Judith Ward: Conviction by ambush


This is a piece first written by Neil Wilby for the police whistleblowers’ website, uPSDWYP, in 2013. It has been edited and refreshed with information and case history that has emerged since then.

Its importance at the time it was written, in aiding understanding of the incompetence and deep rooted institutional corruption that still dogs West Yorkshire Police, decades later, has not in any way diminished.

The infamous M62 coach bombing happened shortly after midnight 4th February, 1974, on the Trans-pennine motorway close to Hartshead Moor service area near Brighouse, West Yorkshire.

A highly charged Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) explosive device was detonated in the single decker vehicle carrying off-duty Armed Forces personnel and their family members. After leaving Manchester Chorlton Street bus station, where the time-delayed bomb was believed to have been placed on board by a female IRA activist, it had called at Oldham and Huddersfield bus stations before being blown apart in the blast.

No prior warning was given by the IRA and they regarded the vehicle as a legitimate target as their intelligence suggested there was only military personnel aboard.

The soldiers who died were mainly in their early 20s, several in their teens. Four members of the same family died. Corporal Clifford Haughton, serving with the Royal Fusiliers, his wife and two children, had been sitting directly above the time-delayed bomb, and all were killed instantly.

Twelve people, nine soldiers and three civilians, were killed and fifty others injured by the bomb, consisting of 11 kg of high explosive hidden in a luggage locker beneath the seats at the rear of the coach, which had been travelling from Manchester to Catterick Garrison.

The soldiers who died were mainly in their early 20s, several in their teens. Six of the deceased had strong connections to one town, Oldham: The Haughton family (via Clifford’s mother who was living in Chadderton), Fusilier Jack Hynes (from Age Croft) and L/Cpl James McShane (from Chadderton).

Judith Ward, from Stockport in Cheshire, was convicted of the crime in October, 1974 but, 18 years later, the conviction was judged wrongful, quashed and she was released from prison.

She had been given a life term for each of those who died, by Mr Justice Waller, and the sentences were to run concurrently with three other sentences of up to 20 years for causing explosions. She was also convicted of the bombings at Euston Railway Station and National Defence College in Latimer, Bucks. Now closed and merged into the Joint Services Command and Staff College.

No one was seriously injured or killed in either of those explosions.

Following the atrocity, the British public and politicians from all three major political parties had called for swift justice. The ensuing West Yorkshire Police investigation led by Detective Chief Superintendent George Oldfield, later to bungle the Yorkshire Ripper investigation, was rushed, careless and, ultimately, included forged documents in its evidence package.

This resulted in the precipitate arrest of the psychotic Miss Ward, who claimed to have conducted a string of bombings in Britain in 1973 and 1974 and to have married and had a baby with two separate IRA members. All later proved to have been the product of a delusional mentality.

Judith Ward was 25 years old at the time she was arrested in Liverpool, homeless, penniless and waiting for money to be sent to her to pay for a ticket for the ferry back to Ireland. She had already been noted by the security services as an attendee at Sinn Fein marches on the UK mainland – and had been carrying a notebook with IRA slogans in it at the time of her detention.

Despite the retraction of her ‘confession’ at the trial at Wakefield Crown Court, the lack of any corroborating evidence against her, and serious gaps in her testimony which was frequently rambling, incoherent and “improbable”, she was wrongfully convicted in November, 1974, in spite of the valiant efforts of her defence counsel, Andrew Rankin QC. Not in any way assisted when another IRA bomb exploded in a pub in Guildford, Surrey, murdering five people and injuring sixty-five at the end of the first week of the Ward trial. The was speculation in the national press that the IRA chose the timing of that further atrocity to coincide with those proceedings.

The fact that she had attempted suicide whilst in police custody was also concealed both from her family and the court.

The case against her was almost completely based on inaccurate scientific evidence, using the discredited Griess Test, and deliberate manipulation by some members of the West Yorkshire Police investigating team. It was also later found that Ward had changed her “confession” several times, and police, and the prosecution team, in that era part of the police force’s internal team, had to select parts of her statements to construct a plausible version.

The case was much too similar to those of the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and the Maguire Seven which occurred at the same time and involved similar forced and/or forged confessions and inaccurate scientific analysis. Prosecuting counsel was Peter Taylor QC, later to become Lord Chief Justice.

He also prosecuted Stefan Kiszko, a year later, in another infamous case. Regarded by many as the worst miscarriage of justice in known English history (read full report here).

Junior counsel was Brian Walsh, who took silk two years after the Ward trial and later became a circuit judge. He was attacked by the three law lords, who later heard Judith’s belated appeal against conviction, but faced no sanction. As HHJ Walsh QC, he was the best-known figure on England’s North Eastern law circuit, and was appointed to the ancient ceremonial title of Recorder of Leeds in 1996.

The prosecution concealed other important facts from the defence: The original trial had not been informed of Ward’s history of mental illness before her arrest and her possible unfitness to plead. Neither the court nor her family were told of a suicide attempt whilst Ward was in custody. Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) scientists, George Berryman, Walter Elliott and Douglas Higgs had also suppressed evidence, about the flaws in the methods of testing for nitroglycerine traces, that weighed against the prosecution case.

Judith Ward was finally released in 1992, when three Appeal Court judges held, unanimously, that her conviction was “a grave miscarriage of justice”, and that it had been “secured by ambush”. She was represented at appeal by solicitor, Gareth Peirce, and Michael Mansfield QC.

The following day, a Daily Mirror leader on page 2 described the miscarriage as ‘one of the blackest stains on English justice’.

After her release Judith Ward wrote an autobiography, Ambushed, published in 1992. She subsequently started a course in criminology and became a campaigner for prisoners’ rights.

Screenshot 2021-11-07 at 13.55.20

For West Yorkshire Police it was yet another desperate chapter in their chequered history and confirms their place at the head of the police service roll of shame for miscarriages of justice over the past forty years or so. Colin NorrisStefan Kiszko,  Gary Ford & Daniel MansellDanny Major, Michael Bunting, John Elam, Ralph Christie, Anthony Steel, and here with Judith Ward, is a list that is much too lengthy and plainly unjustifiable on any level.

Incredibly, the man who largely botched, and fiddled, the Judith Ward ‘investigation’, George Oldfield, was promoted soon afterwards by Chief Constable Ronald Gregory and ended up leading the co-ordinated hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.

Unsurprisingly, that enquiry was also an unmitigated disaster. Another very senior WYP detective at the head of the Ripper enquiry, Jim Hobson, had led the ‘forced confession’ conviction of another mentally sub-normal man, Anthony Steel, who spent just under 20 years in jail for a crime he did not commit (read full story here).

Another, more recent, unmitigated disaster has been the longest running unsolved child murder in the country and the family of Joe McCafferty, who was 7yo when he died in a horrific arson attack on his aunt’s house in Huddersfield, has run out of patience with the detectives purporting to investigate the evil crime (read more here). They will campaign until they drop in their quest to have another police force appointed to take over from WYP.

Page last updated at 0705hrs on Tuesday 16th November, 2021.

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.

Photo credit: Belfast Newsletter

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© 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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