Ice cream trial judge slams appeal verdict

THE judge in the original Ice Cream War murder trial has condemned an appeal court ruling overturning the conviction of the two men he sentenced to life in prison.

In 1984, Lord Kincraig told Thomas ‘TC’ Campbell and Joe Steele that he regarded them as "vicious and dangerous men" as he passed sentence for the murders of six members of the Doyle family who died after a fire-raising attack on their flat in Ruchazie in Glasgow, in April that year.

But last week, after a 20-year fight to prove their innocence, Campbell and Steele were cleared by the court of appeal, which ruled police officers’ testimony had been called into serious doubt by new studies carried out by psychologists.

Different police officers testified at the original trial that they had recalled incriminating statements made by the men almost word for word, but in tests the psychologists found people were not able to remember even short statements to a high degree of accuracy.

But Kincraig, now in his 80s, said the validity of the officers’ statements was a question for a jury and not a judge.

"The court of appeal has usurped the function of the jury. The function of the jury is to decide questions of fact not law," he said.

"They seem to have said that evidence [the police statements] is not believable, which is the jury’s province. That’s a decision in fact. The court of appeal has decided in fact the jury was wrong."

During his summing up before the jury went out to consider its verdict, Kincraig said that to believe the defence’s claims that police had invented statements by Campbell and Steele would mean accusing a large number of officers of taking part in a conspiracy to frame them.

Following the appeal court decision, Kincraig told Scotland on Sunday: "I cannot accept there was a conspiracy among the police. That’s the implication of the [appeal court] judgment, but I don’t accept that."

The retired judge said he did not have a view on whether Campbell and Steele were actually guilty of the crime or not, insisting that was a matter for a jury rather than him or any other judge.

But Kincraig admitted: "I’ve been retired for 18 years and what happens nowadays goes over my head."

Psychologist Professor Brian Clifford was asked by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) to look at the statements allegedly made by the men and reported by police.

Campbell was claimed to have said: "I only wanted the van windaes shot up. The fire at Fat Boy’s was only meant to be a frightener which went too far."

He denied making it but it was written in the notebooks of four police officers at the time with a high degree of similarity.

Clifford carried out studies in Scotland and in England testing people on their ability to recall phrases immediately after hearing them.

On average, people recalled between 30% and 40% of the actual words they heard. The highest score by anyone trying to recall what Campbell was supposed to have said was 17 out of 24 words used.

Under questioning by Graham Bell QC, acting for Campbell at the appeal hearing, Clifford said the results "strongly suggested it was not at all likely" the four officers would have separately recorded what was said "in such similar terms".

Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Clifford said in the past courts had not recognised such psychological studies as evidence. But he added: "Nowadays law practitioners are becoming much more aware of psychological literature.

"The science behind it is how people remember utterances. The science clearly says you process it for meaning rather than actual wording. The one thing we know about memory is that it’s limited. Because it is limited, we engage in a number of different strategies to remember. We focus on the meaning and forget about the words."

In the appeal court ruling issued last week, Lord Gill, the lord justice clerk, told Campbell and Steele, who had already been freed from prison pending the appeal: "Your convictions are quashed and you are free to go."

The judge stressed the importance of the psychological studies in the decision to overturn the 1984 jury’s decision.

"Our conclusion is that any jury hearing Prof Clifford’s evidence would have assessed the evidence of the arresting police officers in an entirely different light," Gill said.

"The evidence of Prof Clifford is of such significance that the verdicts of the jury, having been returned in ignorance of it, must be regarded as miscarriages of justice."

Following the quashing of his conviction, Campbell has called for a public inquiry and a re-investigation of the murder.

However, while police and the Crown Office are still to consider the written judgment from the case, it is thought unlikely that a fresh murder investigation will be launched.

Two leading police officers on the case have also since died.

In 1988, Detective Superintendent Norrie Walker was found dead in his fume-filled car. Detective Chief Superintendent Charles Craig, head of the CID at the time, died in 1991 at the age of 57.

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