23 April 2006

Birmingham Six psychologist to appear at tribunal

23/04/2006 - 13:07:44

A forensic psychologist whose testimony helped free the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four is to give evidence to the Morris Tribunal this week.

Professor Gisli Gudjonsson, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, has been called to give an insight into the tactics used by police to break suspects, forcing them to make false confessions.

Prof Gudjonsson’s expertise has been central to some of the most notorious miscarriages of justice in Ireland and the United Kingdom over the last 20 years.

He is expected to give an insight into the minds of both detectives and suspects during interrogations as officers investigated the death of cattle dealer Richie Barron.

Some 12 Donegal people, many related to the McBrearty family, were arrested and detained in the botched death probe. The killing remains shrouded in mystery but it is accepted Mr Barron died in a hit-and-run.

Tribunal sources suggested Prof Gudjonsson’s evidence will be hugely relevant to all those involved in this module.

A former officer in the Icelandic police force, the professor gave evidence at the appeal courts in London in 1989 and 1991 as the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six fought to have their false convictions for a murderous IRA bombing campaign quashed.

And he also testified in appeals of the UDR Four – British army soldiers jailed for the 1983 murder of Catholic man Adrian Carroll in Armagh city.

Three of the men were released in July 1992 on appeal, but the fourth man Neil Latimer served 14 years in jail before being released under licence in 1998.

He is still battling to have the conviction quashed.

Professor Gudjonsson’s evidence comes in the wake of shocking admissions by two officers, Garda John Dooley and Detective Sergeant John White, that two sisters were subjected to hours of verbal and psychological torture in Letterkenny station.

Katrina Brolly and Roisin McConnell claim they were shown graphic pictures from Mr Barron’s post mortem as lights were flicked on and off, threatened that their children would be taken into care and even asked to pray to the dead.

Det Sgt White has claimed he was acting under orders to break the women.

In all detectives quizzed 12 people over the Barron death including Raphoe publican Frank McBrearty junior, and his father Frank senior.

Others detained were Frank junior’s cousin Mark McConnell, who was arrested twice, his wife Roisin, and her three sisters Katrina Brolly, Edel Quinn and Charlotte Peoples.

But despite pleas for co-operation, Mr McBrearty Jnr has insisted he will not assist the tribunal any further. He claims the terms of reference are too narrow and that hefty legal bills have left him at a disadvantage.

Professor Gudjonsson’s testimony could now prove central to establishing the practices among gardai in Donegal. The tribunal has already uncovered a culture of lying, deceit and determination among officers not to hang their own.

In over 200 publications on police interrogation, the professor has identified a range of important emotional and mental factors, such as compliance, suggestibility and personality disorders that have been ignored through the entire history of criminal justice.

He has identified suspects’ psychological vulnerabilities and their cracking points and pioneered the measurement of suggestibility where police coerce innocent suspects into accepting they committed a crime.

The professor is also considered an expert on the reliability of evidence, false confessions and the attribution of blame.

Over the last 16 years, the professor has been credited with identifying problems in interrogations and suggesting solutions to secure confessions from the guilty but not from the innocent.

He has recommended officers be banned from lying to suspects and has called for the mandatory videotaping of all interviews.

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