Jeremy Roberts QC, for the Crown, told the Court of Appeal that its approach to the case had been completely altered by the finding of fresh evidence on 6 February this year which showed that police had forged one of the confessions.
Michael Hickey, 35, his cousin Vincent Hickey, 42, and James Robinson, 63, spent 18 years in prison after being jailed for life for the murder of 13-year-old Carl Bridgewater at Yew Tree Farm, near Stourbridge, West Midlands. A fourth man, Patrick Molloy, died in jail in 1981 while serving a 12-year sentence for manslaughter.
Mr Roberts said that "it could now be seen" that Mr Molloy "was tricked into making a confession statement by being shown a forged document purporting to be a statement signed by Vincent Hickey. In these circumstances Mr Molloy's confession statement and later confessions were inadmissible in evidence against him."
He said all the confessions were "tainted by the continuing trick played upon him".
"Without Mr Molloy's confession there was no case against him. If what is now known had been known at the time, Mr Molloy would not have been in the dock at all.
"The trick practised on Mr Molloy must have had a very substantial impact on the cases of the other three such as we cannot invite the court to treat their convictions as safe."
Mr Roberts said that where the conviction of one defendant has been "improperly obtained", the "inevitable consequence" must be that the convictions of co-defendants must be quashed as well.
He said the evidence obtained by the deception of Mr Molloy "must have had a powerful prejudicial affect" on the other three "so that we cannot properly submit that the jury would have convicted them".
"If the truth about the trick had been known in 1979," none of the confession evidence would have been put before the court and Mr Molloy would not have been in the dock.
In 1990, the comparatively new ESDA technique for forensic analysis of documents was used to test Mr Molloy's confession statement. Impressions were found of a statement apparently made earlier on paper which would have been lying on top of the paper used for the Molloy confession. The impressions were of handwriting bearing the name and signature of Vincent Hickey. The signature was "clearly a forgery", it was alleged. Michael Hickey and the two others were granted bail by the Court of Appeal in February. The judges, Lord Justice Roch, Mr Justice Hidden and Mr Justice Mitchell, are also asked to quash Mr Molloy's conviction.
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