Mr Foot, one of a long line of campaigning journalists, who currently writes on miscarriages of justice for Private Eye magazine, found her letter "short, but compelling". After meeting Mrs Whelan, whose only son Michael Hickey was convicted of the murder along with his cousin Vincent, Patrick Molloy and James Robinson, Mr Foot was convinced there had been a miscarriage of justice.
"She said 'No one has looked into this case because everyone assumes they are guilty. I can assure you they're not'. So, in October, 1980, I saw her and started to write about the case. I've written about it ever since," he said. He worked closely with her and they talked regularly on the telephone during the bitter winter of 1983-84 when Michael Hickey was protesting his innocence on a prison roof in sub-zero temperatures.
Mrs Whelan elicited confessions from witnesses she and Mr Foot traced that they had lied under oath. On at least one occasion, she carried a hidden tape-recorder. In 1986, Mr Foot published a book on the case: Murder at the Farm: Who killed Carl Bridgewater?, which was serialised in the Daily Mirror.
A television documentary followed in March 1987, re- examining the evidence.
More information came in, all of it pointing towards the four's innocence. Mr Foot said: "Nothing has emerged since which suggests the men were guilty. Nothing at all." He said he believed the key point which led to the forthcoming appeal was a decision two years ago to take the case to judicial review.
This ultimately meant that statements referring to a confession by the fourth man in the case, Patrick Molloy, had to be disclosed. Mr Foot said: "What's happened since proves the confession was beaten out him and was false."
Last night he greeted the news that the men were to have their convictions quashed with joy, suggesting that the senior judge who presided over the 1988-89 Court of Appeal hearing, Lord Justice Russell, "should consider resigning" .
He said it was a most shocking story and that the decision had taken so long because "the judicial system and the Home Office are extremely reluctant to admit that they have made mistakes" .
Refused, considered, agreed
Two Home Secretaries' views on the battle for an appeal:
"Nothing has emerged from a comprehensive review to cast doubt on the convictions" - Kenneth Clarke, 3 February 1993
"The Home Secretary has not decided whether to refer the case to the Court of Appeal, although at present is minded not to do so" - Michael Howard, 7 December 1995
"The Home Secretary's decision to refer the case has been reached on a fine balance of the arguments, bearing in mind that some evidence has emerged in the latest re-investigation which points against a further reference" - Michael Howard, 26 July 1996.Reuse content