Final act in Bridgewater saga begins

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The men jailed in 1979 for the murder of newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater finally get their day in court today when a hearing of extensive new evidence begins at the Court of Appeal.

The appeal, expected to last up to four weeks, is the last leg of an 18-year campaign to get the convictions of cousins Vincent and Michael Hickey, James Robinson and the late Patrick Molloy overturned.

In a sensational turn of events in February, the Court of Appeal freed the Hickeys and Mr Robinson on unconditional bail after an independent forensic test, completed just a fortnight earlier, revealed that police had concocted a statement used to provoke Mr Molloy into making a false confession.

While the final appeal hearing will involve less drama, lawyers for the men plan to expose each and every failure that contributed to the miscarriage of justice. Evidence relating to around 80 further grounds of appeal will be presented, covering the men's alibis, the unreliability of prosecution witnesses and non-disclosure of forensic evidence.

Jim Nichol, their solicitor, said: "If the evidence we have today had been heard at the original trial these men would never have gone to prison. The failure to disclose relevant material ... has helped to keep them behind bars. Much of what we now have was available at the time of the trial."

Ann Whelan, mother of Michael Hickey and a key figure in the campaign to prove the men's innocence, said: "We have waited for this day for nearly 19 years and it is my fervent hope that when the men are finally shown to be innocent, the establishment will have the courage to say 'sorry' ...

"Not only have the men been badly led down by the system, but the Bridgewater family, who suffered a terrible loss, are now faced with the knowledge that the real killer has never been brought to justice."