Doubt over 14 IRA convictions

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The Independent Online
Fourteen jailed IRA terrorists will be told by Michael Howard within weeks whether they have grounds for appeal because of contaminated forensic evidence.

That is the number of cases re-examined by forensic scientists following the blunder in May which resulted in the Home Secretary having to tell a stunned House of Commons that convicted bombers may have to be freed because of mistakes in a government laboratory.

Sources involved in re-examining the cases have told The Independent that the 14 include Jan Taylor and Patrick Hayes, the Harrods bombers who said they were "proud" of their terrorist activities, and John Kinsella, a man whose role as the Warrington gasworks bombers' quartermaster has been questioned.

The convictions were re- examined by Professor Brian Caddy, a forensics expert from Strathclyde University, after Mr Howard told the Commons that sensitive testing equipment at the Forensic Explosives Laboratory at Fort Halstead, in Sevenoaks, Kent, had been adulterated. A bung in equipment used to test for traces of Semtex was contaminated with one of its components, RDX, and had not been checked or cleaned since 1989.

At the time, there was speculation that up to 30 prisoners could be affected. However, it is understood a list of 14 cases has been sent to Dick Spring, Ireland's Foreign Minister.

Sources say the full list includes the Warrington Gasworks bombers, Pairic MacFhloinn, serving 35 years, Denis Kinsella, serving 25 years, and John Kinsella, 16 years. It also includes Nick Mullen, jailed for 30 years for being part of an IRA cell, a charge based purely on forensic evidence linking him to Semtex and one which he has always denied.

The others are Vincent Wood, jailed for 17 years last December following the discovery of an IRA explosives cache allegedly intended for John Major's home; Robert Fryers and Hugh Jack, jailed for 25 and 20 years respectively for plotting to set off a bomb in central London. Also on the list are Derek Doherty, jailed in October 1994 after he and an accomplice, Gerard Mackin, planted 12 bombs in London in a week.

It also includes James Canning, who was given 30 years for storing explosives, and Ethel Lamb, the woman he seduced into his plan, who was sentenced to three years. Sean McNulty, serving 25 years, was also jailed for storing explosives. Hayes and Taylor, both Englishmen, were jailed for 30 years for a bombing campaign including a blast at Harrods store in 1993 in which four were injured.

John Kinsella has always denied being the Warrington Gasworks bomb quartermaster. He buried a bag of weapons and explosives for the bombers but said he believed the bag contained stolen silver.

The Home Office yesterday confirmed the list given to The Independent. A spokeswoman said the 14's legal representatives would be given details of Professor Caddy's findings in the autumn, when Mr Howard would decide which to refer back to the Court of Appeal.