Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Last man to dodge gallows sees secret files

The last man sentenced to death in Northern Ireland is to gain further access to a secret dossier as part of a legal bid to overturn his conviction, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said the first 28 paragraphs of a confidential annex should be disclosed to Liam Holden.

Mr Holden, from Ballymurphy, west Belfast, claims water torture was used to extract a confession for the murder of a British soldier 40 years ago.

He was to be executed after being found guilty of shooting Private Frank Bell in September 1971.

But his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he served 17 years in jail before applying to an independent body set up to examine alleged miscarriages of justice.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) referred his conviction back to the Court of Appeal on the basis that it may be unsafe.

The move followed an examination of new evidence and the admissibility and reliability of confessions in the case.

Last year the Ministry of Defence agreed to disclose three secret documents to Mr Holden after reviewing their classification.

But his lawyers urged senior judges to grant access to the rest of the dossier held on him.

In his judgment, Sir Declan, sitting with Lord Justice Coghlin, set out how Mr Holden was seeking disclosure of 15 items of sensitive material made available to the CCRC on a confidential basis.

Some of that information forms the basis for conclusions reached by the commission that the murder conviction may be unsafe.

Sir Declan said: “We have carefully considered the entirety of the confidential information.

“In respect of the issues surrounding the admissibility of the appellant's alleged confessions we are satisfied that the documents which have now been disclosed comprise all of the relevant material within the sensitive material made available to the CCRC.

“We also consider that the first 28 paragraphs of the confidential annex made available to us by the CCRC, which sets out the reasons for the conclusions reached, should now be made available to the appellant.

“We do not consider that any further disclosure is required.”

Acknowledging the continuing obligation for disclosure throughout any criminal trial and appeal, Sir Declan added that the determination may have to be reviewed if any further issues emerge.

Background

The Criminal Cases Review Commission launched a review of the case following claims made by Nigel Mumford, an ex-member of the parachute regiment and the SAS. Mumford says an innocent man has been convicted of the killing of his best friend in west Belfast in 1972. He was first on the scene after Para Francis Bell (18) was killed by a sniper.

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