En domstol av lorder i Overhuset sier at domfellelsen av en mann for dobbelt drap ikke er gyldig fordi den bygger på anonyme vitner. Lordene forlanger at alle vitner møter tiltalte ansikt til ansikt i retten. Politiet er opprørt. Noen av Storbritannias verste kriminelle kan gå fri.

The law lords ruling came in the case of Iain Davis, who was jailed for life in 2004 for murdering two men at a New Year’s Eve party in Hackney, east London.

Seven witnesses claimed to be in fear of their lives if it became known that they had given evidence against Davis. Three witnesses identified him as the gunman.

Davis claimed that he was the victim of false accusations from a jealous former partner but the defence could not be put to the jury – so as to protect the witnesses’ identities.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the senior law lord, said that it was a «long established principle of the English common law» that, subject to some exceptions, an accused should be confronted by his accusers so that he was able to «cross-examine them and challenge their evidence».

The ruling stated: «No conviction should be based solely or to a decisive extent upon the statements and testimony of anonymous witnesses.»

Men politiet sier at folk ikke tør vitne mot de farligste kriminelle. Anonyme vitner er eneste måten. Vedtaket i Overhuset kan bety at Davis slipper ut.

t deals a severe blow to plans by Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, to extend anonymity protection to witnesses giving evidence against gang members. It also undermines proposals set out by Louise Casey, the former head of the Government’s anti-social behaviour unit, to extend court anonymity to elderly and disabled victims of crime.

Assisterende politisjef ved Metropolitan-poliitet, John Yates, ber regjeringen gripe inn med nødtiltak.

Police now believe that up to 40 individuals in London alone convicted of murder or other serious crimes could appeal and walk free if the witnesses refuse to reveal their identity in a retrial.

Dozens more previous cases will be affected nationwide and at least three trials currently being heard in England are on the verge of collapse over the legal argument.

«This is potentially disastrous,» Mr Yates said. «A lot of good work is being undone, and this will play out so badly in terms of those we are trying to reachout to in communities. It almost feels like we have broken our word.

«To see clearly guilty people walking free would be just awful.

«Special measures are only used in the most extreme cases, which means these are our most dangerous criminals, people who have been jailed for up to 40 years. And they could be walking free.»

Police have identified an initial list of 16 men who may appeal because of the ruling.

They have been convicted of some of Britain’s most brutal murders in recent years on the basis of evidence from anonymous witnesses.

They are serving an average of more than 30 years in jail but could appeal and have their convictions quashed.

John Yates, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, fears killers will go free

Even our judges seem drawn to extremism