Edward Crew, Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police, said: "Back in the Seventies, we would arrest somebody, we would interrogate them and then we might bother to look for other evidence if they didn't admit it."
Michael Hickey, Vincent Hickey and James Robinson were released on bail last Friday pending a full appeal hearing, after the High Court heard that the West Midlands force had used a forged confession to secure evidence, which led to the conviction of the Bridgewater Four.
The three men served 18 years for the murder of newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater. A fourth, Patrick Molloy, died in custody in 1981.
The chief constable's comments have angered the Bridgewater campaigners who have accused him of trying to justify past wrongdoing. Mr Crew, who at the time of the Bridgewater case was serving as an officer in the Metropolitan Force, said that as an officer working in the late Seventies he could not recall "words like ethics and ethical behaviour" being used in the police.
"They weren't actually important to us. We can't go on like that, and quite simply we have moved away from that, from those sorts of ways of doing business. I have to say that if the penalty we pay is that guilty people walk away and don't get convicted, and I suspect there are many of those, that is a price worth paying.
"There are never any circumstances, and I have never believed there have been, in which one can justify locking up an innocent person," Mr Crew said. He was asked in an interview if interrogations in the Seventies could ever get "rough". He replied: "Of course they could."
But he added: "Even in those days there was never, ever, an expectation that police officers would break the law - the substantial change has come about in the culture in which we work."
Since the Bridgewater case there have been important changes in the law, such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace). This insisted that interrogated suspects be allowed a solicitor and that police interviews were recorded, and on the creation of an independent Crown Prosecution Service.
The chief constable said if any of his officers had committed a criminal offence during the Carl Bridgewater case they would be brought before the courts. Merseyside police are investigating the case and a report is likely to go to the CPS.
The solicitors for retired Detective Constable Graham Leake, whom the High Court was told by defence QC had almost certainly written a false confession in the Bridgewater case, and other unnamed officers, yesterday issued a statement denying "any improper practice". The other officer involved, Detective Constable John Perkins, has since died.
Andreas Whittam Smith, page 15Reuse content