Bridgewater Four

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The Bridgewater Four was the collective name given to the quartet of men who were tried and found guilty of killing 13 year old paperboy Carl Bridgewater, who was shot in the head at close range near Stourbridge, England in 1978. After almost two decades of imprisonment, in February 1997 their convictions were overturned.

Murder[edit]

Carl Bridgewater (January 2, 1965 - September 19, 1978) was shot dead at Yew Tree Farm on the A449 in Staffordshire (approximately three miles north-west of Stourbridge), when he disturbed burglars while delivering a newspaper to the house on 19 September 1978. The elderly couple who lived there were not at home. The paperboy entered the property as he was familiar with the occupants; an open door led him to worry and investigate further. He was subsequently forced into the living room of the house and shot in the head at point-blank range.[1] He was already dead when a friend of the house's occupants found him.[2]

Conviction and sentencing[edit]

The Bridgewater Four were Patrick Molloy, Jim Robinson and cousins Michael Hickey and Vincent Hickey. They came to police attention following serious crimes in late 1978. On 24 November Robinson, Michael Hickey and a third man carried out an armed robbery at Tesco's in Castle Vale. Hickey and Robinson raided the safe while the third man held several terrified shoppers at bay with a gun. When the manager tried to intervene a shot was fired over his head.[3]

On 30 November Robinson and the Hickeys robbed some old people at Chapel Farm, Romsley. Vincent Hickey stayed in the car while Robinson and Michael Hickey charged into the house wearing balaclavas, brandishing a shotgun and shouting for money. The old people displayed great courage but the robbers got away with £200. Robinson took the lead, hitting one of the victims with the gun but not firing it.[4]

Molloy was the first to be arrested. During questioning, Molloy told police that he had been in an upstairs bedroom while robbing the house when he heard a gunshot downstairs. Shortly afterwards, the other three men were arrested.[5]

All denied committing murder, but three of them were convicted. The fourth, Molloy, was found guilty of manslaughter. James Robinson (aged 45) and Vincent Hickey (aged 25) were both sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum term of 25 years, which would have kept them behind bars until at least 2004 and the ages of 70 and 50 respectively. Michael Hickey (aged 17) was sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, though it was anticipated he would serve a shorter sentence than the two others convicted of murder. Patrick Molloy (aged 51) received a 12-year prison sentence on the manslaughter charge; he died of a heart attack in prison in 1981.[citation needed]

Case quashed[edit]

In February 1997, the latest in a number of appeals finally saw the men's convictions overturned, after the Court of Appeal ruled that the trial had been unfair, due to certain areas of evidence fabricated by police in order to persuade Molloy to make a confession. However, the Appeal Judges noted that in the light of Vincent Hickey's confessions to being present at the farm where Bridgewater was shot dead "we consider that there remains evidence on which a reasonable jury properly directed could convict." [6]

Despite this, in the light of the judgment, the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to apply for a retrial involving Vincent Hickey in the public interest or proceed with an outstanding armed robbery charge against him.

Vincent Hickey said, "My conviction has been quashed, so I am absolved and as far as I'm concerned that's the end of it."[6]

An earlier appeal in March 1989 had been rejected.[7]

Over the years, fellow convicted murderer Hubert Spencer (born 1940) has been mentioned in the media as a possible suspect for the murder. Spencer, an ambulance driver and a neighbour of Bridgewater in Wordsley, was investigated by police in the immediate aftermath of the murder, not least because he drove a blue Vauxhall Viva - the same type of car which had been seen at the farm on the afternoon of the murder. Witnesses also said that the driver of the car was a uniformed man. However, he was eliminated from police inquiries after the arrest of the four other suspects. Shortly afterwards, 70-year-old Hubert Wilkes was shot dead on neighbouring Holloway Farm. Like Bridgewater, he had been shot dead while sitting on a sofa. Spencer was jailed for life in 1980 and served 15 years before being paroled in 1995.[8]

The campaign to free and absolve the four men was led by Michael Hickey's mother, Ann Whelan, and campaigning journalist Paul Foot. Preparations were made for a case against four police officers in the Staffordshire force on charges of fabricating evidence, but the case was dropped in December 1998.

In a ruling condemned as "sick" by prison campaigners, the Court of Appeal agreed with a Home Office-appointed assessor that the cousins Michael and Vincent Hickey should lose a quarter of loss-of-earnings compensation for their free food and accommodation inside. This has set a precedent which is still being used by the Home Office.[9]

Jim Robinson died on 30 August 2007 of lung cancer at the age of 73.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "1978: Police hunt Bridgewater killers". BBC News. 20 September 1978. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Murder at the Farm by Paul Foot (p46) ISBN 0747258708
  4. ^ Foot p38, p46
  5. ^ "Miscarriage of justice". BBC News. 16 April 2003. 
  6. ^ a b David Graves, "Bridgewater Four convictions quashed", Daily Telegraph 31 July 1997. (Archived web.archive.com)
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ [3]
  9. ^ Graham Tibbetts, "Bridgewater case pair appeal over prison 'board and lodging'", Daily Telegraph, 12 March 2003
  10. ^ McFadyean, Melanie (25 September 2007). "Obituary - Jim Robinson". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2012-03-13. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Paul Foot: Murder at the farm: who killed Carl Bridgewater? (1986), London: Sidgwick & Jackson, ISBN 0-283-99165-8.

External links[edit]