Iain Hay Gordon

Seven years
(and a further 48 years waiting for his name to be cleared)

Iain Hay Gordon was convicted of murder in 1953 on the strength of his own 'confession' to the crime. He spent seven years in a mental institution before being released (he was spared the gallows having been found guilty but insane). In July 2000 his case was referred by the CCRC to the court of appeal, which 'threw out' the confession.

Articles reprinted here:
Independent 26 April 2000 - 'Victim of conspiracy'?
Guardian 30 April 2000 - 50-year fight to clear name
BBC News 20 July 2000 - Case referred to court of appeal by CCRC
Guardian 21 July 2000 - Case referred to court of appeal by CCRC
BBC News 24/25 Oct 2000 - Reporting on appeal court hearing
Electronic Telegraph 26 Oct 2000 - 'Confession thrown out'
Guardian 13 Nov 2000 - Interview with Iain Hay Gordon following the appeal court hearing
Guardian 21 Dec 2000 - Conviction overturned

26 April 2000
Murder case airman
'was victim of conspiracy'

By Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent

On a cold and drizzly night in November 1952 the body of Patricia Curran was discovered in the grounds of her family home near Belfast. The 19-year-old had been stabbed 37 times.

The murder of the judge's daughter led to what many believe was a major miscarriage of justice that saw an innocent man "fitted up", as the establishment closed ranks and covered up the killing. The victim of this alleged conspiracy was Iain Hay Gordon, a 20-year-old Scotsman who was carrying out his National Service with the Royal Air Force in Northern Ireland.

Forty-eight years later, Mr Gordon, who now lives in Glasgow, looks set to take a major step towards winning his campaign to clear his name. It is understood the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which examines potential miscarriages of justice, is almost certain to refer his case to the Court of Appeal later this year.

This follows evidence that he was coerced into signing a false confession, was wrongly ruled insane, and that there were serious faults in the police investigation. A commission source said: "This case looks increasingly as if he was completely innocent, that this is a genuine miscarriage of justice."

This story started on the evening of 13 November 1952 when Patricia Curran's body was found by her 26-year-old brother, Desmond, in the wooded grounds of her family's home, The Glen, in Whiteabbey, five miles north of Belfast. She had last been seen at 5.20pm, walking towards her home after getting off a bus.

At 1.45am, Judge Lancelot Curran telephoned the police to inquire if there had been any accidents involving a bus, as his daughter had not arrived home. The police offered to come to the house, but the judge said that it would not be necessary. It was only when his wife, Doris, telephoned the police five minutes later in a distressed state that they came to the house.

When the first policeman arrived, shortly after 2am, he raised no objection as Judge Curran, Patricia's brother and the family solicitor put the body into a car to take it to the doctor's surgery. Police were only able to examine a contaminated crime scene. Very little blood was discovered at the site, despite the multiple stabbings, suggesting she was not killed where she was found and that her body had been moved.

Her books, papers, a beret and a handbag were found at the edge of the driveway, 10 yards from the body. They were dry, despite the rain. Patricia, a student, did not have these items with her on the bus.

Police have been criticised for the way they carried out their investigation; they did not examine the judge's home for evidence because he would not allow them in until more than a week after the murder.

A senior policeman wrote at the time: "It was decided to pursue every other line of inquiry before allowing our thoughts to concentrate on something which seemed too fantastic to believe, namely that the Currans were in fact covering up the murderer and telling a tissue of lies."

The Currans were one of the most respected families in the Unionist establishment. Judge Curran had been a Unionist MP and Northern Ireland's youngest attorney general.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary launched a massive murder hunt in which 40,000 witness statements were taken. Suspicion fell on Mr Gordon, a nervous loner and an acquaintance of Desmond Curran's. In January 1953, two months after the killing, Chief Superintendent John Capstick, who was on secondment from Scotland Yard, interrogated Mr Gordon over three days during which he was without independent legal advice. Ch Supt Capstick later wrote that "ruthless measures" were required to crack his suspect. Mr Gordon made a lengthy statement describing how he had stabbed Patricia Curran to death.

Mr Gordon's trial opened on 2 March before Lord Justice McDermott, a friend of the Curran family. The judge ruled Mr Gordon's confession was valid, even though there was no forensic or witness evidence.

To save his client from the gallows, Mr Gordon's defence counsel changed tack by calling evidence to show he was insane. The jury brought in a special verdict of guilty but insane.

Mr Gordon was committed to a mental hospital at Antrim. He was released in 1960 and his two-page medical record showed he had never received any medication for his "insanity" and, in fact, was quite sane.

Desmond Curran, the only surviving member of Patricia's immediate family, converted to Catholicism, became a priest and went to South Africa.

Ever since his release Mr Gordon has been campaigning to have his conviction for murder quashed. Now aged 68, he said: "I spent more than seven years in a mental hospital for a murder I did not commit. I feel confident that at last I might be able to finally clear my name."

Of the confession he said: "I was in a small room for three days with five or six policemen shouting at me. It was the mental pressure I would have signed anything at the end of it."

A spokesman for the commission said they were still looking into his case and a final decision was expected by the end of August.

Guardian Unlimited
30 April 2000
'I've fought to clear my name
for 50 years. Now I can see an end to it'

In 1952 a judge's daughter was killed and a young airman confessed. Now, reports Stuart Millar, his nightmare is nearly over

For 47 years, Iain Hay Gordon has been haunted by the same dream. He is locked in a tiny cell filled with people. One by one, the others are released by a man going through a list of names until the only one left is Gordon. 'What about me?' he always asks. 'You're not on the list' is always the reply. At that point, he wakes up sweating and shivering from fright.

But this weekend there is fresh hope that the real ordeal which has fuelled these nightmares for almost five decades could soon be over. In 1953 the Scot confessed to one of Northern Ireland's most notorious murders after three days of near-constant interrogation by five police officers in a 12ft x 6ft room.

Now the Criminal Cases Review Commission is understood to be preparing to refer his case back to the Court of Appeal in Belfast as early as the end of May, paving the way for the overturning of what many believe to be Britain's longest-standing miscarriage of justice.

In his first full interview since details of the development emerged, the nervous, emaciated 68-year-old revealed to The Observer his growing confidence that the struggle to clear his name is nearing a successful end. 'I can see the finishing line at last. For a long time I was not prepared to say anything one way or the other because it could have been wrong, but now I feel very positive.'

Gordon's nightmare began on a cold, wet evening in November 1952 with the murder of Patricia Curran, 19-year-old daughter of Justice Lancelot Curran, one of Northern Ireland's most influential judges and pillar of the Province's all-powerful Unionist establishment.

The student's body was discovered in the driveway of The Glen, the family estate in Whiteabbey, five miles north of Belfast. She had been stabbed 37 times. The pressure on the RUC for a conviction was enormous. Five years earlier, Curran had been made Northern Ireland's youngest Attorney-General, and his influence stretched from Whiteabbey to the highest levels of the Stormont government.

As a result, glaring irregularities in the family's behaviour that evening were ignored. Although his daughter was clearly dead - her right arm had been frozen upwards by the onset of rigor mortis - Curran, aided by his son and the family solicitor, put the body in a car and drove it to a doctor's surgery, unhindered by the first officers to arrive at the scene. Such contamination of evidence would be unthinkable today.

There were other discrepancies which should have set alarm bells ringing. Despite the multiple stab wounds, very little blood was found at the scene, suggesting she had not been killed where she was found. A pile of her belongings were lying 10 yards from the body, but they were dry despite the rain and appeared to have been placed there rather than dropped during a scuffle. The judge also refused to allow his family to be interviewed until four days after the murder, and it was a week before he allowed police to search the family home.

These factors have led many to believe that there was a conspiracy to cover up what really happened to Patricia Curran. And the victim of the alleged cover-up, say campaigners, was Iain Hay Gordon, a socially awkward 20-year-old stationed in Northern Ireland for his National Service in the RAF. 'I was very naive, I had never been away from home,' Gordon, who now lives in Glasgow, told The Observer. 'My idea of policemen came from Agatha Christie, and unfortunately I found out that reality was very different.'

Gordon came under suspicion two months after the murder. He had met Patricia's brother, Desmond, through church and had visited The Glen on four occasions. In January 1953, he was taken in for questioning by a team of detectives led by Chief Superintendent John Capstick, who was on secondment from Scotland Yard. Three days later, he signed a confession which his lawyers say was false and coerced.

It is the trauma of those three days that haunts him most deeply 47 years on. Just mentioning it is enough to bring the look of terror back to his eyes. 'To me it's like the interrogation happened yesterday. It will never leave me. I still have the nightmares, and they are still as horrific as when they first started.

'The shouted at me constantly. They said if I didn't confess they would let my mother know about my friendship with a local homosexual and the shock would kill her. I had no lawyer or RAF officer with me, and for three days I had virtually nothing to eat. By the end I would have signed anything. The window was open halfway and all I could think was that if I didn't get out of that room I was going to jump through the window.'

Gordon's big problem was that he had no alibi for the night of the murder, so, encouraged by his colleagues, he concocted one. 'It was the height of stupidity, but I knew that I hadn't killed Patricia Curran. I didn't think it would matter.' It did. When the trial opened in March, the confession was ruled valid by the judge, Lord Justice McDermott, a close family friend of the Currans.

Gordon was spared the gallows, but only after his defence produced evidence which led him to be found guilty but insane. He was sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure in the Holywell mental hospital in Antrim. His medical records show that he received no treatment for insanity and seven years later he was quietly released. But the time in Holywell, especially the first two years in a closed ward, took its toll. Even now, check-ups at Gartnavel hospital in the west end of Glasgow terrify him. 'I start to think that they might lock me in there.'

Adapting to life back in Glasgow was just as traumatic. He managed to get a job in the stores of a publisher, but only on condition that he used the name John and that he never mentioned the case. After 33 years, the pressure of staying silent became too much and he took early retirement in 1993.

'It was seeing all the other miscarriage-of-justice cases being overturned that was the worst thing. I felt I was being left behind.'

Since then, the campaign has gathered pace. In 1998, his legal team presented a dossier of evidence to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. It threw it out on the technicality that it was not empowered to investigate cases of guilty but insane, a verdict which no longer exists. But the campaign rallied, and last July MPs were persuaded to change the law to allow the commission to investigate.

Gordon admits that he will never be able to make up for the time he has lost. But now at last, he is daring to think about the future. 'For some people it might have been enough to be released and have a job, but not me. I was convicted of something I didn't do and I have been fighting to clear my name for nearly 50 years. It will be strange at first, but I'm looking forward to it happening.'

BBC News
20 July 2000
Murder case sent
to appeal court

A man's attempt to clear his name over a 1952 murder has been referred to Northern Ireland's Court of Appeal.

Iain Hay Gordon, 68, was convicted of murdering a judge's daughter in the province but has insisted that police forced him to confess to the crime.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission was only able to launch an investigation into his case last year after a change in the law.

Now the commission has announced that the case has been referred to the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland.

Gordon's supporters describe his case as the UK's longest-standing miscarriage of justice.

In March 1953 he was found guilty but insane of the murder of 19-year-old Patricia Curran. She had been stabbed 37 times in the grounds of her family home in Whiteabbey, County Antrim in November 1952.

A student at the Queen's University of Belfast, the victim was the daughter of Sir Lancelot Curran, then a High Court judge who later became the Lord Chief Justice in Northern Ireland.

Gordon, who was a 20-year-old RAF national serviceman at the time, claims he was forced to confess after three solid days of interrogation.

He spent seven years in Holywell Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Antrim, before being released under a deal which allowed him to return to his native Glasgow on condition that he changed his name and did not discuss the case.

He started his campaign to prove his innocence eight years ago when he retired.

However, the Criminal Cases Review Commission could not become involved until the House of Commons changed the law last July to allow appeals against verdicts of guilty but insane.

Gordon said the development had lifted a heavy load from his mind. "Over the years, going back to 1950, I have had so many setbacks and false dawns, you just tend to come to terms with it," he said. "But this development is a fantastic step forward."

However, Gordon would not speculate on the forthcoming appeal hearing. "We're down the road quite substantially but we're not 100% there yet."

Gordon's solicitor Margot Harvey said her client now had an "opportunity to clear his name". She added: "It has been an extremely long haul. We're hopeful we're now into the final furlong."

Guardian Unlimited
21 July 2000
Murder appeal 50 years on

By John Mullin

A former RAF serviceman yesterday won the chance to overturn his conviction for the murder of a judge's daughter almost 50 years ago.

The criminal cases review commission yesterday ordered the court of appeal in Belfast to reconsider Iain Hay Gordon's conviction for the murder of Patricia Curran, a 19-year-old student, at her home in Whiteabbey, north of Belfast, in 1952.

Now 68, Hay Gordon was found guilty but insane - a conviction no longer used - when he was 21.

He served seven years in a mental hospital before he was released with a new identity on the condition that he never discussed his conviction.

The case is notorious in Northern Ireland's history. Newly discovered evidence implicates Patricia's father, Sir Lancelot Curran, a high court judge and former unionist MP, in a cover-up.

Mr Gordon, who lives in Glasgow, said: "It is a big step forward. I feel a different person today."

The appeal will focus on the non-disclosure of evidence to Mr Gordon's defence team; the unreliability of his confession and the summing up of the judge, lord chief justice John McDermott, a friend of the victim's father. It is expected to take place in the autumn.

Ms Curran's body was found with 37 stab wounds. Her death was a sensation in what was then a largely crime free society. The RUC came under pressure to find her killer. Officers turned to Scotland Yard for help, and soon afterwards Mr Gordon, who was based at a nearby Edenmore base, confessed. Mr Gordon says he did so because detectives threatened to tell his mother about a recent homosexual encounter.

BBC News
24/25 October 2000
Gordon confession
'unreliable' - Crown
Murder conviction was 'unsafe'

A pensioner convicted of a notorious murder in Northern Ireland 47 years ago has begun an appeal against his conviction.

Iain Hay Gordon, 68, was convicted of the 1952 murder of a judge's daughter but has always maintained his innocence and insisted police forced him to confess to the crime. In March 1953 he was found guilty but insane of the murder of 19-year-old Patricia Curran. She had been stabbed 37 times in the grounds of her family home in Whiteabbey, County Antrim.

Mr Gordon, originally from Glasgow, hopes the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast will be the last leg in an eight-year long campaign to clear his name.

Launching the appeal on Tuesday, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, for Mr Gordon, said the verdict of the trial on 3 March 1953, was "not just unsatisfactory but unsafe". He told the three judges that "material irregularities" went to "the very heart of a fair trial". He said evidence to the original trial that the confession had been dictated by Mr Gordon to police was inaccurate.

Sir Louis said the appeal was allowed on the grounds of a mistrial in 1953 and had not depended on fresh evidence. But he said there was a "great wealth" of fresh evidence which was crucial to the appeal. He said that the legal standards of today must be applied to what happened in the past.

Detective 'lied'

Sir Louis criticised the conduct of Mr Gordon's trial and criticised the Scotland Yard detective who led the investigation and obtained the confession from Mr Gordon. He accused Detective Superintendent John Capstick of having lied to the 1953 jury when he said that Mr Gordon had voluntarily dictated his statement.

The superintendent was never asked about the statement in front of the jury, but during legal arguments in their absence, had insisted the statement was voluntarily dictated. Sir Louis said: "Superintendent Capstick lied about that."

He said evidence from independent psychologists recently brought in by the defence and by the Criminal Case Review Commission contradicted his evidence.

"They say a considerable amount of the evidence must have been by question and answer. It's only on that ground and that ground alone this evidence is unsafe," he said. He added: "The Lord Chief Justice was lied to by Capstick, the court was deceived."

Sir Louis said he believed it unthinkable that in the modern day, the superintendent would not have been called to be questioned about the statement in front of the jury. He said that while he accepted the reputation of the those who conducted Mr Gordon's defence, "looking over the transcript of this trial I have to say that I think he was not well defended."

He questioned the time of Miss Curran's death. He said the Crown had a "fixation" that the time of death was 5.45pm, when in fact, the forensic pathologist had said that while death was likely to have occurred at around 6pm, it could have been anything as much as four hours later.

Sir Louis also outlined some information which was not disclosed to the defence at the time of the trial, including a statement from a sergeant at the RAF base where Mr Gordon lived, who could have provided a partial alibi.

At the end of Tuesday's hearing, Ronald Weathrup QC began to put the case for the Director of Public Prosecutions. He said it had to be borne in mind that "tactical decisions" were taken at the time of the trial which could not be speculated upon.

Shortly before his appeal in Belfast ended on Wednesday, Crown counsel Ronald Weatherup QC, conceded that Mr Hay Gordon's confession to the killing was not reliable.

The three judges who heard the appeal will deliver their verdict later.

Mr Hay Gordon has always maintained his innocence and insisted police forced him to confess to the crime.

Mr Weatherup said he accepted the confession given by Mr Hay Gordon had not been voluntary and its contents were not a reliable account of what had happened.

Crown admission

The admission prompted the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Robert Carswell, to suggest that the main case against Mr Hay Gordon had been removed. "Knock out the confession and it takes the bulk of the Crown case away. What is left?" he asked.

In response, Mr Weatherup said: "We don't contest that if the confession is taken away there is no basis on which the verdict can be sustained. Without that confession would the verdict be guilty? The answer is no."

The admission came during the second day of the appeal.

The murder victim, Patricia Curran, was a student at Queen's University in Belfast, and the daughter of Sir Lancelot Curran, then a High Court judge who later became the Lord Chief Justice in Northern Ireland.

Gordon was a 20-year-old RAF national serviceman at the time. After being convicted, he spent seven years in Holywell Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Antrim, before being released under a deal which allowed him to return to Glasgow. It was on condition that he changed his name and did not discuss the case.

He started his campaign to prove his innocence eight years ago when he retired. In July, the Criminal Cases Review Commission announced that the case had been referred to the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland. The commission was only able to launch an investigation into his case after a change in the law last year [allowing 'guilty but insane' verdicts to be re-examined by the CCRC].

Electronic Telegraph
26 October 2000
Confession to 1952
murder is thrown out

A Scot celebrated after being given an indication by the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal yesterday that it would overturn a guilty verdict imposed nearly 50 years ago for the murder of a High Court judge's daughter.

Sir Robert Carswell, Northern Ireland Lord Chief Justice, said judgment on Iain Hay Gordon's appeal would be reserved, but gave the clearest indication to Mr Gordon that he had won. Sir Robert, sitting with Lord Justice Anthony Campbell and Mr Justice Brian Kerr, said: "We are not yet clear in our minds about reasons on all aspects, not the end result, but how to express it. In many ways that is as important."

He told Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, QC, Mr Gordon's lawyer: "Of course you will be able to advise your client how matters stand." Sir Louis had asked for the earliest possible judgment, as his client was a "frail old man who has lived with this stigma for nearly 50 years".

Outside court, Mr Gordon said he was "a bit disappointed" that the judges had not immediately overturned the verdict, but "they have given me the result I wanted. I never had any doubts that I would not win. According to the information I have been given I am going to be cleared. It has been a long time coming but I don't want to dwell on the negative aspects."

Mr Gordon thanked those who campaigned for him against the guilty but insane verdict when he was accused of murdering Patricia Curran, a Northern Ireland High Court judge's daughter, stabbed in the grounds of her home at Whiteabbey, Co Antrim, in 1952.

Mr Gordon, serving in the RAF, was based a few hundred yards from the Curran home. He signed a confession which he always said was forced out of him. The turning point for Mr Gordon came when the Crown accepted yesterday that independent experts for both the defence and prosecution concluded that the confession had been neither voluntary nor reliable.

Sir Robert said: "That knocks the confession and the bulk of the Crown case away. What's left?" Ronald Wetherup, QC, replied: "Without that confession would the verdict be guilty? The answer is no."

Guardian Unlimited
13 November 2000
End of the nightmare

For 47 years Iain Gordon has been the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice, convicted of a murder he did not commit. Now that his name has finally been cleared, he is free of the past - and also, writes Simon Hattenstone, remarkably free of bitterness

Iain Gordon floats into the Glasgow cafe like a nervy ghost. Somehow the crisp white shirt and immaculate suit and overcoat only highlight the hollowed eyes and stringy neck. He apologises for being late, which he isn't. A couple of days ago we spoke on the phone and he apologised for the distance I had to travel, the fact that his flat was in no state to receive visitors, the fact that I might not recognise him. More or less apologised for his existence.

It is 47 years since Iain Gordon, then known as Iain Hay Gordon, was convicted of the murder of Patricia Curran. The 19-year-old daughter of a prominent Ulster judge was discovered at the bottom of the family's huge drive. Nothing seemed to add up. The family drove her to their doctor's home, suggesting to the police that she was still alive even though one arm was stiff with rigor mortis. Despite the fact that she had been stabbed 37 times, there was little blood at the scene. Despite an apparent scuffle with her killer, Patricia's belongings were piled neatly 10 yards from the body. Despite the rain, they were dry. And so it went on. Although Justice Lancelot Curran told the police at 1.45am that Patricia's boyfriend had told him he had last seen her at 5pm, the boyfriend said he never spoke to the judge until after 2am. There was a mass of contradictory evidence, but the Currans' house was not searched for another week out of respect to the family.

The murder caused panic throughout the RUC. Not only were the Currans local dignitaries, but the constabulary had recently been criticised for its poor conviction rate. A suspect was needed. Any suspect, some would say. "I'd be the first person to admit I was not very streetwise. Naive," Gordon says. He was 20 years old, starting out in the RAF, recently posted to Whiteabbey on the outskirts of Belfast. He had never been away from his family before.

Gordon vaguely knew the Currans. He had met Patricia's brother, Desmond, at the local church. Desmond belonged to a group called the Moral Rearmament Movement, which believed in a series of absolutes - absolute purity, absolute beauty, absolute truth. Desmond invited Gordon, a middle-class boy out of his depth, home to dine with his family. "That dinner was so peculiar. Patricia was the only one who spoke to me. Desmond introduced me to his father - he just looked up from his newspaper, and never spoke to me. It was like something from Victorian times - frigid and rigid. His mother was like a hen on hot bricks. I've never seen anything like her." After the unnerving supper, Desmond took him upstairs and introduced him to the philosophy of his group, which involved both men telling each other their innermost thoughts. All in all, he met Desmond Curran four times. He only met Patricia twice.

In the weeks after Patricia's death, Gordon was interviewed several times by the police. His father was told it was simply a matter of course; after all, there was no evidence against Gordon.

By January, two months had passed and the police were still no closer to an arrest. Gordon was recalled on the 13th because, although he said he had been resitting an exam at his barracks on the night of the murder, there was no witness to support his alibi.

By the 14th the interview had turned into an interrogation. "They took me to a place of their own in Belfast. This is where it all began to go wrong for me. I was in a small room, say 12ft by 8ft. There were four police officers on one side and I was on the other. From about 2 o'clock till 10 they were shouting non-stop at me, 'You did it, you did it, you did it .' "

The churchgoing mummy's boy was told that if he didn't confess they would tell his mother about his friendship with a local homosexual. "They said the shock would kill her. I never got a word in edgeways. Every time I opened my mouth they said, 'You're a liar, you're a liar, you're a liar. If you don't confess you'll go to hell.' " The memory is so sharp that his lips glue together and he begins to stutter. "Maybe it doesn't sound very intimidating, but when you're in a small room and it's going on for 10 hours and you can't get out . . . My opinion of the police was taken from Agatha Christie novels. Unfortunately the reality was very different. To me it was something I'd have expected from the Gestapo or Stalin's secret police."

On the third day, Gordon broke down. "We were in a different room with an open window and I think this was done on purpose. Again they gave me hardly anything to eat and drink. I was exhausted, shattered. I think if I hadn't signed that statement I would have thrown myself out of that window to get some peace of mind." He tells his story quietly, gently, with just a hint of a lisp.

A huge British fry-up arrives. Bit by bit, Gordon, now 68, polishes off the lot. He says his skinny frame is misleading; he's always liked his grub.

The chief investigating officer, Capstick, wrote out a confession for him. "He played a sort of fantasy game, saying, 'Suppose you had met Patricia Curran. Would you have walked her up the drive?' And he wrote that up as 'He walked her up the drive'. The whole thing was Capstick's invention. 'Would you stop to give her a kiss?' That went down as 'He stopped to give Curran a kiss.' "

I start telling Gordon about the time I was accused of stealing a ruler at work, and before long I believed that I had done. I stop, feeling an idiot for having compared the two. But Gordon is fascinated. He says yes, he understands why. "For a while I didn't know whether I'd killed Patricia Curran or not because of the state of my mind. Gradually when I came to my senses, in the prison and in the hospital, I realised I hadn't killed her."

Before the trial, he told his defence that the confession had been forced, and that he wanted to plead not guilty. The lawyers ignored him, pleading guilty but insane. He later discovered there had been witnesses prepared to vouch that on the night of the murder he had been sitting the exam, but his defence lawyers had never called on them. He says his defence has a lot to answer for, then gives them the benefit of the doubt - perhaps the plea was the only way of ensuring that he didn't get the death penalty. How did he feel when he was sentenced? "I think I was relieved because those were the days you could have hung."

Gordon did not receive any treatment in the mental hospital. The doctors knew he wasn't mad. For two years he was locked up in a closed ward with psychopaths. "They could be very nice to you one minute then come at you with a chair the next, through no fault of their own. They were mentally ill. You stand with your back to the wall so you can see everything coming towards you."

How did he cope? Initially, he says, he didn't. "I remember it was the Queen's coronation and I was very depressed. Then somebody gave me a Daily Express to look at, and there was this guy called Norman Vincent Peale who taught positive thinking, and his book was serialised in the Express. It turned my life round. He said, 'No matter what your condition is, you can take control.' When I was in the hospital, just to keep myself going, I used to say, 'Tomorrow I'll be free.' I kept saying that for seven and a half years until it became automatic."

His lack of bitterness astonishes me. "What would be the point? I've seen it happen to people. They end up losing their their health and destroying themselves as a human being." He says he's not had a day's bad health in 50 years, and smiles shyly. "A lot of people seem to have been impressed by the fact that I'm not bitter."

In 1960 he was released from hospital and allowed to return to his mother in Scotland. But in reality his sentence had barely begun. Gordon could not get a job because of his history. When Collins, the publisher, finally gave him one, it was on the condition that he changed his name to John and never talked about his case.

He says, very calmly, that in the 33 years he worked there he abided by the rules. Didn't he want to scream? Tell the world he was Iain, not John, and carrying this dreadful secret? "At first I was just glad to be given the opportunity to pick up the threads of my life. But it made relationships difficult. When you wanted to go out with a girl, you had to decide: will I tell her or won't I? And will she tell her folk, and her folk might feel you don't need someone with a conviction? I went with one girl for a while at Collins but it petered out . . ."

One of the terrible ironies of Gordon's case is that the man who was so terrified of his mother discovering his homosexuality has always had relationships with women. He once had a "dalliance" with a young man, just before he was arrested, but has never considered himself gay. For many years he has "been going with" a woman who now has multiple sclerosis and lives in a home. Did he ever want to have children? "I don't think so. I don't know how to put it . . . I think my experience destroyed my ability to take decisions. I found it very difficult when I came home to make just simple decisions because in hospital they'd been making decisions for me."

In 1993 Gordon took redundancy. He'd had enough silence, enough anonymity. In recent years friends had started to bring radios into work and had listened to the news together, hearing about all the miscarriages of justice that were being righted. He couldn't stop thinking about the case. He tells me about the recurring nightmare. "I was in a kind of box, a secure environment. Somebody had a list of people who were going to be released . . . my name was never on it." He is talking in a staccato whisper, snuffling, breaking down every few words. "I would keep saying, 'When is my turn?' and somebody would say, 'You're not on this list.' And it was so real . . . I'd wake up shaking . . . Then in the morning you'd think about it first thing, and last thing at night."

He changed his name back to Iain, took part in a documentary about his miscarriage of justice, and told his former colleagues who he really was. The only thing left to do was appeal against his sentence. This is when he began to think he was Joseph K trapped in Kafka's Trial. He was told he couldn't appeal because, technically, "guilty but insane" was an acquittal. "Some of the Tories said they didn't know what all the fuss was about because I was walking about a free man . . . It'll be in Hansard . . . I might have been walking about a free man but I'd not cleared myself so I wasn't really free."

Which meant another fight. Gordon asks if he can say a few thank-yous to all the people who have helped him. There is the journalist John Linklater, who gave up his job to mastermind Gordon's campaign; his lawyer Margot [Harvey], and Louis Blom-Cooper QC who have worked for nothing . . . The list is long. He apologises and says he knows he can't tell me what to write, and pleads a mention for Maria Fyfe, his constituency MP, who succeeded in changing the law so he could appeal.

It is now two years since Gordon formally began the process of clearing his name. Two weeks ago, the appeal court in Belfast agreed that the evidence was "unreliable", but even now the authorities are making things as difficult as possible for him. It was left for his legal team to tell him that he was to have his conviction overturned. Yet officially, judgment has been reserved for a few weeks. "I understand it's normal procedure to give an interim decision and then confirm it in writing. Well, they didn't give me anything. Margot, my lawyer, was fizzing, really angry. Even now it would be nice if they'd gone one step further and said I was innocent."

There is little likelihood of the real killer of Patricia Curran ever being named, though it has been suggested that Patricia had argued with her mother shortly before her death and that there was a cover-up.

We're walking down the street. It's pouring down, a truly horrible day, and Gordon has a big, happy smile on his face. He says he hasn't got a clue what he will do now, but despite his quibbles he's relishing the moment. Hopefully, there will be enough compensation to make the rest of his life comfortable. Gordon says it has never been a priority, but yes, compensation is important "because then Margot will get some money for the work she's done". Those hollowed eyes devour the Glasgow in front of him. "Walking along the street in the last week there must have been half a dozen people who have come up to shake my hand. Strangers. The support I've got from people has been phenomenal. It makes me feel so humble."

Guardian Unlimited
21 December 2000
Cleared of murder,
after 48 years

By Rosie Cowan, Ireland correspondent

Airman sent to asylum for killing of MP's daughter that shocked Ulster is cleared

It was a nightmare few could begin to imagine: an innocent, sane young man found guilty of a brutal murder and locked away in an asylum for most of his 20s before being quietly freed and told never to talk publicly about the case again.

But now, almost half a century on, Iain Hay Gordon found it hard to believe that the Kafkaesque ordeal that eclipsed most of his adult life was finally over.

The frail, bespectacled pensioner, painfully thin and ghostly pale in a neat navy blue suit, sat bolt upright listening intently to every word in the Belfast court of appeal's 52-page judgment summary.

It took just over an hour for Sir Robert Carswell, Northern Ireland's lord chief justice, to read the finding, but it was the verdict that the 68-year-old Glaswegian had waited 48 years to hear: not guilty of the notorious killing that shocked 1950s Ulster.

The court ruled the enforced confession that led to him being found guilty but insane of the frenzied stabbing of Patricia Curran, 19, a judge's daughter, was inadmissible, and quashed his conviction.

The story began on a cold, dark night in November 1952, when the young woman's body was discovered lying in the grounds of her family's stately home in Whiteabbey, Co Antrim. Although medical experts found later that she had been dead for more than four hours, the family bundled her corpse, stiff with rigor mortis, into a car and drove to a local doctor.

She had 37 stab wounds and must have struggled with her murderer, who would have been drenched in blood, yet her belongings were piled neatly several yards from the body. Further conflicting evidence on Mr Hay Gordon's whereabouts later multiplied the contradictions.

Patricia's father, Lancelot Curran, the local Unionist MP, an eminent judge and a former Stormont attorney general, was a member of Northern Ireland's ruling elite. Her mother, Doris, disapproved of her headstrong daughter's unconventional lifestyle, particularly her relationships with older men, and there had been serious rows when Patricia took a year out between school and starting Queen's University, where she was a first-year student at the time of her death, to drive a van for a builders' firm.


Desmond, her only sibling, was a member of a crusading religious group, Moral Rearmament, into which he tried to recruit Iain Hay Gordon, a rather naive 20-year-old RAF technician, whom he met at the local Presbyterian church.

Mr Hay Gordon, who was stationed at a base near the Curran home, had only met the family a handful of times and swears he was nowhere near the house on the night of the murder. But two months later, in January, he was arrested and charged.

After two days of intense questioning, which he now describes as a "game of charades" where detectives suggested certain scenarios and pushed him to acquiesce, he broke, terrified the police would reveal his past gay experimentation in an age when homosexuality was still illegal and considered a mortal sin by many.

He said that at this stage he would have done anything to stop the interrogation. Psychologists later described it as a kind of brainwashing. So, with no legal presence or advice, he signed a confession and after the trial was packed off the Holywell mental hospital for seven and a half years.

Freed in 1960, he lived a quiet, exemplary life in Glasgow, where few knew his history, but remained determined to clear his name. The legal battle began in earnest in 1993 and seven years later, he succeeded.

"I'm delighted," he said, almost overwhelmed by the hugs of his legal team and supporters. "I feel a great burden has been lifted off my shoulders.

"I never had any doubt I would clear my name. I didn't know when or how but I always believed it would come to pass and I've been vindicated."

Hay Gordon's solicitor, Margot Harvey said she hoped a claim for compensation would be settled speedily in the light of his age and failing health.

"Iain is a very frail, vulnerable person, who is not in the best of health, and what happened to him was heinous," she said.

"The debris of this case is scattered throughout his family and his poor mother died bankrupt trying to clear his name."

It will probably never be known who did murder Patricia Curran. John Linklater, a journalist who has campaigned for Mr Hay Gordon for many years, has said in public lectures that he suspects her mother, but there is no way this can be proved conclusively.

The Curran family never got over the tragedy. Although Lancelot was knighted in 1964, another prominent QC, Richard Ferguson, described him as a cold, aloof figure who carried a tremendous sorrow. Doris Curran, too, was a broken woman after her daughter's death She and her husband died in the 1970s.

Desmond underwent a dramatic conversion to Catholicism five years after his sister's murder and his Orangeman father broke ranks with the loyal order to attend his ordination as a priest in Rome in 1964.


Now in his 70s, he ministers in a black township just outside Cape Town, South Africa, where he lives in a tiny prefabricated hut with no electricity and is known as "The Lamp" by his flock.

Mr Hay Gordon, who lives in a bed-sit in a run-down Glasgow tenement, has displayed a surprising lack of bitterness about the case.

"It turned my life upside down," he admitted. "You only pass this way once, you don't get a second bite of the cherry but I refuse to be bitter or have any feelings of vengeance towards the murdered girl's family."

For now, his plans are to celebrate Christmas with his disabled partner in hospital.

"I'm just trying to get on with my life," he said, his eyes shining with joy. "It hasn't really sunk in yet after so long but it's come at a good time before Christmas."

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