Bridgewater Four

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The Bridgewater Four is the collective name given to the four 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.

In February 1997, after almost two decades of imprisonment, their convictions were overturned on technical grounds and the three surviving defendants were released; the fourth defendant had died in prison two years into his sentence. Bridgewater's murder remains officially unsolved.

The investigations were carried out by the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad.[1]


Carl Bridgewater (2 January 1965 – 19 September 1978) was shot dead on 19 September 1978 at Yew Tree Farm near Stourbridge, West Midlands, while delivering a newspaper to the house. The occupants of the house – elderly cousins Mary Poole and Fred Jones – were not home at the time.[2] Police conjecture that Bridgewater may have disturbed an intruder or burglar, and was subsequently forced into the living room of the house where he was shot once in the head at close range with a shotgun.[2][3]

Conviction and sentencing[edit]

The Bridgewater Four were Patrick Molloy, James Robinson and cousins Michael Hickey and Vincent Hickey.

They came to the attention of police working on the murder investigation following further serious crimes later in 1978. On 24 November, Robinson, Hickey and an unidentified third man carried out an armed robbery at a Tesco supermarket on the Castle Vale estate in Birmingham. 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.[4]

Six days later, Robinson and the Hickey cousins robbed an elderly couple at Chapel Farm, Romsley, near Halesowen. 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 victims of this robbery 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.[5]

Molloy was the first to be arrested. During questioning which also covered Carl's murder, Molloy told police that he had been in an upstairs bedroom at Yew Tree Farm while robbing the house when he heard a gunshot downstairs. Shortly afterwards, the other three men were arrested.[6]

All denied committing murder, but three of them were convicted of murder at Stafford Crown Court on 9 November 1979. The fourth, Molloy, was found guilty of manslaughter. They were sentenced on 12 November.

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 18) was sentenced to be detained indefinitely at Her Majesty's pleasure, though it was anticipated he would serve a shorter sentence than the two others convicted of murder due to his age. Patrick Molloy (aged 51) received a 12-year prison sentence on the manslaughter charge, but he died of a heart attack in prison two years later.[7]

Case quashed[edit]

An appeal in March 1989 was rejected,[8] but on 21 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 the now-deceased 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." [9]

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 nor proceed with an outstanding armed robbery charge against him. Hickey said, "My conviction has been quashed, so I am absolved and as far as I'm concerned that's the end of it."[9]

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.[10]

Robinson died on 30 August 2007 of lung cancer at the age of 73.[11]

Bert Spencer[edit]

Over the years, convicted murderer Bert Spencer (born 1940) has been mentioned in the media as a possible suspect for the murder. Spencer, a uniformed ambulance driver who worked at Corbett Hospital in Stourbridge lived in Wordsley and was a very close neighbour of Carl (living only five doors away). He 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. Spencer had a shotgun licence and was regularly allowed to shoot at Yew Tree Farm. However, he was eliminated from police inquiries within a few months after the arrest of the four other suspects. Shortly afterwards, Spencer shot dead 70-year-old Hubert Wilkes at neighbouring Holloway Farm. Like Carl, Hubert Wilkes had been shot while sitting on a sofa. Spencer was jailed for life in 1980 and served 15 years before being paroled in 1995.[12]

Spencer is featured in a book, Scapegoat for Murder: The Truth About the Killing of Carl Bridgewater (D&B Publishing), written by true crime author, Simon W. Golding. The author invited criminologist Professor David Wilson to interview Spencer, and in June 2016, Channel 4 screened a television documentary, Interview with a Murderer.[13][14][15][16] In the course of the "interview of the year", Spencer's daughter revealed that she felt that her father was indeed at Yew Tree Farm on the day of Carl's killing "and possibly saw something". An ambulance station secretary (who was also a friend) who had provided the "cast iron" alibi that he had been "at work all day", admitted that she could not be sure that Spencer had not left at some point. Prof. Wilson, in his final meeting with Spencer, told him that he saw through Spencer's "kindly old grandfather schtick", adding that a P-scan test indicated Spencer was a manipulative and callous psychopath.[17] The documentary concluded with Prof. Wilson interviewing Spencer's former wife, who had not spoken publicly before. She said that the day after Carl's murder, Spencer told her he was disposing of his shotgun. She added that, Spencer having chosen to revive the issue to protest his innocence, it seemed likely that the police would reopen the case.[18]


  1. ^ Lockley, Mike (14 June 2016). "Vincent Hickey had called for murder case to be reopened". Birmingham Live. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  2. ^ a b "1978: Police hunt Bridgewater killers". BBC News. 20 September 2005. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  3. ^ "Our Century 1976-2000". Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  4. ^ Paul Foot (1997). Murder at the Farm. Headline Review. p. 46. ISBN 0-7472-5870-8.
  5. ^ Foot p38, p46
  6. ^ "Miscarriage of justice". BBC News. 16 April 2003.
  7. ^ Varma, Anuji (14 September 2008). "Vincent Hickey: I want justice for Carl Bridgewater's family". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
  8. ^ Carl Bridgewater
  9. ^ a b David Graves, "Bridgewater Four convictions quashed", Daily Telegraph 31 July 1997. (Archived
  10. ^ Graham Tibbetts, "Bridgewater case pair appeal over prison 'board and lodging'", Daily Telegraph, 12 March 2003
  11. ^ McFadyean, Melanie (25 September 2007). "Obituary - Jim Robinson". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  12. ^ "IS THIS CARL'S KILLER?; asks ex-Mirrorman PAUL FOOT who has campaigned for the release of the four men since they were first convicted". Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  13. ^ Howard, David (director), Wilson, David (presenter) (2016). Interview with a Murderer (television documentary). United Kingdom: Channel 4.
  14. ^ Daily Telegraph review [1]
  15. ^ Guardian review [2]
  16. ^ Evening Standard review [3]
  17. ^ The Times - Monday June 2016, "Times 2" page 10
  18. ^ The Times - Monday June 2016, "Times 2"page 10

Further reading[edit]

  • Paul Foot: Murder at the farm: who killed Carl Bridgewater? (1986), London: Sidgwick & Jackson, ISBN 0-283-99165-8.
  • Simon W. Golding: Scapegoat for Murder: The Truth About the Killing of Carl Bridgewater (2016). D&B Publishing. ISBN 978-1780914770.

External links[edit]