Bridgewater police chief given top job at GCHQ spy base

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The Independent Online
The man who headed the disgraced police inquiry into the murder of Carl Bridgewater was promoted to head of security at GCHQ, Britain's most powerful intelligence-gathering agency.

Since the conviction of the Bridgewater Four in 1979 Robert Stewart's career has blossomed, and he was given responsibility for protecting the Cheltenham base where Britain's intelligence services conduct operations in electronic eavesdropping.

When Carl was killed on 19 September 1978, Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart was head of CID in the tiny Staffordshire police force. He was assigned to head the investigation into the murder, which led to the jailing of four innocent men, Pat Molloy, Jim Robinson, Vincent Hickey and Michael Hickey. Mr Molloy died in 1981 and the other three were freed on Friday after 19 years in prison when the Appeal Court heard evidence of "serious, substantial and widespread police malpractice".

Two of the officers on the team, Detective Constable John Perkins and Detective Constable Graham Leeke, were alleged to have forged a confession by Vincent Hickey. Merseyside police are currently investigating the conduct of the original inquiry. There is no suggestion that Mr Stewart knew that any confessions had been falsely obtained. He was reported to still be in his post last year but the top-secret GCHQ would not confirm whether he continued to hold the position.

Sir Patrick Cormack, Tory MP for the constituency where Carl was murdered, is to ask the Home Secretary Michael Howard for an independent judicial inquiry. The Government moved to calm fears that new rules on the keeping of criminal evidence could lead to a repetition of the case.

The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act, which comes into force on 1 April, stipulates a minimum of three years for files to be retained. This means that vital evidence in the Bridgewater Three appeal could have been destroyed. Sources close to Mr Howard promised a new "note of guidance" that could extend the time key documents are kept in case of appeal.

Yesterday Jim Robinson and the Hickeys, who are cousins, spent a day in London recovering from the traumatic events of their liberation at the High Court on Friday. Mr Robinson spent his first night of freedom with the family of Billy Power, a member of the Birmingham Six, in east London.

Justice in the dock, page 3