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11.44 am

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I am privileged to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who has been so active in campaigning against miscarriages of justice long before it was fashionable to do so.

One common thread running through the many recent miscarriages of justice is that many of those falsely convicted had some criminal background that led the police, under pressure to secure convictions, to presume guilt and then to cut corners in their investigation. The Bridgewater Four is another such case. There is no doubt that Vincent Hickey, Michael Hickey, Jimmy Robinson and Pat Molloy all had criminal backgrounds, but it was the unscrupulous behaviour of Vincent Hickey that led to disaster for all four.

In late 1977, Vincent Hickey, who had a long history of petty crime, was involved with three others in deception and robbery at a house in Rickmansworth. Evidence was left behind that allowed them to be traced. On arrest in February 1978, Hickey quickly realised that the game was up and offered a deal. He would give the police the names of his accomplices if he was charged only with deception, not robbery. The result was that Vincent Hickey received only a two-year suspended sentence, while his cousin Reg Hickey--who later gave

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evidence, subsequently retracted, that Vincent knew the area around Yew Tree farm--got four years in prison. The enormous value of grassing was not lost on Vincent Hickey.

On 24 November 1978--the day that Vincent Hickey was in court for the Rickmansworth job--Michael Hickey, another cousin, took part in an armed robbery at Tesco in Northfield in Birmingham. His accomplice was James Robinson, whom Michael had met at the Dog and Partridge pub in Selly Oak a month earlier, but several weeks after the cold-blooded killing of Carl Bridgewater on 19 September 1978.

Robinson later joined both Vincent and Michael Hickey in an armed robbery at Chapel farm, another isolated farm like Yew Tree farm. That coincidence did not go unnoticed by the press. Chapel farm is about an hour's drive from the site of Carl's murder. During the robbery, their car was seen and traced to Vincent's girlfriend. Vincent then went to the police with his fateful plan to escape a lengthy prison sentence by pretending to have knowledge of the murder at Yew Tree farm. In fact, his only information was gleaned from a television reconstruction of the murder. We should remember that the Hickeys had not come into contact with Robinson until after the Carl Bridgewater murder.

I give that background because it must be known that those of us who are convinced of the innocence of the Bridgewater Four are under no illusions as to the previous history of the men. Once Vincent Hickey had implicated Michael Hickey and Robinson, Molloy was drawn in because of his association as a partner in crime of Robinson's, although it is clear that he was never involved in any violent crime.

Until Vincent Hickey volunteered the other three men's names, nothing in the three-month investigation into the Carl Bridgewater case had led the police to suspect that any of the others might have had anything to do with the murder. But in four days, the men were interviewed36 times and held in solitary confinement for the rest of the time. As has been said already this morning, the procedures that we take for granted today were not in place then.

Molloy, who at first protested his innocence, was denied access to a lawyer for 10 days. During that time, he signed a statement confessing that he was present at the murder. An account of his interrogation is given in the book by Jill Morrell and it describes violent action by Detective Constable Perkins, who broke Molloy's teeth

Molloy also describes how he was left all night and how his meals were "liberally doused in salt". He was not given anything to drink and eventually had to cup his hands in the lavatory basin and flush it to get water to drink. He ends:

As soon as Molloy had access to a lawyer, he stated that his confession was false, that it had been dictated to him by police officers and that he had never been to Yew Tree farm.

Following Molloy's confession, Vincent Hickey suddenly realised that he was in deep trouble and admitted that he had invented his story to get off the Chapel farm robbery. He denied that he had ever been to Yew Tree farm, but it was too late; the fate of the four was sealed.

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During the trial, Vincent Hickey was directed by the judge not to mention the robbery at Chapel farm, which meant that he had no credible answer to the question, "Why did you shop Robinson and incriminate yourself in this horrible murder?" As has already been said, apart from Molloy's confession, the evidence against the men was extremely flimsy. There has never been any forensic evidence against them. Michael Hickey and Robinson strenuously denied any part in the murder from first to last. Despite the inconsistencies and contradictions of Molloy's confession and the lack of any corroborating evidence, all four were charged with murder.

The men's lawyers were unaware that, until the Chapel farm robbery, Hubert Spencer had been a suspect for the murder. He was a local ambulance driver with a gun licence and an interest in antiques--antiques were stolen at Yew Tree farm. He drove a blue Vauxhall Viva of the type seen by witnesses on the afternoon of Carl's murder. He knew Yew Tree farm inside out and was a past neighbour of Carl Bridgewater, who would have recognised him.

In December 1979, one month after the four men were sentenced for the murder of Carl Bridgewater, Hubert Spencer murdered his close friend, farmer Hubert Wilks, in a similar manner to the killing of Carl Bridgewater. It is thought that the two men had been discussing the Bridgewater case shortly before the murder. Spencer claimed that he had blanked out and did not know why he had killed his friend. Although convicted of that murder, Hubert Spencer is now a free man.

One interesting aspect of the case, particularly in view of the news at the weekend that officers of West Midlands police are alleged to have offered inducements to get prisoners to confess to crimes in order to improve the clear-up rate, is the use made by the prosecution in the Bridgewater case of evidence from prisoners. What little evidence there was against the four relied heavily on allegations about the accused by witnesses from Winson Green prison, where the Hickeys and Robinson were remanded for 10 months. The court even accepted evidence against Molloy, who was not at Winson Green prison at the time.

Mervyn Ritter was transferred from Leicester prison to Winson Green soon after Michael Hickey joined Vincent Hickey and Jimmy Robinson there. He was not a category A top-security prisoner and so was kept separately from the three men. However, on 31 March, because of what he described as internal problems, he was suddenly and mysteriously moved on to landing D3, the landing confined exclusively to top-security prisoners. He subsequently testified that Robinson and Michael Hickey were always laughing their heads off and that Robinson had confessed to killing Carl Bridgewater, but adding that it was an accident.

As has already been said, at the 1988-89 appeal, Mervyn Ritter was proven to be a pathological liar, but the appeal judges ruled him to be a witness of truth in the Bridgewater case. Following the appeal hearing, new evidence, which is included in that currently being considered by the Home Secretary, was submitted in the form of a statement from a former prison officer, who said that, on hearing that the Bridgewater appeal had failed, Ritter said:

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A leaked Home Office document, written in 1991 by William Miller of DC3 division, states:

A similar story surrounds the evidence given by Brian Sinton, who was serving his first prison sentence for petty crime. Oddly, he also found himself close to one of the high-security prisoners in Winson Green--Michael Hickey. In contravention of prison rules, Sinton was taken for a shower with him. According to Sinton, Michael Hickey incriminated himself during the conversation in the showers. Immediately after that, Sinton was dispatched to another prison and was released after serving just 11 months of his 18-month sentence, despite having breached his original suspended sentence.His story that Michael Hickey had referred to the child crying was thrown into doubt by evidence from the pathologist, Dr. Benjamin Davis, who had concluded that Carl was not crying when he was shot. In fact, all the evidence pointed to the fact that Carl had not cried at all and the circumstance of his death suggested that he had known his killer. Carl would not have known any of the men convicted of his murder, but he did know Hubert Spencer.

The appeal was eventually lost. The only evidence remaining was the behaviour of Vincent Hickey following the Chapel farm robbery. The judges ruled that as the alibi evidence showed that Michael had been with Vincent all afternoon and they judged Vincent to be guilty, then Michael must be guilty, too. We must remember that that was at a time when the judiciary was reluctant to admit to major miscarriages of justice, especially when they rested on police evidence. It was the time of Lord Denning's "appalling vista" statement, at the unsuccessful appeal of the Birmingham Six.

Soon afterwards, further evidence was being submitted to the Home Office. It included evidence from forensic psychologist, Dr. Eric Shepherd, who had been commissioned by Merseyside police to examine defence experts' findings that there was only a one in a million chance that Molloy had confessed in the manner reported by the police. When he agreed with the defence findings, the police promptly commissioned new experts.

The trial jury foreman, Tim O'Malley, also wrote to the Home Secretary, stating that Molloy's confession had been crucial to the jury's verdict on the three men. The then Home Secretary decided that the case should notgo back to the Court of Appeal, and Dr. Shepherd subsequently wrote to him expressing his strong view that DC Perkins had committed perjury. He did not receive a reply. The men's lawyers discovered that none of the language experts had even been interviewed by the police. They asked the Home Office why they had discountedDr. Shepherd's findings. The Home Office said that there were other experts who supported the prosecution's case, but would not name them.

During all that time, the men claimed their innocence. We have already heard about Michael Hickey's rooftop protest, lasting 89 days. As a convicted child killer,he had initially faced considerable hostility from fellow prisoners, but his endurance was possible only as a result of their later support. They became convinced of his innocence.

All that is emotional stuff. Their past criminal record went against the four and their subsequent behaviour in protesting their innocence convinced many of the

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truthfulness of their story. I am sure that the Minister will say that we must look at the evidence and deal in facts.It is a pity that the prosecution did not do so.

Since 1993, more evidence has been disclosed. Fourteen police interviews with Molloy were not disclosed at the trial and subsequent appeals. Every officer of every rank who interviewed Molloy was involved in substantial breaches of the then current judges rules governing the treatment of suspects, or withheld evidence at the trial. Pat Molloy's custody records have been uncovered. They show major contradictions between custody officer entries and detective interview schedules. They show that he was interviewed on at least15 occasions without legal representation after a solicitor had been instructed and that he was interviewed without a solicitor at least seven times after he was charged.

The Home Secretary has been considering the latest submissions since 1993. In June 1994, further undisclosed evidence emerged of the fingerprints found on Carl Bridgewater's bicycle, which someone, presumably the killer or the killer's accomplice, had thrown into the pigsty at Yew Tree farm. Carl's bicycle had been put on show in the court room and had also been placed in the jury room. We all know the emotional response that that was designed to achieve. It is disgraceful that, although the police and the prosecution knew that fingerprints on the bicycle matched none of those of the four men, that information was not disclosed to the defence until quite recently.

The Home Office has been considering all the new evidence for more than two and a half years. It is clearly of a nature not to be dismissed lightly. The Minister says that the Home Office's inquiries have been thorough;it was said that the whole case was thoroughly examined in the Court of Appeal in 1988-89, but that has subsequently been proven not to be the case.

It is interesting to note that the first two police inquiries were carried out by Manchester police, and that only when John Stalker announced his intention to supervise the third inquiry was it switched to Merseyside police. I wonder why. Leaked documents from C3 show the unreliability of police witnesses. C3's William Miller wrote in 1991 of DC Perkins, who took Molloy's confession:

Miller's document confirms that

Regrettably, the disciplinary aspects are merely the tip of a somewhat polluted iceberg.

Is the Minister prepared to release the record ofDC Perkins to hon. Members, now that he has died?We are now asked to believe that the police have been able to give satisfactory explanations for the discrepancies in their original evidence and in the custody records, revealed in the new evidence.

In the Home Secretary's recent press release, in which he said that he was not minded to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal, he mentioned evidence that allegedly implicates Vincent Hickey and Pat Molloy in the murder. In a written parliamentary question, I asked the Home Secretary about the nature of that information. The reply that I received was:

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the letter to the men's lawyer--

We must ask, therefore, why the Home Secretary decided to put the detail of the mysterious new evidence in the press release. That is what the press focused on when they looked at the case. Yet he says that there was no reliance on that information and that it was irrelevant. If it was irrelevant, why mention it?

Every time that this case comes up, it must be agony for the parents of Carl Bridgewater. Our heart goes out to them. While the obvious miscarriage of justice continues to be ignored, the case will be raised time and again. Surely it must be time to refer the matter back to the Court of Appeal. Then all the new evidence can be examined in open court and not behind closed doors.

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