Judge blamed over Bridgewater trial

QC tells appeal of non-disclosure of key fingerprint evidence
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The judge, prosecution and defence lawyers all failed to secure a fair trial for James Robinson, one of the four accused of the 1978 Carl Bridgewater murder, the Court of Appeal was told yesterday.

The failings included the non-disclosure by the Crown of key fingerprint evidence from the newspaper boy's bicycle, Lord Justice Roch and two other judges heard.

Patrick O'Connor QC was opening the case for Mr Robinson on the third day of the appeal by the Bridgewater Three and the late Patrick Molloy, whose "confession" led largely to the convictions the following year. "If Mr Molloy's appeal is properly recognised as a tale of police deception and oppression, Mr Robinson's appeal is a tale of the failure of the legal system to secure him a fair trial and to satisfy ... safeguards against injustice," the QC said.

The Crown has already conceded that material backing claims that police forced the confession, the so-called exhibit 54, from Mr Molloy, is enough to make Mr Robinson's murder conviction unsafe. But Mr O'Connor said that the structure of the case against Mr Robinson was riddled with faults anyway.

It would be appropriate for the court to recognise that his conviction would have been quashed quite independently of the "earthquake" of prejudice against him from exhibit 54, the QC said. "We submit that almost every aspect of the system let him down at trial."

Mr Robinson, 63, and cousins Michael Hickey, 35, and Vincent Hickey, 42, have been on unconditional bail since February, when it emerged that police had fabricated a statement to induce Mr Molloy to confess to being at Yew Tree Farm, Stourbridge, West Midlands, where the 13-year-old was killed with a shotgun as he stumbled upon a burglary.

Mr O'Connor told the judges that one of the most significant complaints against the trial judge was that he "wove exhibit 54, Molloy's confession, into his summing up in such as fashion as not only to fail to protect Mr Robinson from prejudice, but to exacerbate it."

The judge [Sir Maurice Drake, now retired] had also "neutralised" one of Mr Robinson's most important defence points - the gross inconsistencies between the descriptions by eye-witnesses and Mr Robinson's shaven-headed appearance at the time of the crime.

Prosecution counsel had cross-examined him for nearly a day without regard to the proper rules, and failed to ensure the disclosure of fingerprint lifts from exhibit 23, the teenager's bicycle, which had undoubtedly been handled by one of the intruders, Mr O'Connor said.

Defence counsel seemed "patently not to have read documents provided on a plate", which contained the first accounts of important witnesses against Mr Robinson, had sat "without objection" though an improper cross- examination and failed to object to other inadmissible evidence.

The appeal continues.