect on how police conduct led to Henry’s conviction.

“There is still a tendency to identify someone they feel is a suspect and embark on elaborate schemes to obtain a confession,” Ward said.

“This was a very weak case and the police investigation was geared towards Mr. Henry and they were convinced no one else committed these crimes. We now know that’s not true.”


It's amazing how long some people wait for justice.