Local hero cleared the name of innocent man hanged for murder

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An innocent man was hanged for a brutal double murder he didn't commit before having his name cleared by a local hero.

Lou Santangeli sadly died this week with coronavirus but his legacy as a fighter for truth will live on in Liverpool after he famously exonerated those convicted over one of the city's more ruthless crimes.

The 88-year-old selflessly investigated the Cameo Cinema murders years after the case was closed, leading to the clearing of two men.

A retired businessman, Mr Santangeli dedicated his time and intelligence to the case and while it was two late for one man, the people of Liverpool will never forget his hard work.

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His family paid tribute to the popular grandad on Tuesday and said he was an "old school character who made a difference" to the world during his incredible life.

Not only was he a beloved dad, who his family will never forget, but for George Kelly and Charles Connolly, he was a hero.

Cameo Cinema murders

On March 14, 1949, Cameo Cinema boss Leonard Thomas was counting the night's takings alongside his friend John Bernard Catterall.

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As the pair worked late into the night they were disturbed by two men who broke the lock off the door to steal £50/8d cash.

George Kelly was wrongly hanged for the Cameo murders in 1950

Minutes later the raid turned violent and shots rang out.

Mr Thomas and Mr Catterall were killed in the raid before their bodies were discovered in the now-demolished building in Webster Road, Wavertree.

Liverpool police's murder squad interviewed 70,000 people and pulled in every known gangster, pimp and prostitute for information.

A 23-year-old prostitute, her pimp and a convicted con-man, pointed officers in the direction of George Kelly, 27, from Copperas Hill, and Charles Connolly, 26, from Woolfall Heath, Huyton.

Both men, at the time working as labourers, insisted they did not know each other and denied any involvement in the murders.

Kelly and Connolly were charged in October 1949 and tried together at St George's Hall before a packed public gallery.

After 13 days the case was dismissed by the judge and separate trials were ordered.

Kelly was first to stand trial alone and, despite the prosecution having no forensic evidence, no eyewitnesses and no murder weapon, he was found guilty.

Charles Connolly

On February 8, 1950, he was hanged.

Connolly, terrified he too would face the death penalty, was persuaded by his lawyer to plead guilty to robbery after a deal was struck with the prosecution.

He had long served his time when he met Lou, but maintained his innocence.

And as the friendship between the pair grew, Lou began to believe him.

Lou Santangeli with his niece, Nicola Hurst

Over the next 14 years the retired businessman ploughed his efforts into researching the case, using a network of growing contacts to access police case files and reports from the time.

Among one of the key documents he unearthed was a statement given to detectives by a prosecution witness, claiming another man had confessed to the crime, which was not disclosed to the defence during the prosecutions.

By the time Lou had built a case that would be accepted by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, Connolly had died.

But he continued the fight, helped by BBC journalists Roger Phillips and Roger Wilkes, and in 2003 the Court of Appeal quashed the convictions and cleared both Kelly and Connolly of any connection to the murders.

Popular Liverpool grandad Lou Santangeli, who helped clear the men wrongly convicted in connection with the Cameo Cinema murders

The decision by Lord Justice Rix, Mr Justice Douglas Brown and Mr Justice Davis was a landmark in British legal history.

Powered by a burning sense of injustice, Lou had secured one of the most astonishing victories seen in the British courts.

Mr Santangeli's niece Nicola the passion and dedication shown by her uncle in the Cameo Murders appeal echoed that which he had for his proud family.

Fondly remembering him, she said: "He made people smile. He made people laugh.

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"He was the one that kept in touch with all branches of the Santangeli family, no matter which part of the world they moved to.

"Everybody knew, and loved, Lou. He was always first invite to the family parties, and usually the last to leave."

Lou received treatment in the Royal Liverpool Hospital before losing his battle with coronavirus on April 22.

You can read the full, touching tributes to Lou from his family HERE.

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