The Criminal Cases Review Commission (“CCRC”) has today (10 March) decided to refer a 1976 murder conviction to the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal.
Patrick Thompson received a life sentence with a 30-year minimum term for the murder of four British Army officers in a Northern Ireland landmine attack in the mid-1970s. The explosion, which happened early in the morning of July 17th, 1975, on the road between Dundalk and Newtownhamilton, is often referred to as the ‘Forkhill landmine attack’.
The CCRC has referred Mr Thompson’s case on the grounds that there is a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will find his conviction to be ‘unsafe’ because the senior officer who led the investigation was not a credible witness.
Patrick Thompson appeared before a Trial Judge in March 1976 at the Belfast City Commission. He was charged on four counts of murder and of being a member of a proscribed organisation. The prosecution relied upon admissions that Mr Thompson was alleged to have made in police custody. Mr Thompson stated that the alleged admissions were the result of ill-treatment by the police.
Around a year after his sentencing in March 1977, Mr Thompson’s appeal against conviction was heard. He repeated that his admissions had been the result of inhuman and degrading treatment by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and as such should have been excluded from his 1976 trial. However, his appeal was unsuccessful.
Mr Thompson applied to the CCRC in February 2018 and after careful consideration, the CCRC has found compelling evidence that calls into question the credibility of the senior investigating police officer who questioned him at the time of his arrest. The same police officer was later criticised in the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal’s decision in R v Latimer, Hegan, Bell and Allen  1 NIJB 89.
Having considered the Court’s findings in that case, the CCRC considers that the credibility of this police officer as ‘a witness of truth in criminal proceedings’ is substantially weakened. On that basis there is a real possibility that the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal would conclude that Mr Thompson’s conviction is unsafe.
Mr Thompson was represented in his application to the CCRC by Ó Muirigh Solicitors, Belfast.
This press release was issued by the Communications Team, Criminal Cases Review Commission. They can be contacted by phone on: 0121 232 0900 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to Editors
- The CCRC is an independent body set up under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. It is responsible for independently reviewing suspected and alleged miscarriages of criminal justice in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It is based in Birmingham and is funded by the Ministry of Justice.
- There are currently 11 Commissioners who bring to the CCRC considerable experience from a wide variety of backgrounds. Commissioners are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in accordance with the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice.
- The CCRC usually receives around 1,400 applications for reviews (convictions and/or sentences) each year. Since starting work in 1997, the CCRC has referred around 3% of applications to the appeal courts.
- The CCRC considers whether, as a result of new evidence or argument, there is a real possibility that the conviction would not be upheld were a reference to be made. New evidence or argument is argument or evidence which has not been raised during the trial or on appeal. Applicants should usually have appealed first. A case can be referred in the absence of new evidence or argument or an earlier appeal only if there are “exceptional circumstances”.
- If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether the conviction is unsafe or the sentence unfair.
- More details about the role and work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission can be found at www.ccrc.gov.uk. The CCRC can be found on Twitter @ccrcupdate and Instagram the_ccrc