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Sunday Life

Freedom in bag for killer Graham?

Former fire chief Gordon Graham has been given new hope of being cleared of the savage murder of his lover's husband.

Graham - serving life for the May 2000 murder of Lisburn man Paul Gault - is pinning his hopes on doubts raised by a senior judge over the reliability of low copy number DNA evidence.

The Ballygowan man - who had a torrid two year affair with Gault's wife Lesley - has always denied battering his love-rival to death with a hockey stick.

It was traces of Graham's sweat found on the handle of sports bag at the Gault's Audley Park home which proved crucial to his conviction.

Northern Ireland's most senior judge Sir Brian Kerr is on record as saying in 2004 that Graham might have escaped conviction had it not been for LCN DNA found on the sports bag.

The 45-year-old met with his solicitor at Maghaberry Prison last Wednesday to discuss the implications of LCN DNA evidence in light of the recent Omagh bomb trial controversy.

Graham's solicitor Pat Kelly, a partner in east Belfast-based firm McConnell Kelly, said his client had been given "fresh hope" by recent cases in which LCN DNA evidence had been called into question.

"He has been collecting press cuttings of recent court cases involving low copy number DNA evidence," revealed Mr Kelly.

"He has given me firm instructions to investigate and proceed as appropriate. This has definitely given him fresh hope." The ex-fireman has always strenuously denied murdering Mr Gault, who had only discovered his wife's long running affair a couple of weeks earlier.

Graham claimed to have been in Lisburn's Bow Street Mall at the time of the murder, but his claim was not backed up by CCTV evidence.

He was branded a "brutal and merciless" killer by the trial judge and was said to have tried to make the murder look like the work of a burglar.

Ordering him to serve a minimum 18 years behind bars in October 2004, Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice Sir Brian Kerr described Mr Gault's murder as "professional in its execution" and said Graham had gone to "extraordinary lengths to eliminate any trace of his involvement" .

Sir Brian added: "He might well have escaped prosecution had not the low copy number DNA been detected on the sports bag."

Graham's lover Lesley Gault, a mum-of-triplets, was eventually cleared of murdering her husband following three trials.

In rejecting Graham's appeal against his conviction in July 2004, Sir Brian Kerr also stressed the importance of LCN DNA.

He said Graham had an obvious motive to kill Mr Gault and ample opportunity to do so. His account of his movements for the exact time of the killing could not be corroborated.

Sir Brian added: "Remarkably (if his account of his movements were true) he did not appear on any of the footage from the CCTV cameras in Bow Street. Conceivably, all these circumstances could be the result of a bizarre and unfortunate combination of coincidences.

"But when one finds that there is a DNA trace that can be indisputably linked to him on a bag in the house where the murder took place and that fragments of glass in his clothing and on his shoe are found which are indistinguishable from the glass in the broken panes of the kitchen door, the strain of explaining all these events as a concatenation of ill-fated accidents becomes insupportable."

But doubts over LCN DNA surfaced at the recent trial of south Armagh man Sean Hoey, who was cleared of involvement in the Omagh bomb atrocity and other terrorist offences.

Dismissing the charges, Mr Justice Weir questioned the reliability of the low copy number method of DNA evidence and highlighted how there was no international agreement on its value.

And last week lawyers for Trevor Hamilton - the man convicted of the murder of Strabane librarian Attracta Harron - attempted to focus their appeal on controversial DNA evidence.

They have commissioned an independent expert to review DNA findings from the trial before deciding whether to submit any new evidence as part of an appeal.