Scientist in Birmingham Six case sues TV firm for libel

NEW scientific tests have revealed explosive traces on samples linked to four of the six men cleared of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, a libel court was told yesterday.

Traces of nitroglycerine were detected on swabs taken after the bombings from the hands of Gerry Hunter and Paddy Hill, two of the men who became known as the Birmingham Six, and on rail tickets handled by another two, Richard McIlkenny and Billy Power, it was claimed.

The tests were carried out in May 1992 by Dr Roger King, who was called in as part of the West Midlands Police review of the case, after the quashing of the Birmingham Six convictions in March 1991. They were outlined yesterday by Geoffrey Shaw QC, who is representing Dr Frank Skuse, the scientist whose evidence helped convict the Six in 1975. He said he had found explosive traces on the hands of Mr Power and Mr Hill.

Dr Skuse, 59, is suing Granada Television's World In Action over a programme in 1985 which described the scientific tests he used at the time of the bombings as 'worthless', and raised serious doubts about the conviction of the Six for the bombings which killed 21 people and maimed many more.

Dr Skuse alleges that his reputation in 1974 as a 'careful forensic scientist who was a leader in his field' was seriously damaged by the programme, which falsely portrayed him as negligent, he said.

Granada is contesting the libel action, maintaining that there never were any traces of explosives on the six men. Mr Shaw said that one of Granada's arguments would be that no credibility can be placed on Dr King's tests because after 18 years of storage they will have been contaminated.

Granada's programme, 'In the Interests of Justice', showed scientific evidence to suggest that Dr Skuse's 'Greiss test' would have produced 'positive' results from innocent items such as playing cards and varnish, which contained nitrocellulose.

Although Dr Skuse's evidence about the test was undermined at the men's successful appeal, Mr Shaw said he was relying on the new tests by Dr King to support his original findings - even though he obtained positive results on different samples to Dr Skuse.

The case continues today.

(Photograph omitted)

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