ITV3 will screen a documentary, “Executed”, at 9pm on Monday the 2nd November 2015 in relation to the miscarriage of justice case involving Liam Holden. Mr Holden was the last man to receive the death penalty in the UK in 1973 but protested his innocence from the time of his arrest on the 16th October 1972. A campaign to correct the miscarriage of justice resulted in the quashing of the capital murder and firearms offences by the Northern Ireland Court of Criminal Appeal on the 21st June 2013. Mr Holden, originally from the Whiterock area of Belfast, was convicted of the murder of a British soldier, Private Frank Bell, in April 1973 after a jury trial lasting only 4 days during which the prosecution relied solely upon false confession evidence.
Mr Holden was arrested in October 1972 in respect of the murder of Private Frank Bell who was shot while on patrol in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast, one month earlier in September 1972. At the time of his trial in 1973 Liam Holden gave evidence that he was arrested by members of the Parachute Regiment who subjected him to torture in order to coerce a false confession before transferring him to the RUC. Mr Holden contended that the torture, involving mental and physical ill treatment, included what is now described as water torture or water boarding, and the threat of death at gunpoint. The trial ran for 5 days only in Belfast in April 1973 before a jury. Mr Holden gave evidence both at the voir dire application to exclude the alleged confession evidence and at the trial hearing. Alibi evidence was provided by the defence. Despite the prosecution reliance on only the false confession evidence and the provision of both alibi evidence and evidence by Mr Holden, the jury in Northern Ireland in 1973 convicted him. The trial judge sentenced Mr Holden to death “in the manner prescribed by the law” . In 1974 the death penalty was commuted to a life sentence. Liam Holden subsequently served 17 years in custody and 23 years on licence before the wrongful convictions were quashed.
In 2003 Patricia Coyle, Solicitor with Harte Coyle Collins, Solicitors & Solicitor Advocates, submitted an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission on behalf of Mr Holden on the basis that Mr Holden was innocent of the offences. The case was referred back to the Northern Ireland Court of Criminal Appeal in 2009 on the basis that the convictions were unsafe. The reference to the Court of Appeal by the CCRC was made on a ‘blind’ referral basis, in that the reasons for the referral were contained in documents in a Confidential Annex/dossier which was provided to the Court of Appeal and shared with the Prosecution but not provided to the defence team for Mr Holden.
From 2009 to 2013 the defence made several applications to the court for full disclosure of the contents of the Confidential Annex. The majority of the contents of the Annex/dossier were disclosed to the defence over the following 3 year period. These documents included historical military documents including in particular the “Blue Card Rules” which undermined the legality of Mr Holden’s original arrest and subsequent detention by the military in 1972. Despite the disclosure of these documents to the defence the Public Prosecution Service indicated their intention to continue to oppose the appeal.
In preparation for the appeal the defence also sourced and commissioned an expert witness, Mr Ian Cobain, to provide opinion on the historical use of water torture by the British military. Ian Cobain is a staff journalist with The Guardian newspaper and a recipient of the Paul Foot Award for journalism for his ground breaking work on torture in Basra. Expert evidence from Mr Cobain was submitted by Patricia Coyle, Solicitor to the Northern Ireland Court of Criminal Appeal in March 2013.
On the 4th May 2013 the PPS indicated to the Court of Appeal that they were withdrawing their opposition to Mr Holden’s appeal and intended to offer no evidence at the appeal hearing.
On the 21st June 2013 the appeal hearing ran on an uncontested basis before the Court of Appeal resulting in the Court quashing the 1973 conviction.
The ITV3 documentary titled “Executed” due to be screened on Monday 2nd November 2015 includes interviews with Mr Holden and scenes from Crumlin Road jail where he was imprisoned from 1972 to 1973 while awaiting trial and after being sentenced to death. The documentary deals with the repeal of the death penalty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.