Kenneth Clarke's decision brings further pressure on the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice to recommend the creation of an independent tribunal to investigate possible miscarriages of justice.
Tony Blair, Labour's home affairs spokesman, said the case for such a body was 'stronger than ever' and that without it 'there will always continue to be doubt cast on the fairness of the procedures for inquiring into potential miscarriages, especially where, as here, there has been such a powerful amount of evidence that appears to question the validity of the convictions.'
Mr Clarke announced his decision after considering a police report which concluded there were no doubts about the confession central to the case. It was given by Patrick Molloy to Detective Constable John Perkins, now dead, who has been discredited during Court of Appeal hearings involving the West Midlands serious crime squad.
Cousins Michael and Vincent Hickey, James Robinson and Molloy, who died in prison, were convicted in 1979 of the shotgun killing of Carl Bridgewater, aged 13, during a burglary at a Staffordshire farmhouse.
Jim Nichol, solicitor for the men, said he would ask Mr Clarke for copies of statements taken by Merseyside police. 'I am disgusted and appalled. I cannot see how the Home Secretary can choose to rely upon a detective who the Lord Chief Justice has said is a perjurer.'
Anne Whelan, mother of Michael Hickey, who has led the campaign, said last night: 'The fight goes on. We are absolutely devastated and dreadfully upset, but the anger will keep us going. This has ripped the guts out of these men but we will be back.'
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