Somali Seaman executed in Wales 66 years ago was innocent

Wales – On September 3 1952, dad-of-three Mahmood Hussein Mattan was taken from his cell at Cardiff prison and executed for a murder he did not commit.

He was the last person to ever be hanged in Cardiff and the final innocent person to be hanged in Wales.

Born in Somalia in 1923, Mahmood Mattan was a sailor and his job ended up taking him to Wales.

That was when he met Laura Williams from the Rhondda Valley. The couple married just three months after meeting.

The Somali seaman upset many people in the 1950s community of Butetown by marrying a Welsh woman.

On March 6, 1952, Lily Volpert, a 41-year-old unofficial moneylender, was found by a neighbour lying in a pool of blood at her shop in the docklands area of Cardiff.

Her throat had been cut.

The blinds are lowered at Volpert’s clothing store, Bute Street, Cardiff, where Lily Volpert was found in a pool of blood – the picture was taken the following day on March 7 1952

Mr Mattan was charged with the murder nine days later.

And within five months he had been tried and wrongly found guilty.

He was told by officers at the time that he would die for Miss Volpert’s murder “whether he did it or not”, and was described in court as a “semi-civilised savage”. He had denied the help of an interpreter.

During the case a prosecution witness had altered his statement and been rewarded for giving evidence.

Laura Mattan, who lived for most of her life in Archer Road, Ely, Cardiff, always stood by her husband’s side as he protested his innocence, but had to stand outside Cardiff Prison with her three young sons, David, Mervyn and Omar, while the sentence was carried out.

Following Mr Mattan’s death, the family campaigned to clear his name and have him buried in a humane fashion.

Two Home Secretaries in the 1950s and 1960s refused to refer the case to appeal, but the family finally won the right to have his conviction reassessed and eventually it was quashed 45 years later on February 24, 1998.

The case was the first to be overturned by the newly formed Criminal Cases Review Commission.

It resulted in the family winning a £1.4m payout.

Laura Mattan, wife of Mahmood Mattan, pictured with her three sons, left to right, David, Omar and Mervyn.

But after succeeding in their campaign, the family suffered more tragedy when, in March 2003, middle son Omar was found washed up on a remote beach in the far north of Scotland.

The family claimed he never recovered from the unjust death of his father.

Omar left and his brother Mervyn Mattan at their fathers graveside

In 2006, youngest son Mervyn was jailed for six months for his part in a failed bank robbery.

Just months earlier David found himself surrounded by armed police in St Mary Street after reports of a man brandishing a gun, while he was only busking with his guitar.

Laura Mattan who campaigned against her husband’s conviction and hanging

Ten years after receiving the pay-out, Laura Mattan died peacefully aged 78 at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport.

Hanging for murder was finally suspended in the UK in 1965 and abolished in 1969, (1973 in Northern Ireland).

In 2004 the UK acceded to the 13th Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the death penalty in all circumstances.