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This page provides an account of the events leading up to the execution of Mahmood Hussein Mattan, at Cardiff Prison, on 3 September 1952, and his subsequent posthumous pardon, granted 46 years later.
The Case Details
Mahmood Hussein Mattan was born in Somalia. He met his wife, Laura, in the late 1940s. At this time, Mahmood Mattan was a merchant seaman. Laura's family did not approve of the marriage, and due to the amount of racial prejudice, they were forced to live in separate houses in the same street in Cardiff.
In 1952, Mahmood Mattan was made redundant from his job in a steelworks. He was known to like playing cards and gambling on greyhound races, but he had no history of violent conduct.
On 6 March 1952, Lily Volpert, aged 42 years' old, was found murdered at he pawnbroker's shop in Cardiff's docklands area. Her throat had been cut with a razor, and £100 had been stolen. Within hours of the discovery of Lily Volpert's body, Mahmood Mattan, age 28 and Father of three, was arrested by the Cardiff City Police (now part of South Wales Police).
The main witness at Mahmood's trial for murder, at the Glamorganshire Assizes in July 1952, was Harold Cover. After a reward of £200 (enough to buy a house in 1952 Cardiff) was offered by Lily Volpert's family, he claimed to have seen Mahmood Mattan leave Lily Volperts' premises on the night of the murder. Also Mahmood Mattan's defence barrister described him as a semi-civilised savage. It was not surprising that the jury decided that Mahmood Mattan was guilty, and the judge passed the mandatory sentence of death. Mahmood Mattan's appeal was dismissed in August 1952, and he became the last person to be hanged at Cardiff Prison on 3 September 1952. As with other executed prisoners, his remains were buried within the prison.
During 1952, Harold Cover (now age 78) was also a suspect in the Volpert case. His description of the likely killer matched another Somali called Tehar Gass, even noting Gass' gold tooth. In 1954, Gass was tried for the murder of a wages clerk called Granville Jenkins. Gass was found insane and sent to Broadmoor. After his release he was deported to Somalia.
In 1969, Harold Cover was convicted of the attempted murder of his daughter with a razor. After this conviction, Laura Mattan approached the then Home Secretary, James Callaghan, but he did not refer the case to the Court of Appeal.
One of the investigation officers in the Volpert Case, Detective Inspector Ludon Roberts (died in 1981), was aware that Harold Cover's description did not match that of Mahmood Mattan, but this point was not placed before the original trial jury. Gass was interviewed by Cardiff City Police during their investigations. He admitted visiting Lily Volpert's shop on the day of the murder, but the original trial jury were also not told of this point.
In 1996, Mahmood Mattan's remains were exhumed from Cardiff Prison and re-buried in a Cardiff Cemetery.
On 24 February 1998, at the Court of Appeal in London, Mahmood Mattan's conviction was quashed. Lord Justice Rose (Vice-President of the Court of Appeal) said that the case against Mahmood Mattan was "demonstrably flawed". He went on to say that Mahmood Mattan's death and the length of time taken to dismiss the conviction were matters of profound regret. The other judges sitting with Lord Justice Rose were Mr Justice Holland and Mr Justice Penry-Davey.