Bridgewater witness 'has vital evidence'

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The Independent Online
A WITNESS who claims to have evidence that a former West Midlands Police Serious Crime Squad detective fabricated a confession at the centre of the Carl Bridgewater case was urged last night to come forward and make a statement to police.

In April last year, Michael Chamberlain, a car dealer, now living in the West Country, told the solicitor for three men jailed for the schoolboy's murder, that as a result of his friendship with Detective Constable John Perkins in 1978 - while the suspects were being interrogated - he had important evidence which suggested the confession of one of the men, Patrick Molloy, was fabricated - as the men always claimed.

At one point, DC Perkins is also said to have told Mr Chamberlain that 'today was the day' that Molloy was going to confess. Molloy was convicted of manslaughter and died in prison in 1981.

DC Perkins, then a member of the Regional Crime Squad, later joined the West Midlands Police Serious Crime Squad, disbanded in 1989 amid allegations of fabricated confessions; he retired on medical grounds and died in October last year.

Mr Chamberlain, who has a criminal record, told Jim Nichol, the men's solicitor, that he and DC Perkins were business partners. They had taken holidays together, including a cruise on the QE 2. He made a number of other allegations against the officer, suggesting he received goods free from local traders, that he had told him how he put plastic bags over the heads of suspects to force them to confess and that he was involved in a racket selling cars to other police officers. Details of the allegations were passed by Mr Nichol to Merseyside detectives investigating the Bridgewater case. Mr Chamberlain refused to make a statement, allegedly because he was frightened of being 'fitted up' by police.

In rejecting the application for the case to be referred to the Court of Appeal, Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, said Mr Chamberlain had declined to make a statement and no evidence was found to support the claims. Mr Nichol said last night: 'This man has important evidence central to this case and which casts doubt on these convictions. I urge him to come forward and repeat his statements to the police in order to get this case re-opened.'

The car dealer was also interviewed by detectives from West Yorkshire Police, which investigated the squad, examining allegations that DC Perkins stole money which he claimed as payments to informants, among them Mr Chamberlain. He refused to make a statement.

In 1991, a man serving 10 years for conspiracy to commit robbery who claimed his confession to DC Perkins was falsified was cleared by the Court of Appeal.

Lord Lane, the Lord Chief Justice, said disciplinary findings against DC Perkins over a 1986 case suggested he had committed perjury then and was therefore unreliable.

Last year, Glen Lewis, serving 10 years for robbery, also had his conviction quashed when Lord Lane said the credibility of DC Perkins was so 'blighted' that a jury would probably not have convicted him. Mr Lewis claimed DC Perkins assaulted him, forced him to sign blank interview sheets and prevented him from having a solicitor present.

The West Yorkshire inquiry, which is believed to have recommended charges against DC Perkins over the alleged theft of informants' payments, submitted more than 20 files to the Merseyside investigation on complaints it was investigating against detectives involved in the Bridgewater case.

Mr Clarke said he did not consider DC Perkins's misconduct at the later date provided evidence to doubt his propriety in the Bridgewater case. The Regional Crime Squad officers worked under the supervision of Staffordshire Police, some of whom also gave evidence of Molloy's admissions.

The Bridgewater convictions were based on Molloy's confession, alleged admissions and acknowledgement of the crime made by the others to police, prison officers and fellow prisoners, together with circumstantial evidence and the fact that the men had records for robbery and burglary. The appeal by the three other men, Vincent Hickey, now 36, his cousin Michael Hickey, now 30, and Jimmy Robinson, now 54, was rejected by the Court of Appeal in 1989. They were convicted in 1979 of the murder of Carl Bridgewater, aged 13.