Jim Nichol, solicitor for the men, said yesterday he had established that Herbert Spencer, an ambulanceman who knew both the 13-year-old newspaper delivery boy and the farm where the murder took place, had bought a shotgun several weeks before the murder, contrary to what he told police at the time.
Mr Nichol said police had the information during the 1979 trial of the four men later convicted of the murder - cousins Michael and Vincent Hickey, James Robinson and Patrick Molloy, who died in prison - but was not made known to their lawyers. When Spencer, a part-time antiques dealer, was interviewed by detectives investigating the Bridgewater murder, he said he had owned a single- barrelled shotgun a year previously, a fact confirmed by police. But another antiques dealer also told police - and has now repeated the account to Mr Nichol in a sworn statement - that he sold a double-barrelled shotgun to Spencer 10 weeks before the murder.
The boy died from a shotgun blast after disturbing burglars at the antiques-laden farm. The murder weapon was never found and no forensic evidence ever connected the four convicted men with the site.
The Spencer connection has dogged the Bridgewater case. Although he was a suspect because of his knowledge of antiques and he knew the paperboy, police interest waned after the arrest of the other four men; Spencer was subsequently convicted of the shotgun murder of a friend. Allegations that he admitted the Bridgewater murder to a fellow prisoner were unsuccessfully investigated by police during the mid-1980s.
Mr Nichol said the new evidence 'suggests that either Spencer did not give police the full story at the time or that police did not question him about it. Equally, the fact the police knew about the second gun was not in statements given to the defence then.'
The new material will form part of the dossier being presented to the Home Office this morning in an attempt to have the case referred back to the Court of Appeal. The last application was rejected by Kenneth Clarke, the then Home Secretary, in February.
Since then, an expert on police interviewing techniques who was consulted by the Home Office before the rejection, has disclosed that he agreed with the opinions of four independent experts who viewed the central confession in the case as unreliable. Last week, the foreman of the original Stafford Crown Court jury said he believed the men had been victims of a miscarriage of justice. The Home Office has said that both of these opinions were taken into account when the last application was rejected.