Murder case airman 'was victim of conspiracy'

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The Independent Online

On a cold and drizzly night in November 1952 the body of Patricia Curran was discovered in the grounds of her family home near Belfast. The 19-year-old had been stabbed 37 times.

The murder of the judge's daughter led to what many believe was a major miscarriage of justice that saw an innocent man "fitted up", as the establishment closed ranks and covered up the killing. The victim of this alleged conspiracy was Iain Hay Gordon, a 20-year-old Scotsman who was carrying out his National Service with the Royal Air Force in Northern Ireland.

Forty-eight years later, Mr Gordon, who now lives in Glasgow, looks set to take a major step towards winning his campaign to clear his name. It is understood the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which examines potential miscarriages of justice, is almost certain to refer his case to the Court of Appeal later this year.

This follows evidence that he was coerced into signing a false confession, was wrongly ruled insane, and that there were serious faults in the police investigation. A commission source said: "This case looks increasingly as if he was completely innocent, that this is a genuine miscarriage of justice."

This story started on the evening of 13 November 1952 when Patricia Curran's body was found by her 26-year-oldbrother, Desmond, in the wooded grounds of her family's home, The Glen, in Whiteabbey, five miles north of Belfast. She had last been seen at 5.20pm, walking towards her home after getting off a bus.

At 1.45am, Judge Lancelot Curran telephoned the police to inquire if there had been any accidents involving a bus, as his daughter had not arrived home. The police offered to come to the house, but the judge said that it would not be necessary. It was only when his wife, Doris, telephoned the police five minutes later in a distressed state that they came to the house.

When the first policeman arrived, shortly after 2am, he raised no objection as Judge Curran, Patricia's brother and the family solicitor put the body into a car to take it to the doctor's surgery. Police were only able to examine a contaminated crime scene. Very little blood was discovered at the site, despite the multiple stabbings, suggesting she was not killed where she was found and that her body had been moved.

Her books, papers, a beret and a handbag were found at the edge of the driveway, 10 yards from the body. They were dry, despite the rain. Patricia, a student, did not have these items with her on the bus.

Police have been criticised for the way they carried out their investigation; they did not examine the judge's home for evidence because he would not allow them in until more than a week after the murder.

A senior policeman wrote at the time: "It was decided to pursue every other line of inquiry before allowing our thoughts to concentrate on something which seemed too fantastic to believe, namely that the Currans were in fact covering up the murderer and telling a tissue of lies."

The Currans were one of the most respected families in the Unionist establishment. Judge Curran had been a Unionist MP and Northern Ireland's youngest attorney general.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary launched a massive murder hunt in which 40,000 witness statements were taken. Suspicion fell on Mr Gordon, a nervous loner and an acquaintance of Desmond Curran's. In January 1953, two months after the killing, Chief Superintendent John Capstick, who was on secondment from Scotland Yard, interrogated Mr Gordon over three days during which he was without independent legal advice. Ch Supt Capstick later wrote that "ruthless measures" were required to crack his suspect. Mr Gordon made a lengthy statement describing how he had stabbed Patricia Curran to death.

Mr Gordon's trial opened on 2 March before Lord Justice McDermott, a friend of the Curran family. The judge ruled Mr Gordon's confession was valid, even though there was no forensic or witness evidence.

To save his client from the gallows, Mr Gordon's defence counsel changed tack by calling evidence to show he was insane. The jury brought in a special verdict of guilty but insane.

Mr Gordon was committed to a mental hospital at Antrim. He was released in 1960 and his two-page medical record showed he had never received any medication for his "insanity" and, in fact, was quite sane.

Desmond Curran, the only surviving member of Patricia's immediate family, converted to Catholicism, became a priest and went to South Africa.

Ever since his release Mr Gordon has been campaigning to have his conviction for murder quashed. Now aged 68, he said: "I spent more than seven years in a mental hospital for a murder I did not commit. I feel confident that at last I might be able to finally clear my name."

Of the confession he said: "I was in a small room for three days with five or six policemen shouting at me. It was the mental pressure - I would have signed anything at the end of it."

A spokesman for the commission said they were still looking into his case and a final decision was expected by the end of August.