From Socialist Review, No. 169, November 1993.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Murder at the Farm
Penguin £5.99 (£4.75 in Bookmarks club)
Anyone tempted to believe that Michael Howard’s aim to ‘make it easier for the courts to convict the guilty’ has anything to do with dispensing justice should take a look at the Carl Bridgewater case.
Four men were convicted of the murder of newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater on the flimsiest of evidence and surrounded by a hail of publicity in 1979. Three of the men – Jimmy Robinson, Vincent Hickey and Michael Hickey – are still languishing in prison for a crime they did not commit. The fourth, Pat Molloy, died within two years of his conviction.
The men have protested their innocence relentlessly through 14 years of captivity. Before he died Pat Molloy worked furiously to establish his confession was false. Michael Hickey spent 89 gruelling days on the roof at Gartree prison, supported by fellow prisoners, in 1983–4. This year Jimmy Robinson demonstrated on the prison rooftop for 81 days.
Anyone who has followed the case is convinced of the men’s innocence. But the government – panicked by the embarrassing deluge of high profiled miscarriages of justice from the Guildford Four to the Taylor sisters – has refused to budge. Kenneth Clarke, then Home Secretary, refused to allow the case to the appeal courts last February.
This revised edition of Murder at the Farm is a timely exposure of the routine corruption at the heart of what passes for justice in Britain today.
Paul Foot tears apart the prosecution’s case piece by piece. There was no forensic evidence that could link the men to Yew Tree Farm, the scene of the crime. None of the prosecution witnesses agreed on the make, size or colour of the vehicles they sighted near the farm. All the evidence presented at court was circumstantial, unproven and based on the testimonies of uncredible witnesses and their contradictory statements. Evidence which could have provided definite alibis for the men was deliberately kept from the defence.
The most damning part of the police case at the trial was provided by the forced confession of Pat Molloy – vigorously denied after the trial – in which he implicated the other three and which turned the jury in favour of the police story.
Paul Foot leaves no piece of evidence, no possible interpretation of events uncovered. His book makes absorbing reading, including an account of the murder at the farm next door to the scene of Carl’s killing where Hubert Spencer – a suspect the police dismissed in the Bridgewater case – shot dead farmer Hubert Wilkes. Foot provides compelling evidence of Spencer’s involvement in the affair and it is now widely believed that Spencer was Carl’s killer.
In 1987 the case finally reached the appeal courts. New witnesses gave Robinson and Pat Molloy an alibi for the time of the murder; several witnesses admitted they lied in the original trial under police pressure; Hubert Spencer’s original police statement linking him with Yew Tree Farm and the Bridgewater killing all came to light. The prosecution was left without a case. And yet the three judges ruled against all the men, including Michael Hickey who could not be proved to be connected in any single way to events at Yew Tree Farm except that he knew Vincent Hickey – introducing what Foot describes as ‘an interesting new rule of evidence in British law: that a man is guilty if his cousin is.’ Foot fumes against the ‘mendacity’ with which the appeal court judges dismissed all the new evidence:
‘These judges had pretended to reach their decision through objective assessment of the evidence and rational argument. What they had done seemed to me a shocking mockery of rational or intellectual process. No lurking doubt when at least two key witnesses for the prosecution had gone back on their evidence, when the garage alibi had been resurrected, when almost every jot of new evidence produced to the court argued that the men in the dock had never been to Yew Tree Farm? No lurking doubt? If there was no lurking doubt, then words had lost their meaning.’
Murder at the Farm is investigative reporting at its best. It is also a tribute to the resilience and determination of Ann Whelan, mother of Michael Hickey and the driving force of the campaign to free the men, who fought on despite the bitter blow inflicted by the failed appeal. A catalogue of new evidence has since been uncovered.
Language experts – including Dr Eric Shepherd, a Home Office forensic psychologist – have publicly stated that Pat Molloy’s damaging ‘confession’ could not have been written or dictated by Molloy himself. The television dramatisation of the case, Bad Company, brought forward a new wave of support for the men, including a statement from the foreman of the jury at the original trial renouncing his guilty verdict. In June, Private Eye published even more damning evidence in a statement by Mike Chamberlain about his friend DC John Perkins, whom he claimed boasted that he had beaten the confession out of Pat Molloy.
The system which has cynically condemned these men despite all the evidence was summed up by Jimmy Robinson immediately after the original trial:
‘You see what’s sickened me is that the thing you and I and thousands of others have always believed to be the best in the world and above corruption – British Justice – is just a sham. It only applies if the “establishment” isn’t threatened. The two laws apply every time, the haves and the have nots.’
That system has never been held in such wide contempt. A new application for appeal is already with Michael Howard. Which way he will jump will depend on the pressure we can mount against his attempts to claw back the ground for his class. That task will be aided by the republication of this book.
Last updated: 28 February 2017