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Belfast man jailed over 1977 Academy Shirt bomb attack in Scotland was 'mentally incapable of confession'

By Alan Erwin

Published 19/02/2016

James Goodall leaving Belfast High Court where he was appealing against his conviction for a bombing in Belfast in 1977
James Goodall leaving Belfast High Court where he was appealing against his conviction for a bombing in Belfast in 1977

A man jailed for a bomb attack in Belfast nearly 40 years ago was mentally incapable of making his alleged confession, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Lawyers for James Goodall argued that the conviction should be quashed based on the extent of his vulnerabilities.

Mr Goodall (62) was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for causing an explosion at the Academy Shirt Factory on Exchange Street in March 1977.

He had been arrested days after the attack in Scotland en route to a football match.

Although aged 24 at the time of his trial, educational reports indicated his attainment levels and IQ were well below average.

According to his legal team, the only evidence establishing guilt were admissions allegedly made during police interviews.

Mr Goodall, from the New Lodge area of Belfast, pleaded not guilty and claimed he was elsewhere at the time of the bombing.

Despite disputing that he signed a statement produced by police, he was subsequently found guilty.

Following a failed appeal in 1978 he applied to the body that examines potential miscarriages of justice seven years ago.

In May 2015, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) referred his conviction back to the Court of Appeal.

It followed a detailed review of his case, which included obtaining expert medical opinion and scientific analysis of original documents relating to the case.

The body decided there was a real possible Mr Goodall's conviction could be quashed, based on new evidence relating to his vulnerability at the time.

As the renewed challenge got under way before senior judges in Belfast yesterday, defence lawyers argued that their client should have been interviewed with an appropriate adult present.

They contended that any admissions and written confession are unreliable.

Based on the fresh evidence gathered by the CCRC, defence counsel Karen Quinlivan QC and Dessie Hutton claimed the conviction was unsafe. They urged the court to admit the new material and allow the appeal.

Ms Quinlivan argued that the alleged admission was unconvincing, lacked incriminating details and was "inherently improbable".

She added that the fresh evidence "casts doubt upon the ability of the appellant to have drafted the alleged confession statement".

Following submissions the case was adjourned until next month.

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