A homeless bartender jailed for murdering a fellow down-and-out in a Carlisle park is still protesting his innocence – 12 years into his life sentence.

Thomas Grecian, 50, spent 12 days trying to convince a crown court jury that he played no part in the Bitts Park murder in September 2004 of 56-year-old Jimmy Atkinson, known to his friends as Jim-Bob.

But he was found guilty and jailed for life, the judge telling him he must serve 15 years before he is eligible for release on parole.

His co-defendant Desmond Hanlon, 20, admitted the killing.

During the trial, the court heard how Grecian – an out-of-work bartender – was sleeping rough in the park and mixing with other homeless people, the group spending much of their time drinking.

Mr Atkinson's body was found in undergrowth. He had been stabbed in the heart, lungs and neck.

Grecian's case has been reviewed over several years by students and supervisors involved in the Cardiff University Law School's Innocence Project.

Researchers there have identified a number of issues which they believe raise concerns about the case.

Grecian's bid for freedom is being supported by his friend Rob Cowell, 62, who got to know him when he spent time in prison for selling counterfeit DVDs.

Asked why he is convinced of Grecian's innocence, Mr Cowell, from Chester-le-Street, County Durham, said: “He's an absolutely rock-solid bloke. I don't think he's got a bad bone in his body.

"As far as I'm concerned, he didn't do it.

“I was speaking to Dr Dennis Eady [from the Innocence Project], and I asked him if Tommy had ever varied his story, and he said he hadn't.

"I also know that Tommy would rather stay in prison than ever admit to something he didn't do.

“He's a very mild-mannered sort of person.”

Since being in prison, Grecian – a self-taught guitarist and lyricist - had continued pursuing his passion for song-writing, said Mr Cowell.

His dream was to win his freedom and one day have his own recording studio and continue with his music.

"I believe in Tommy 110 per cent," said Mr Cowell. "He comes across as honest.”

Grecian was linked to the killing in a number of key ways – most crucially through DNA evidence.

Bloodstains from the victim were found on Grecian's clothes and shoes – the result of his friend having had a nosebleed while he was there, said Grecian.

He later bought new clothes at a Carlisle charity shop – an event which the prosecution said amounted to him trying to eradicate vital evidence.

Yet from the start of the trial it was clear that Grecian and his co-defendant were starkly different characters. There was clear evidence that the younger man was involved.

One of Hanlon's fellow hostel residents told the trial: “At 10 pm I heard a tap on my window and Desmond was standing there.

“He said, ‘If you read something in the paper in the morning it will be me.’

“Then he went on to say he had stabbed someone."

Hanlon told the man that he was ‘buzzing’ and was ‘out of his head.’

An education officer at Lancaster Farms Young Offenders Institute - where Hanlon was held on remand while awaiting trial - said he told him: “I’m mad, boss. I stabbed someone. I watched them die.”

After the murder, police found Hanlon hiding in the arches under Castle Way, his bed a few filthy blankets piled on wooden pallets. He was sleeping there, a knife still clutched in his hand.

By contrast, Grecian portrayed himself as a gentleman; a cultured person who cared about the feelings and welfare of others.

The prosecution had suggested Grecian had argued with Mr Atkinson while witnesses saw him standing up and pointing in “an aggressive manner” before he and Hanlon had ‘forced’ Mr Atkinson into bushes where his body was later found.

Grecian - who once wrote to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair to protest his innocence - challenged his conviction as “unsafe" in 2006, but three top judges rejected his challenge, ruling that the conviction had been “very strong".

The Innocence Project attempted to have the case sent back to the Court of Appeal last year, having raised some concerns about the nature of the original investigation and Hanlon’s confession during the trial.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission rejected the request, arguing that the issues were not relevant to the safety of Grecian's conviction.

Dr Dennis Eady, from Cardiff University's Law School, said its "Innocence Project" had been considering Mr Grecian’s case for a number of years and made two applications on his behalf to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the body makes the initial assessment of applications to review convictions.

He said: "Our police experts have identified a number of issues concerning the police investigation that appear to raise questions and require an explanation. In our view no satisfactory explanation has been provided.

"We also have concerns that the treatment of the evidence concerning Mr Grecian’s co-defendant made it impossible for him to have a fair trial.”