Another step on long road to justice?

This weekend, the latest legal submissions will be made to the Criminal Case Review Commission (“CCRC”) in an effort to clear the name of a man convicted of murder in 1994 (writes Neil Wilby).

The ‘Further Reply’ is in response to a Provisional Statement of Reasons issued by the criminal justice watchdog in October, 2019. It runs to 51 pages, 199 paragraphs and 26,500 words and outlines both new evidence and fresh legal argument unearthed since the first ‘Reply’ was submitted in February, 2020.

Late last year a routine approach for assistance in this miscarriage of justice case landed in my inbox. Upwards of a hundred are received, on average, every year, if police complaint issues are added in.

As an ageing freelance journalist, with limited resources and ongoing, long-term commitments to other innocence campaigns, most have to be politely, and in quite a few cases, regrettably, declined – or offered basic assistance as an alternative.

But there were certain aspects of this troubling case, the conviction of Stockport motor trader, Thomas Bourke, at the time 32 years old, to which I was inexorably drawn. The jury at Manchester Crown Court found that he had shot two Department of Transport inspectors with a sawn off shotgun at premises known as Chestergate Auto Centre, a town centre garage best known for carrying out MOT tests. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum term of 25 years to be served before he could apply for parole:

  • The legal brains behind the current campaign is Jane Hickman, formerly a leading, now retired, criminal defence and appeals solicitor in London. A very highly rated specialist in her field, involved as a lawyer in around 45 murder cases, she is responsible for the latest submissions to the CCRC, and the most recent Application submitted in 2015. She says: “This is one of the most shocking and obvious miscarriages of justice that I have seen. The police investigation, looked at in its most charitable light, failed to do more than scrape the surface of what was going on. And so much material wasn’t disclosed to the defence, or disclosed very late, the trial was really a travesty’. Jane can also point to recent success with the CCRC: A client, Lee Firkins, one of two brothers convicted of a murder at a petrol station in Cornwall in 2005, has recently had his case referred to the Court of Appeal. Read more here.
  • The campaigners, led by the convicted man’s sister, Jo Holt; brother, Walter Bourke; and niece, Andrea Holt, has an informative, well presented, easy to navigate website. The product of 27 years of unrelenting effort to get to the truth of what really happened on Monday 22nd November, 1993; charting the most extraordinary path and meeting some of Greater Manchester’s most hardened and ‘scary’ criminals. A good number of whom have provided assistance in term of lines of enquiries, further introductions and some vital documents. Some were not so helpful and the family has also received death threats.
  • If the town’s, and the region’s, underworld is helping to clear the name of a convicted man, that tells a journalist/court reporter, very adjacent to the criminal justice system, a great deal. ‘If you’ve done the crime, do the time’ is the creed of many criminals. But a fair few of that ilk, and some very influential figures at that, don’t have Thomas Bourke down as a murderer.
  • Highly rated journalist and TV producer, Bob Duffield, has done very considerable, and quite brilliant, investigative work on the case, previously, and is a very strong proponent of the innocence claim.
  • BBC File on 4 broadcast featured the case in 2016. The programme’s producer was Sally Chesworth, a journalist I know well and admire – and, more crucially, whose judgement I trust unconditionally. The transcript can be read here.
  • A number of articles about the alleged miscarriage of justice have also appeared in the once-mighty local newspaper, the Manchester Evening News. Two, featuring a letter sent to them in 2016 by Thomas Bourke, protesting his innocence, created wide interest. The long-serving reporters, Neal Keeling and John Scheerhout have, between them, covered scores of gangland trials on their patch and, doubtless, along the way, gathered a great deal of local, criminal intelligence that would be impossible to print. They are, also, of course, adjacent to the perennial failings of the police force in their region, presently in Home Office ‘Special Measures’.
  • The Bourke case has, over the years, attracted the support of two Members of Parliament, Peter Kilfoyle and Mark Hunter. Both urged a re-investigation of the case. It also emerged, in a written answer to a parliamentary question from Mr Kilfoyle, that at least one law enforcement official held the view that an individual other than Thomas Bourke was “believed to have committed the murder”. The identity of that person is now known to me, someone with strong family connections to a prominent Manchester organised criminal gang (OCG); as is the identity of the officer accusing him.
  • The prosecutor at the Bourke trial was Peter Openshaw QC. Later to become a senior judge and in whose court I have sat for countless days, coming to know his exceptional grasp of criminal trial procedure and the applicable law; together with every mood, mannerism and inflection of speech. His claim of ‘failing memory’, made during the Bourke appeal court proceedings in 2007, is of particular interest.
  • As Mr Justice Openshaw, he presided over the controversial murder trial of Robin Garbutt, a North Yorkshire shopkeeper whom, the jury found, bludgeoned his sub-postmistress wife to death after rejecting his story of armed robbers committing the foul deed.
  • The subsequent Garbutt innocence campaign has been the subject of a lengthy and, indeed, ongoing journalistic investigation. The largest of its type I have ever undertaken. Some of the out-turn can be read here.
  • Both the Bourke and Garbutt cases feature grotesquely sub-optimal murder investigations by police forces to whom I am very adjacent almost every working day – and have been for some years: Greater Manchester Police and North Yorkshire Police. Coincidentally, the two convicted men were both Category A guests of HMP Frankland between 2011 and 2020.
  • Much of the narrative around the Bourke case reads like a crime novel, with the peripheral involvement of the ‘Gunchester’ drugs, firearms and armed robbery gangs who were at the peak of their powers in the early to mid 1990’s – and to whom the scrap metal trade and the stealing and/or ‘ringing’ of motor vehicles were very lucrative sidelines; at least two proven bent coppers; murky secret service and special branch operatives; undercover police officers placing their lives at risk every day; police informants playing both sides off against the middle; the takeover and destruction of Stockport and Greater Manchester’s night-time economy by Salford ‘security firms’; pitched gun battles and assassinations on the streets in broad daylight; the notorious Quality Street Gang and John Stalker; even the IRA.

Front of mind in any investigation of this nature are the victims and their bereaved families: Alan Singleton and Simon Bruno, working for what was then the Department of Transport’s Vehicle Inspectorate, one of the predecessors of the present Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, were at Chestergate Auto Centre in the centre of Stockport, for what the police say was a pre-arranged appointment, when they were both shot, in turn, at close range, with a sawn off shotgun.

They each left behind a wife and a child. Mr Singleton, aged 50 at the time, was from the Liverpool area; Mr Bruno, aged 28, from Salford. They were based at the Inspectorate’s facilities at the site of the former Goods Vehicle Testing Station at Bredbury, a short distance from Chestergate Autos. Their principal role was the scrutiny of MOT testing stations, authorised examiners and testers and, of course, the validity of certificates issued by those same testers and examiners. The visit by the inspectors that afternoon was said to be in relation to a complaint by a vehicle owner about the issuing of a re-test certificate.

Mr Singleton was an active representative for his trade union, the Institution for Professionals, Managers and Specialists, the predecessor union of Prospect. Mr Bruno was also a member of IPMS. Both very highly regarded by their colleagues.

The main points of challenge

As a starting point to enquiries into both the murder and the consequent Bourke innocence claim, a press request to the CCRC has revealed that two previous applications on behalf of Thomas Bourke, to the criminal justice watchdog, were made in 2007 and 2009 – and both turned down. These pre-dated the involvement of law firm, Hickman and Rose, and its senior partner.

The current application, submitted in February, 2015 by Jane Hickman is, as stated earlier in this piece, subject to a Provisional Statement of Reasons issued by the CCRC in October, 2019 and the two Replies. It was, at the time, said to be the largest case on the CCRC’s books but that has been, very recently, superseded by the latest Jeremy Bamber application which, reports say, runs to 320,000 pages.

Essentially, in what is a highly complex case, the Bourke family say that:

  • Thomas had an alibi. He was at another garage/spare parts outlet, owned and operated by him and his brother, at the material time.
  • Nothing, forensically, links him to what is said, by the police, to be the murder weapon and associated paraphernalia found in a holdall, including balaclavas bearing the DNA of others (destroyed by Greater Manchester Police whilst the appeal process was ongoing) and a fingerprint belonging to David Mitchell, the manager at Chestergate Auto Centre, was found on a box of ammunition recovered from the bag.
  • Nothing, forensically, links him to the murder scene or the bodies of the two deceased MOT inspectors.
  • Nothing, forensically, links him to the vehicle presented by police and the Crown as the getaway vehicle. A red Ford Sierra hatchback with the registration mark F340PTM . Bob Duffield is absolutely adamant on that point: ‘Wrong car, wrong man‘.
  • Nothing links him to ownership, or operations, of Chestergate Autos. His brother, Walter, possessed the head lease associated with those premises and was its certified Authorised Examiner. The garage was operated by two other men: Ostensibly, David Watson, who held the sub-lease but, in reality, David Mitchell, who became the star witness for the prosecution. The involvement of Thomas is said to be limited to infrequent, on-request delivery to Chestergate of spare parts from the Fastfit business his brother owned and of which he was manager. By contrast, Mitchell is said to have had a personal grudge against Alan Singleton, one of the murdered DoT Inspectors. This dated back to Mr Singleton’s refusal to authorise a garage that Mitchell owned or operated in Stalybridge as a MOT centre.  His refusal resulted in financial difficulties for Mitchell.
  • He had no known involvement with any of the Manchester or Stockport crime gangs. Not one shred of evidence emerged before, during or after that trial to support one of the main prosecution planks.
  • He is described by those who know him well as someone who presents himself as a courteous, thoughtful, quietly spoken individual. Far removed from the gun-toting enforcer, whom the police said, ruled his employees, associates, and those who crossed him, by fear. There appears to be not a scrap of evidence to support the police version. Other than the words of hardened, serial criminals, backed up by a police force seemingly committed to tailoring a false narrative.
  • He had only peripheral involvement in the enquiries that the MoT inspectors were following up at Chestergate Autos on the day of the murder. It was over a very minor matter, in any event. Namely, a complaint from a member of the public over a £6.50 re-test fee.
  • Shortly before the trial judge, Mr Justice Sachs, came to sum up the evidence, a gun was found in Strangeways prison, where Thomas was being held on remand. It later emerged that the weapon had been planted close to his cell at the behest of two of Liverpool’s most infamous organised criminals, John Haase and Paul Bennett, with the knowledge and apparent complicity of their ‘handler’, a Customs officer called Paul Cook. The discovery, just before closing speeches were made to the jury by counsel, was leaked to the press. The Bourkes say the obvious linking of heavy armed security en route, including snipers on rooftops, and at the court, thereafter, unavoidably prejudiced the jury against Thomas. Haase and Bennett were convicted in 2008 of perverting the course of justice. Mr Cook was cleared of the same charge at a later trial and another charge of misconduct in public office resulted in a jury discharge and stay.
  • Two of the prosecution witnesses, Mitchell and Bob McGahey, admitted being accessories to the murder and were given immunity from prosecution by the Crown in order for them to give evidence against Thomas Bourke. McGahey said he had driven away a holdall containing the murder weapon from the scene. A third prosecution witness, Howard Ridgeway, was a close associate of the other two and had been the only other person present at Chestergate Autos during the shooting incident. The jury were directed to treat Ridgeway as an independent witness by the trial judge and, soon afterwards, the mechanic received a very substantial reward.
  • Thomas was poorly represented at trial by an under-prepared, perhaps over-confident, legal team, led by the late Richard Ferguson QC. Counsel’s strong advice was that Bourke, a man with an unblemished record (the standard good character reference was given to the jury by the trial judge), should not give evidence in the face of what one of the leading lawyers of his era said was a flimsy, contrived prosecution case.
  • The person instructing Mr Ferguson was Paul Rexstrew. He was not a criminal defence solicitor, as Thomas believed, but a former detective constable in the Metropolitan Police Service whom had been cleared of perverting the course of justice at the Old Bailey in 1982. A trial that arose from the controversial Operation Countryman police corruption investigation, about which much has been written and broadcast elsewhere. Mr Rextrew, who was said to be angry and upset that his former police service colleagues had sought to convict him, was recommended to Thomas by a fellow prisoner whilst on remand at HMP Strangeways, awaiting trial. It later emerged that the same prisoner was involved in the planting of the gun. On any reading of the publicly accessible materials, a number of key opportunities were, seemingly, missed by Mr Rexstrew, notably associated with the manifest inconsistencies and failings of the police investigation, the motive of others for the murder, the provenance of the red car and, of course, the Bourke alibi. The defence, predictably, took on a very different shape as a result.
  • He was fitted up by a conspiracy involving at least two bent cops and organised criminals whom were either involved in, or commissioned, the shooting. David Mitchell had many connections in the criminal underworld and both he and David Watson, one frequently impersonating the other, are alleged to have used the garage as a front for criminal enterprises such as credit card and cheque fraud.  Crimes for which neither man has ever been charged. Firearms were also kept at the Chestergate premises. At the time of the murders Watson, another serious criminal, was on bail for possessing a Uzi automatic weapon supplied by a Salford-based organised criminal gang.
  • One of the corrupt police officers, PC Ronald Dalziel, later admitted searching police computers for Mr Singleton’s address, just over two weeks before the murders. Said to be at the behest of Watson. His father was also a GMP officer (believed to be of middle management rank when he retired). The other corrupt police officer, an inspector, to all intents and purposes leading the day-to-day murder investigation at the time, but promoted to chief inspector on the back of the Bourke conviction, most certainly should have been prosecuted after a High Court judge, Mr Justice Penry-Davies, made utterly damning dishonesty findings against him at a later trial involving another Stockport murder. His name is Kenneth Caldwell. He was never arrested, or charged, and still draws a handsome, gold-plated pension.
  • The Bourke family contend that the trial judge’s summing up was prejudiced against Thomas – and was influenced by a secret meeting between judge, prosecutor Peter Openshaw QC, and an un-named senior police officer, shortly before Mr Justice Sachs addressed the jury. Against all known protocol, Richard Ferguson QC was not party to this meeting, or even told about it.
  • Thomas had, as confirmed by the prosecution during the trial, no link to the garage.  However in his summing up, the judge said “you may wonder why he did not go to see the powers that be” [after the murder and because, presumably, the judge perceived that Thomas was connected to the running of the garage].  This, say the family, was highly prejudicial to the jury, set against an agreed fact.  It was, they also say, one of a number of factual errors and misleading statements put to the jury.
  • It was also brought to the Bourke family’s attention, in 2005, that a box of significant papers relating to the original trial in 1994 went missing from Manchester Crown Court.  All attempts by the defence team to locate this box have failed. 
  • For a man to commit his first ever criminal offence in such a brutal, callous, calculating execution of two government officials, in town centre premises owned by his brother, is beyond extraordinary.

The three CCRC applications (2007, 2009 and 2015) followed a dismissal of a permission appeal at the Court of Appeal, before Lord Justice Moses, in 2007.

There were four grounds of appeal:

(i) The jury influence by the discovery of the gun in Strangeways prison, the consequent armed police convoy surrounding the van that transported Thomas Bourke from jail to the court – and highly visible presence in and around the court.

(ii) The second red Ford Sierra (a Sapphire model with a boot, not a hatchback) and the evidence uncovered by Bob Duffield’s investigations that brought this vehicle into the case for the first time.

(iii) Disputed identification evidence: A witness who saw the getaway car and the driver told Detective Chief Inspector John Richardson at court, during the trial, that Thomas Bourke was not the person he had seen in the car leaving Chestergate Autos. This information never reached the defence team.

(iv) An allegation that police had covertly, and unlawfully, recorded and transcribed meetings between the Bourkes and their solicitor.

The judgment makes troubling reading and was scathing over three of the four grounds. The exception being the identification evidence over which the bench appeared to take a little more care.

The Bourke family contend that they were let down at appeal by their lawyers. Not least because the submissions, in the end fairly concisely presented, took an astonishing nine years to prepare and file at court. The instructed solicitor, Paul Gibbon, was struck off the Solicitors Roll by the statutory regulator in 2015 over separate dishonesty matters. The QC representing Thomas Bourke, Patrick Cosgrove, was ill for a number of years leading up to the appeal and, very sadly, passed away in 2011. Even allowing for his incapacity, it was not Paddy’s finest hour.

Lines of enquiry

The focus of my own journalistic investigation, in conjunction with the Bourke family, and within the confines of legal professional privilege, Jane Hickman, is centred on six areas which I believe are key to unlocking the truth surrounding the two murders:

1. Construction of a timeline on all of the movements, interactions of the two MOT inspectors leading up to, and including, Monday, 22nd November, 1993. Including trying to secure copies of papers, files, diaries, computer entries, logs, records of phone calls to the extent that a motive for their intimidation and/or execution might emerge. The focus of the police enquiries, from soon after the arrest of both Bourke brothers (Walter was originally said by police to be the getaway driver), was only on Department of Transport files relating to the brothers and no-one else. However, the proposition that Thomas Bourke would be moved to such a brutal, horrendous crime, simply on the basis of a refused re-application for approved MOT tester status, is, taken at its face, absurd. Especially, as his solicitor was already in communication with the Department of Transport and a legal remedy outlined to them. The crux of the debate was that the Approved Examiner licence previously held by Thomas was in his own name, not the name of a Kwik-Fit style garage at Urmston, owned by him, that had gone into liquidation. Over which, he had mistakenly surrendered his approved status at the request of Mr Singleton, who suggested he then re-apply. Mr Bruno drove separately to Chestergate Autos on that fateful afternoon. It is not known if that was always the plan for them to be double-handed, for what was purported to be a meeting with David Watson, or Mr Singleton had, perhaps, ‘smelt a rat’ and felt that ‘back-up’ from a colleague might be prudent.

The Manchester Evening News mistakenly described this as ‘a long running feud’. It was neither ‘a feud’, nor was it ‘long running’. The first discussion on the Examiner issue, between Thomas Bourke and Mr Singleton took place just over two weeks earlier. Another MOT inspector, Malcolm Jones, was present and describes the exchange as ‘amicable’.

2. The missing 20 minutes or so: The State narrative now appears to be that almost as soon as the two MOT inspectors sat down in the office at 3.20pm at Chestergate Autos, ten minutes earlier than the arranged time, a gunman wearing a Halloween mask emerged from a red Ford Sierra car on the ramp, at the front of the garage facing onto King Street West, that had been parked there for around 30 minutes (one witness says much longer), walked to the door of the office, shot both men, got back in the car and, after trouble starting it, drove away at speed, wheels spinning.

This is far removed from the transcript of the 999 call that was made by David Mitchell, shortly before 3.42pm. In it, he described a team of two men, both in masks, who had done the shooting (no mention of Halloween, despite such information being so crucial to the police in the golden hour after the murder) and then escaped ‘on foot down King Street West’. Mitchell also told the 999 operator that he didn’t know if the two men shot at very close range by a brutal looking weapon were dead and hadn’t asked for an ambulance.

He later changed one of his many witness statements and, eventually, his evidence at court was that he was actually inside the cramped office with Mr Singleton and Mr Bruno at the time of the shooting and saw Thomas Bourke pull the trigger. But the forensics didn’t support that account at all. Neither did photographs taken of him around 4.30pm, sat outside the premises, that show no blood or tissue or gun debris on his clothing or skin. It is also fair to posit that a gunman, having shot two Government officials in cold blood, would not leave a garage manager, well known to him, alive, who would be the main, and possibly the only, prosecution witness. As such, depriving the murderer of his liberty for the rest of his days. At trial, there was no mention of a second man involved in the assassination.

So what was Mitchell doing in those missing minutes? Why was the garage’s phone call log, for example, not disclosed to the defence team at trial? There is also the latent question of whether Mr Singleton (or Mr Bruno) telephoned the garage earlier that day or was he called from the garage with the intent of luring him there at a specific time? It has also emerged recently that Mr Bruno appears to have been the more senior of the two. He was the assistant manager at the DoT testing station.

3. The getaway car: Along with Bob Duffield, but by a different route, the emphatic conclusion has been drawn that the red Sierra with its vehicle registration mark F340PTM – a hatchback model – was not the vehicle used to transport the murderer(s) away from the scene. One of the first inconsistencies noted when reading up on the case was that the witness who saw the getaway vehicle exit the ramp at the rear of Chestergate Autos, local press photographer Jonathan Keighron, described the front wheels of a red car as spinning. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I had the use of two different Ford Sierra cars. My last company vehicle at Northern Counties Newspapers Ltd was a white E reg 1.6GL hatchback. My first company vehicle at North Derbyshire Newspapers Ltd was a petrol blue F reg XR4x4. Even as an advanced driver, it was not possible to spin the front wheels of either. The hatchback, most relevantly, was rear wheel drive.

Much store was placed at the Court of Appeal on a transaction in which Thomas was said to have purchased the red Sierra for £4,000, in cash, from a local car trader styled as Raymoor Cars. It was owned by a man called Ray Waine and run with the assistance of his son, Gary Waine. They were selling the vehicle on behalf of a well known local firm, Reddish Joinery Ltd, who still prosper in the Greater Manchester area today. The details and, indeed, the purported timing of that alleged transaction do not strike an independent investigator as capable of withstanding close scrutiny, yet it became a crucial strand in the story woven, after many dropped stitches, by the police investigation and prosecution team. If that strand was unpicked, the conviction of Thomas Bourke may well not sustain.

4. The alibi defence.  The Crown Prosecution Service say that a defendant must, in their Defence Statement, give the particulars of an alibi on which she or he intends to rely. Black’s Law Dictionary defines alibi ‘as a defence based on the physical impossibility of a defendant’s guilt by placing him or her in a location other than the scene of the crime at the relevant time. It is the fact or state of being elsewhere when an offence was committed’.

Thomas Bourke’s alibi is that he was at Fastfit, one of the other garages owned by his brother Walter, at the time he was alleged to have been at Chestergate Autos. There were witnesses to that effect, but there is uncertainty about the timings. There is also a witness who places Thomas (and Walter) in Deansgate, Manchester at 4pm. What is clear is that little or no substantive investigative work was done by his legal team either before or at trial. They had a year to do so, with their client facing a life sentence. Against them were ranged five witnesses who either implicated Thomas in the murder or said, directly, that he was the gunman. Some of them had also implicated Walter at the outset of the murder investigation, as the getaway driver, despite not matching the only available independent description, but his alibi was watertight and the murder allegation against him was dropped.

5. The effect of known and alleged police corruption on the murder investigation: Corruption within Greater Manchester Police has long been in issue and not just over historic matters. In December, 2017, Fiona Hamilton, Crime and Security Editor of The Times, reported exclusively on Operation Holly, a five year investigation into money laundering, fraud and tax offences, costing over £3.5 million, that collapsed over allegations that officers were taking bribes from gangland kingpin, the late Paul Massey. Not one single officer has been arrested or charged as a result.

Corrupt officers have featured both at junior and senior ranks in Operations Blyth and Shire, the two investigations that led to the shooting of an unarmed man, Anthony Grainger, in a supermarket car park in 2012. At a Public Inquiry that followed in 2017, Leslie Thomas QC described the force as ‘rotten to its core’, not least because of its grotesque failings over adequate disclosure to an inquisitorial process. He was not wrong: The Inquiry report published in July, 2019 was utterly condemnatory of both the investigation team and the force leadership. Almost two years later, not a single GMP officer has been held to account. One of the country’s best known justice campaigners, Anthony’s partner, Gail Hadfield Grainger, continues that particular battle on a daily basis.

More relevantly to the Bourke innocence claim: Who were the police protecting? Who stood to gain?

6. Organised crime in the vicinity and links to the murdered inspectors and Thomas Bourke. A considerable amount of work has been done already by his family, but it is here where the murder mystery is most likely to be unlocked. This was an execution of two public officials of unimaginable callousness and brutality. It would, very arguably, require an individual with very strong psychopathic tendencies or one who killed for financial gain – a contract killer – to carry out such a crime. Thomas had shown no such tendencies before the murder and, equally crucially, since. He has been a model prisoner throughout his jail sentence, with not a single blemish on his record in over 26 years.

The involvement of police informants, undercover officers and Special Branch officers in the case points strongly to nominals in the East Manchester area being under active surveillance or infiltrated. Car crime, and associated document theft and fraud, in Stockport at that time was recognised as the worst in the UK. Consequently, it was a massive problem for the police and partner agencies, including the Department of Transport, and spawned at least two television programme: ‘Car Wars‘ and ‘Car Crime UK‘. Both Alan Singleton and Simon Bruno would have been in the vanguard of the efforts to turn back that crime wave.

Again, for emphasis, it is repeated that Thomas Bourke had no criminal convictions and had never been interviewed in connection with any criminal offence prior to the Chestergate murders.

The corrupt inspector, Kenneth Caldwell, is said to have led Greater Manchester Police’s Car Crime Squad and, actually, appeared in the BBC’s programme, Car Wars.

Disclosure

In any miscarriage of justice claim, disclosure is usually at, or near, its heart. This case is slightly unusual, insofar as some of the key disclosure made at trial, albeit late, did not appear to the Bourke family to have been the subject of a comprehensive analysis by the legal team. Very obvious lines of challenge to the prosecution were missed. Most notably, evidence of the presence of a second red Ford Sierra in and around the Chestergate Autos premises that was a saloon version rather than a hatchback.

Nevertheless, from the information available in the public domain, and through my own enquiries, it is clear that a substantial amount of probative material has not reached the hands of the Bourke campaigners or, more crucially, their lawyer. It seems iniquitous, to this journalist at least, that a relative of the convicted man, his sister Jo, should have to risk her life pleading with organised criminals for assistance, never knowing if help would be forthcoming or she would be staring down the barrel of the gun. Whilst the police, at the same time, are destroying probative evidence.

Provisional conclusions:

Did Thomas Bourke murder the two Department of Transport inspectors?

Five men gave evidence on oath that he did – and ten of the twelve jurors went with their account. Thomas did not give evidence from the witness box on the advice of one of the top QCs in the country at the time. There is also the appearance of a red motor car at the home of Bourke’s girlfriend shortly after the murder. Given the way that the trial judge summed up that aspect of the evidence it is an easy conclusion to draw that the jury were influenced by such an event: ‘You may wish to follow the movement of the red Sierra’, Mr Justice Sachs said.

The garage owner at Raymoor Cars gave evidence that Thomas had bought a similar red car to the one seen in Heathcote Avenue, around two weeks before the murders. The motive was put as the withdrawal of MOT examiner status.

Taken together, and at their face, those factors make for a strong prosecution case. But Thomas, it is said by those who were present at the trial, was not at all well served by his defence team – and there is considerable support for that proposition through this investigator’s lens. The jury plainly had some doubts, with some, very likely, influenced late in the piece by the gun plant farrago. Designed, as it later emerged, solely to paint this defendant, on that particular day (summing up and jury out) as a dangerous gangster. But, after accounting for all those factors, and weighing each as they presently stand against the points of challenge by the convicted man’s family, the provisional assessment is that there is very considerable doubt about the safety of the Bourke conviction. It is certainly one that fully merits a robust, thorough re-investigation by a metropolitan police force, other than GMP, under the auspices of the CCRC.

Will the CCRC refer the case back to the Court of Appeal?

Those adjacent to the inner workings of the criminal justice watchdog, and, without a trace of self-regard, I include myself in that group, will say that a CCRC referral appears to present a higher hurdle than the Court of Appeal itself. Underfunded and overstretched, with a serious backlog of unresolved cases, their risk-averse approach, coupled with inadequate time to spend on reviews of, very often, highly complex applications often leads to the conclusions, by applicants or justice campaigners, that case review managers are looking for a way out of a miscarriage claim, rather than getting deeper into it – and using the very considerable powers to procure disclosure from relevant parties such as the investigating police force, the Crown Prosecution Service and their partner agencies. The Thomas Bourke innocence claim is one such case, in my respectful submission.

That aside, it would be remiss not to mention the admirable professionalism and diligence of those officers that are the public face of the Commission, their communication skills and their willingness to engage with stakeholders.

Appeal for information

If any serving or retired police officer, rehabilitated offender, vehicle inspector, member of the public or, most crucially, a member of the jury at the Bourke murder trial, wishes to aid the miscarriage of justice campaign, in however small a way, they are invited to contact Jane Hickman in complete confidence. The first contact could be anonymous, whilst trust and confidence is built. Jane is a highly respected, vastly experienced and notably successful criminal defence lawyer whose integrity is unimpeachable and her ability to handle the most sensitive of matters well proven. Her email address is jhickman@hickmanandrose.co.uk

Page last updated on Sunday 30th May, 2021 at 1225hrs

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

Picture credit: Stockport Express

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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