There are many unsung heroes who helped Tom Sargant with miscarriages of justice over the years. One such is Hugh Pierce. In 1958 Tom asked Hugh to investigate a suspect case - and he spent the rest of his life on the task. It was one of the first "Justice" cases and one in which some said a High Court Judge had obstructed justice. Our speaker in 1999, Lord Williams, the Attorney general, played a part in this case, as did our chairman of ten years ago - Lord Justice Lawton. Hugh Pierce died in 1998 with final success in sight. This account is written by his wife, Rachel.
The case of Iain Gordon Hay.
"Justice", Tom Sargant and Hugh Pierce (a Justice member and Tom's nephew-in-law) have sought to achieve justice for Iain Hay Gordon since 1958. In January 1953, Gordon, a Glaswegian serving in the RAF in Northern Ireland, was held to have murdered Patricia Curran, the daughter of a Northern Ireland High Court Judge. Gordon was found "guilty but insane" and detained in a mental hospital for seven years.
After extensive investigations, Hugh Pierce prepared a dossier for "Justice", which demonstrated that the conduct of the police investigations, particularly a three day interrogation leading to Gordon's confession to the murder, with no corroborating evidence, could have contributed to a miscarriage of justice. There was also clear evidence from all those involved with Gordon that he was never considered to be mentally disordered by the doctors.
In 1959, "Justice" invited Fred Lawton QC (later Sir Frederick Lawton, a Justice of Appeal), with Hugh Pierce, to make representations to the Stormont Government for the release of Gordon. The Minister for Home Affairs agreed, without conceding the propriety of the insanity verdict. Gordon was released in 1960 and found employment in his home-town Glasgow on condition that he took an assumed name and never spoke about the case.
Gordon has always claimed his innocence, and many have supported his claim, but until the advent of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, he had no legal remedy, no right of appeal from his insanity verdict. Hugh Pierce, together with Gordon's solicitor Margot Harvey and John Linklater, investigative journalist, gained access to all the RUC and Stormont papers and submitted a detailed case, with much fresh evidence, to the CCRC in December 1997.
The CCRC however did not accept the case, stating that their remit did not include "guilty but insane" verdicts; on challenge the CCRC referred the case to the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal. Despite Sir Louis Blom Cooper's opinion and advocacy - that the newer verdict "not guilty by reason of insanity" (which is within the CCRC's remit) is to all intents and purposes similar - the Northern Ireland Court endorsed the CCRC's position. An amendment to the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 was required
In July 1998. Lord Ackner introduced a Private Members Bill in the House of Lords with such an amendment. This was just before Parliament recessed, but it provided the opportunity to gauge Government support. It was Lord Williams of Mostyn, then Home Office Minister in the Lords, who provided just what was needed - an acceptance by the Government that the law needed amending. Thereafter, in the following session of Parliament, Lord Ackner had support from the Home Office Civil Servants in the drafting of the Criminal Cases Review (Insanity) Bill and its Explanatory Notes. Lord Williams of Mostyn spoke again in support in the Lords, and gave his support throughout
its progress - as recorded in Hansard, Friday 23 July 1998.
The Criminal Cases Review (Insanity) Bill became law at the end of July 1999. Following further representations from Gordon's solicitor, the CCRC agreed to accord his case priority, and work is now in progress on it. Hugh Pierce, who was Gordon's chief supporter over forty years, died last September - but not before he had read of Lord William's support in the Lords in July 1998, and therefore knew that, in time, Gordon would have the opportunity to appeal the 1953 verdict.
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