Dirty tricks claim over paper boy murder case

A DIRTY tricks campaign is being waged against three men trying to clear their names of the Carl Bridgewater murder, their solicitor said yesterday as he called for an inquiry into the apparent leak of a police report about the case.

The BBC said it had obtained details of a report by Merseyside police which concluded that the convictions of Vincent and Michael Hickey, and James Robinson, were safe. The men were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of 13-year-old Carl at a Staffordshire farmhouse in 1978.

According to the BBC, the police report confirmed the validity of a disputed confession by a fourth man, Pat Molloy, who has since died. It is also said to have uncovered further evidence which supports the prosecution case.

The latest police inquiry - there have been four others - was ordered after the men presented a dossier of new evidence to the Home Office last year. This included testimony from experts who said Molloy's confession, which he later retracted, had been fabricated.

Yesterday, the men's solicitor, Jim Nichol, reacted angrily. 'In the past few days, we have seen allegations, smears and innuendos against the Maguire Seven, the Birmingham Six, and now we have the Carl Bridgewater case,' he said. 'It's significant that the particular points which have been leaked are those which are favourable to the police when I know there are substantial matters in our favour which the police have been able to confirm.

'Kenneth Clarke (the Home Secretary) should order an immediate investigation into who has leaked this report.'

Mr Nichol said he had been assured that Mr Clarke had not yet decided whether to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal. A decision is expected shortly.

His anger was echoed by Ann Whelan, Michael Hickey's mother, who was 'very upset' for the three men. But she added: 'In a way it's no more than we expected when you have the police investigating themselves. It makes an even stronger case for having an independent body to investigate miscarriages of justice.

'I still remain convinced that logical thinking people will put this case back to the Court of Appeal eventually and that the men will walk free.'

Both Merseyside Police and Staffordshire Police, which has a copy of the report, denied being the source of the leak. 'We wouldn't do that sort of thing,' a spokesperson for the Merseyside force said. 'Anything said about the contents of this report is speculation.'

The men lost an appeal against their convictions in 1989 after an eight-week hearing, but have been confident that their case would be referred back after submitting new evidence. A psychologist said there was less than a one in a million chance that Molloy's confession occurred under the circumstances claimed by the police. Without the confession, the case fell apart, lawyers said.

At the 1979 trial, the jury was instructed to ignore Molloy's confession but its contents were made known to them and must have had a powerful impact, the men's supporters claim.