After being convicted of murder, Mahmoud Mattan, a British-Somali man, was executed in September 1952. In Cardiff’s Tiger Bay, the father of three was wrongfully convicted of the murder of shopkeeper Lily Volpert. The British-Somali seaman, who was only 28 years old at the time of his execution, was the last man killed in Wales after a horrifying court case. For years, his wife and family battled to prove his innocence.
After authorities discovered evidence had been primarily faked and manipulated by police at the time, he was posthumously acquitted 46 years after he was executed, according to the BBC.
The Fortune Men, a novel based on Mattan’s experience, was just named to the Booker Prize longlist. The book is written by Nadifa Mohamed, a Somali woman whose father met Mattan when the two immigrated to Hull.
People who knew Mattan described him as “spiky, courageous, and happy to speak up for his rights and the rights of those around him,” according to Mohamed. “I believe that is in part why the cops singled him out to be held responsible for the next large crime in the area.”
Mattan, who was born in 1922 in what is now Somaliland, arrived at Butetown, also known as Tiger Bay or The Docks, in the 1940s. Mattan acquired a job aboard a ship, like many others who came to work there from many regions of the British Empire, including British Somaliland. He met Laura Williams, a 17-year-old Rhondda Valley girl who was working in a paper factory at the time.
Three months after meeting, they married. It was difficult for the two because interracial couples were frowned upon. Despite the fact that they had three sons, they struggled to find a location where they could all live together. As a result, Mattan and his wife lived in separate houses on the same block. Then disaster struck.
Someone slit the neck of the shopkeeper and moneylender Volpert in her shop in Butetown, Cardiff, not far from the docks, on March 6, 1952. Her throat had been slashed with a razor, and she was found dead in a pool of blood. A total of £100 (about $4,000 now) had been taken. When the police interrogated Mattan, he stated that he was not on Bute Street that day, but rather at a movie theater. He said he went home after seeing a movie until 7:30 p.m. At 8:15 p.m., a murder occurred.
Mattan’s house was searched, but no proof was found. However, he was apprehended after a Jamaican guy, Harold Cover, made a statement to the police. At the time of the murder, Cover stated he saw a Somali with a gold tooth and no cap or overcoat leaving Volpert’s shop. Meanwhile, according to the BBC, Mattan did not have gold teeth and was seen wearing a cap and coat that evening, both before and after the murder. Cover recently revealed that the man he saw was another Somali named Taher Grass.
Despite this, Cover offered the cops a second statement that contradicted his first. The Volpert family had offered a £200 reward for information. Cover testified at the trial that he saw Mattan leave the shop at 8.15 p.m.
Meanwhile, at an identification parade, four other witnesses who had been around the business on the evening of the murder could not recognize Mattan. The police kept this information from the jury and the defense. They also kept Cover’s first statement regarding Grass a secret.
To make matters worse, Mattan’s own defense attorney, T E Rhys-Roberts, portrayed his client as “this half-child of nature, a semi-civilized savage” in his closing address.
Mattan was found guilty and was given the death penalty. The British Somali sailor was denied the right to appeal. On September 3, 1952, he was hung in Cardiff Prison.
Laura, Mattan’s wife, was cited in the Independent in 1997 as saying, “I still believed right up to the end that they would let him go, but they didn’t, they hung him.”
“When they did that, I just shut myself in my room with my kids, and for a while after that, I thought I saw him strolling down the street toward me. Mattan was a wonderful husband and parent, she claimed.
Laura found out about her husband’s execution when she went to visit him in prison because authorities had not informed her.
Cover, who provided the evidence that led to Mattan’s execution, was later sentenced to life in prison for attempting to murder his daughter by slashing her throat with a razor.
In 1954, Grass was also found guilty of the murder of a man. On the other hand, he was found not guilty due to insanity.
Mattan’s case was the first to be brought to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was established in the 1990s. In 1998, the Commission overturned his conviction, making it the organization’s first case to be overturned. The case was deemed as “demonstrably faulty” by Lord Justice Rose, who noted a paucity of evidence, including a complete lack of forensic evidence linking Mattan to the murder of Volpert. Mattan’s family received £1.4 million in compensation, the first time the Home Office has rewarded the family of a man who was wrongfully hanged.
Laura died ten years after the settlement. Mattan’s children are likewise no longer alive, while several of his grandkids and great-grandchildren are still alive and well in Cardiff. A vigil was held outside Cardiff Prison in September to honor Mattan. At the event, his granddaughter Natasha Grech said, “Everyone knew my grandfather was innocent.” My parents always thought the effect it had on the town was terrible.
“Mahmoud’s sons were mocked, bullied, and shunned. They couldn’t do anything normal. Everyone nicknamed them murderer’s children,’ which my father despised, especially when they ultimately pardoned him.” “All those squandered years, all that time. For the three sons, things could have turned out very differently. They didn’t.
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