'Oppression and deceit' that won police the Bridgewater murder confession

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The Independent Online
On first day of full appeal, QC tells how crime squad put pressure on suspect with a

falsified statement

Police officers at the centre of the Carl Bridgewater murder investigation combined a carefully contrived device of deceit with oppression to extract the confession that led to the jailing of the four accused, the Court of Appeal was told yesterday.

Michael Mansfield QC, counsel for the late Patrick Molloy, said the attitude of the officers was such that when confronted with evidence of a falsified statement one, Detective Sergeant John Robbins, volunteered to "personally pull the handle on these men and open the trap-door and hang them, and he would do it with a bacon sandwich in his hand."

The accusations came at the start of the full appeal on behalf of the Bridgewater Four against their 1979 convictions for the murder of the 13-year-old newspaper boy at Yew Tree Farm, near Stourbridge, West Midlands.

James Robinson, 63, and cousins Michael Hickey, 35, and Vincent Hickey, 42, who were released on unconditional bail in February, were present in the packed courtroom at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Mr Molloy died in 1981 while serving a 12-year sentence for manslaughter.

In an extraordinary twist in the 19-year campaign to get the convictions overturned, the Court of Appeal freed the Hickeys and Mr Robinson after an independent forensic test, completed a fortnight earlier, revealed that the police had falsified a signed statement from Vincent Hickey purporting to implicate the others and shown it to Mr Molloy to provoke him into making a false confession.

Mr Mansfield told the three judges, Lord Justice Roch and Mr Justices Hidden and Mitchell, that it had been "carefully analysed" which officers must have been involved in that contrivance and in the oppression meted out to Mr Molloy, who was interviewed at least 30 times over 31 hours at Womborne police station, Staffordshire, in the run-up to his "confession." During the interrogation he denied involvement 80 times.

The QC said all the officers were members of the Regional Crime Squad Number Four and the members responsible for Mr Molloy were headed by Detective Inspector Geoffrey Turner. He deputed the since discredited Detective Constable John Perkins, who died in 1992, and Detective Constable Graham Leake to interview Mr Molloy. The team also included DS Robbins, who was stationed outside the cell where the interviews took place, and Detective Sergeant Dennis Walker. Mr Mansfield said many other more senior officers in the Staffordshire police may have known what was going on in the small Womborne station, in particular, Detective Chief Inspector Wes Watson, who was there for much of the relevant time.

Mr Molloy consistently insisted up to his death that police had shown him a statement under caution, which no longer exists, on which he read Vincent Hickey's name. It was the falsification of this statement which ultimately led Mr Molloy to make a confession - contained in the now infamous exhibit 54 - and led the Crown to announce two months ago that it would not contest the appeal.

Describing the build-up of "oppression" prior to the extraction of the confession, Mr Mansfield told the judges that crucial interviews were conducted in the cells, not in the interview room. "We say this was no coincidence. It was intended to provide an atmosphere of isolation and claustrophobia."

The majority of the interviews conducted by the crime squad officers were not entered in the custody record. This was no minor omission or administrative mess, the QC said. "The officers based at this police station, possibly going up as far as DCI Watson were turning a completely blind eye to what the regional crime squad were doing."

One of the "ploys to break Molloy", Mr Mansfield said, was to "plainly and bluntly disbelieve the denials and assert from the beginning that he [Mr Molloy] committed this murder, that he was guilty ... and that nothing short of a confession, at least to presence at the farm, would do."

The most important ploy of all was to hint that others had "grassed him up". Interview records showed DC Perkins telling him: "Do you see what we are getting at, Pat? You are on the brink of no return, the no-options position."

The appeal continues.