In a dramatic and unprecedented intervention, Tim O'Malley, 45, said he had suffered 'growing doubts' over the safety of the convictions, largely because of concern over the reliability of the confession central to the case. 'I now believe the men are innocent and that they should be cleared by the Court of Appeal.'
Mr O'Malley said he wrote last year to Kenneth Clarke, the then Home Secretary, saying he had changed his mind and urging him to refer the case to the appeal court. Mr Clarke rejected the submissions from the men's solicitor in February.
'I was disappointed that Mr Clarke ignored new evidence. I am very strongly in support of the British justice system, but I feel that sometimes it has to be helped against itself,' Mr O'Malley said.
Although his move has no direct legal bearing on the case, it has substantial emotive and moral force, which may prompt Mr Clarke's successor, Michael Howard, to reconsider the decision. A fresh submission from lawyers for the men is to be delivered to the Home Office next week.
The submission will cover the fact that Dr Eric Shepherd, an expert on police interviewing techniques consulted by the Home Office when considering the last application, disclosed last week that he had agreed with four experts that the confession was unreliable. Dr Shepherd believed Mr Clarke's decision was wrong.
The confession, by Patrick Molloy, implicated himself and three others in the murder of Carl Bridgewater, 13, who was shot in 1978 after disturbing burglars at a Staffordshire farmhouse. Molloy, who died in prison, retracted the confession, which was made to a detective since discredited by the Court of Appeal over other cases.
Mr O'Malley, an accountant who was 31 when elected foreman of the Stafford Crown Court jury, told ITN yesterday that despite being warned by the judge that the confession could not be used as evidence against the three other men, the cousins Michael and Vincent Hickey and James Robinson, it was 'crucial' in the jury's decision-making. He later told the Independent: 'We were given copies of Molloy's confession at the beginning. Although it was made very clear it was not evidence, I defy anybody to put it out of thier minds.'
Mr O'Malley, now a Labour councillor, said he had followed the case since the trial. 'I had growing doubt which culminated in the linguistic reports (which said speech patterns in the confession were unlikely for an Irishman) which struck a chord with me because of my Irish father.' He had decided to speak out after a recent television documentary and Dr Shepherd's statement last week. 'My conscience told me I must speak up.'
Although in the United States jurors often make public comments, it is extremely rare in Britain.
Last November, Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Mail on Sunday, was fined pounds 60,000 for contempt of court after publication of an article detailing the deliberations of jurors in the Blue Arrow fraud case.
The Attorney General's office said last night that the circumstances of Mr O'Malley's comments had been drawn to the attention of Sir Nicholas Lyell. Lawyers said that in all the recent miscarriage of justice cases, there had been no instances of jurors making their feelings public.
A Home Office spokesman said Mr Howard would consider any new evidence but the views of both Mr O'Malley and Dr Shepherd had been known in February.
Jim Nichol, a solicitor for the men, said it was 'very courageous' of Mr O'Malley to come forward. Next week he will deliver a fresh submission to the Home Office to reopen the case, arguing that, in addition to yesterday's developments, two Court of Appeal judgments have clarified the law to the point where it is difficult to sustain group convictions after confessions by one of a group have been discredited.
History of doubt, page 2
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