Howard rejects 'Bridgewater Three' appeal

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Home Affairs Correspondent

The men jailed for the murder of the newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater suffered a bitter blow yesterday in their 16-year campaign to prove their innocence, when the Home Secretary said he was "not minded" to refer the case to the Court of Appeal.

The men's solicitor said he would seek an immediate judicial review of Michael Howard's decision, even though Mr Howard said he was giving the men one last chance to make further representations.

Jim Nichol said he was so "outraged" by the decision, which "ignored or brushed aside" all new evidence, that he would resort to the courts. "It is a pretty sad state that a lawyer has to go for a judicial review because a Home Secretary has shown he cannot be trusted. Michael Howard is taking on the functions of the court, something he just shouldn't do. "

He said that serious questions over missing police statements, new evidence relating to a possible murder weapon, and suggestions that police officers systematically ignored the rules governing the interviewing of suspects had "all been glossed over". "I am, quite literally, stunned," he said.

The decision in such a high-profile case, which has been the subject of books, documentaries and articles suggesting the men are innocent, will increase pressure on Mr Howard to speed up the setting up of an independent tribunal to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice.

Removing the Home Secretary's role in such cases was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in the wake of a series of grave injustices including those of the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six.

Michael Hickey, 33, his cousin Vincent Hickey, 41, and James Robinson, 61, have always protested their innocence since they were convicted in February 1979 of shooting dead the 13-year-old newspaper boy. Carl was killed when he stumbled across a burglary at Yew Tree Farm, near Stourbridge, West Midlands. Michael Hickey has turned down chances of parole, because he maintains he will only come out of jail, "an innocent man".

The men were convicted largely on the evidence of Patrick Molloy, who was convicted alongside the others, but of the lesser charge of manslaughter. He died in prison in 1981, claiming he had been forced into making a false confession. The policeman who took the Molloy confession was Detective Constable John Perkins, one of two officers later disciplined over a 1986 case involving allegations of fabricated statements.