DEFIANT Margaret Angus last night vowed to fight on for justice in memory of her wrongly convicted fiance who died in her arms after their prison cell romance.
Ms Angus is locked in a bitter court battle with the family of Anthony Steel after striking up a relationship with him nearly three decades ago, as he served a life sentence for a murder he never committed.
Her partner was jailed in 1979 for the murder of 20-year-old baker’s clerk Carole Wilkinson, who was partially stripped, sexually assaulted and bludgeoned to death with two large stones.
But after his conviction was quashed in 2003, Mr Steel relocated to the North East and the pair were engaged to be married.
As a result of his wrongful incarceration, Mr Steel was entitled to make a claim for substantial compensation from the Home Secretary, believed to total between £500,000 and £2,153,206.
He died in 2007 without ever receiving the money and since then, Ms Angus and Mr Steele’s family have been embroiled in a bitter row over the administration of his estate.
Last night Ms Angus spoke of her battle to carry out Mr Steel’s dying wish and revealed the heartache of holding her partner as he suffered a fatal heart attack.
Speaking for the first time about her relationship with Mr Steel, the 49-year-old, of Blackhill Crescent, Gateshead, said: “Tony was an honest man and he told me what he wanted to happen after his death.
“I was holding him when he died. He had a triple heart bypass after his release but he died of a heart attack. It was awful after everything he went through.
“It was a very difficult time for me and it still upsets me now. He made his wishes quite clear at the time – he made his life in Gateshead and he was living here. We were part of his family.
“The whole thing has been extremely traumatic and I’ve felt like I’ve had a terrible weight on my shoulders.”
Ms Angus, who at the time lived near Frankland Prison, in County Durham, wrote to Mr Steel after seeing his campaign for justice on a BBC documentary.
When she began visiting him inside the high-security prison, their relationship flourished and they had intended to spend their lives together.
However in 1989 – more than 10 years after he was imprisoned – Mr Steel made a bid for freedom but his application for parole was refused. He couldn’t bear to keep seeing Ms Angus, so asked her to stop visiting.
The heartbroken pair spent nearly nine years apart, but after Mr Steel’s release in 1998, he desperately tried to trace Ms Angus.
With the help of BBC producer Peter Hill, who had previously championed Mr Steel’s release, he tracked her down and made contact before moving to Gateshead to live with her.
They planned to marry in 2008, but Mr Steel died in 2007, aged just 51.
Last night Ms Angus, who has a daughter from a previous relationship, Kath, 31, who also lives in Gateshead, said: “I’ve been wondering how I ever started visiting Tony in prison in the first place. I just saw the documentary and this particular one just really struck a chord.
“I’m so happy I did though. I had some difficult years when he was in prison, but we also had some wonderful times together.
“When I first heard his story, I just thought I would write to him. I was sending him messages of support and wishing him well.
“We just really got on well with each other and after only six months I thought I would go to visit him.
“I had never stepped foot in a prison before, it was terrifying. It was high-security so the whole experience was quite daunting.
“He was upbeat about everything and he was always writing letters and trying to clear his name through an appeal.
“He was a quiet man but was very deep and very thoughtful. He had been through so much and he had very, very low self-esteem.”
Page 3 - Anthony's funeral sparked bitter battle >>
Anthony's funeral sparked bitter battle
MS Angus’s rocky relationship with Anthony’s family began in the immediate aftermath of his death in 2007.
Funeral arrangements sparked a bitter battle between his Gateshead-based fiancee and his family over where to bury his body. But, during a hearing in Newcastle County Court, a judge ruled Miss Angus had the right to bury him in the North East, where they settled on his release from prison.
The decision disgusted Mr Steel’s sister, Angela Emmott, and his son Mark, who told the hearing Mr Steel had always wanted to be cremated and his ashes buried with his father, Charles, in Bradford.
She said Mr Steel was terrified of being buried because he "didn’t want to be fed to the worms", however, Ms Angus eventually won the case and Mr Angus was buried close to her home. That dispute laid the foundation for the current court battle, in which a feud has broken out over who is entitled to Mr Steel’s estate.
Mr Steel became entitled to massive compensation – which could come to anything between £500,000 and £2,153,206 – following his release from prison in 2003.
Under Mr Steel’s final will, made in April 2005, Ms Angus stands to inherit the bulk of his estate, while around £120,000 will go to his family.
But during a court case last week, the full claim could not be submitted for assessment without the approval of the executors of his will, Mrs Emmott and her husband Donald. The couple, from Halifax, refused to give the green light for the claim to be lodged with the Ministry because they claim documents were falsified before his death.
During a High Court hearing in London, Judge Richard Snowden ruled that the statement could not be submitted and blocked the compensation claim.
Ms Angus and Mr and Mrs Emmott were removed as executors of Mr Steel’s will and replaced with a solicitor.
Now it will be up to the solicitor to decide on any alterations that should be made to Mr Steel’s statement before submission to the Ministry of Justice.
Decades of hell
ANTHONY Steel spent nearly three decades languishing in prison for a crime he never committed.
His nightmare began 18 months after Carole Wilkinson was beaten to death on a quiet back lane in Bradford as she walked to work from her nearby home on October12, 1977.
She was found lying in a pool of blood, with her clothes ripped off. She had been battered with two heavy stones.
After three days in a coma at Bradford Royal Infirmary, her life-support machine was turned off and she was pronounced dead.
At the time, under-fire West Yorkshire Police were in the midst of the Yorkshire Ripper investigation, but quickly ruled out the murder as being one of the serial killer’s spree.
They said it happened at the wrong time of day, it was the wrong type of crime and Ms Wilkinson was the wrong kind of victim.
Various people working and living on the estate were questioned, but the trail quickly went cold.
More than 18 months later Mr Steel was subjected to two days’ intensive questioning.
His alibi had evaporated, and a keyring similar to one owned by Ms Wilkinson was linked to the council-employed gardener.
He confessed to the murder, but is thought to have retracted his confession soon afterwards.
Mr Steel was found guilty and sentenced to life, before his confession was revealed to contain many inaccuracies, and vital evidence linking him to the crime scene was considered unreliable.
New psychological evidence showed he was also of low IQ, had learning difficulties, and was easily led and open to suggestions.
None of this evidence was revealed to the jury in 1979, and after reviewing the case, the Court of Appeal quashed Mr Steel’s conviction as "unsafe" in 2003.
He had been in prison for two decades, and out on licence for five years. Following his release, Mr Steel received a letter of apology from West Yorkshire Police, and an interim payment of £100,000.
In the four years leading up to his death in 2007, he was paranoid about being wrongly arrested again, and took a tape recorder and notebook everywhere to gather evidence of his activities.