The three appeal court judges also listed six criticisms of the judge who presided over their 1979 trial, Sir Maurice Drake, who has since retired; nine complaints of non-disclosure of evidence by the Crown to the defence; and two of the cross-examination conducted by the leading prosecuting counsel, Igor Judge, who is now a Court of Appeal judge.
But senior police officers in the Staffordshire force, which conducted the investigation, escaped censure, while Lord Justice Roch and two other judges declared that there remained admissible evidence on which a reasonable jury could have convicted one of the four, Vincent Hickey.
The rulings came at the conclusion of the 19-year campaign to overturn the murder convictions of James Robinson, 63, and cousins Michael Hickey, 35, and Vincent Hickey, 42, following the killing of the 13-year-old at Yew Tree Farm, near Stourbridge, West Midlands, with a single blast to the head from a shotgun. The fourth man, Patrick Molloy, died in 1981 while serving a 12-year sentence for manslaughter.
The judges added that "it must not be forgotten" that James Robinson and Michael Hickey had pleaded guilty to two serious armed robberies and that Vincent Hickey through his counsel had admitted during the appeal proceedings that he had participated in one of them, at Chapel Hill Farm, Halesowen. The four men, however, had been denied a fair trial.
The quashing of the convictions means that the men's lawyers can begin claims for compensation, likely to run into six figures each, although the money is likely to take years to be paid.
Lord Justice Roch told a crowded appeal court in London that expert evidence show-ed that confessions made by Mr Molloy were obtained by the "deceit" of showing him a forged witness statement implicating him which he was told had been made by Vincent Hickey. The confessions were inadmissible as evidence and without them, Mr Molloy would never have been prosecuted.
The judges said that the murder convictions of the other three men were unsafe because the inadmissible confessions were put before the jury, and in the cases of James Robinson and Michael Hickey there were other independent reasons for quashing their convictions.
In the case of Vincent Hickey, they were not convinced of his alibi and rejected his claim that his own confessions to police were inadmissible. After nearly two decades in jail, he will not, however, face a retrial.
The officers or former officers whose conduct caused what the appeal judges said was "grave concern" in three areas will now be examined by the DPP, Dame Barbara Mills.
They include Det Con Graham Leeke, now retired, and former Det Sgt John Robbins who were involved in the making or use of the false Vincent Hickey statement.
A third officer, Det Con John Perkins, was "prepared to obtain evidence dishonestly", but he has since died.
Dame Barbara will also examine the roles of the then Det Sgt Brian Harrison and Det Con David Davies in what the judges said was an "editing" of a record of a conversation they had with Patrick Molloy in a car taking him to Shrewsbury prison, which could have misled the jury.
The third area of concern centres on an exchange between Det Sgt Clive Williams and Det Con Clive Massey with Michael Hickey about whether the delivery boy had smiled when the gun went off, which had loomed large in the trial and the judge's summing up.
In the absence of the alleged conversation it is unlikely that Michael Hickey would have been charged, and the appeal judges said yesterday that they considered it unlikely that the conversation had ever taken place.Reuse content