Court quashes 1973 IRA shooting conviction

June 22, 2012 at 12:34 AM
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BELFAST, Northern Ireland, June 22 (UPI) -- An appeals court in Northern Ireland reversed the conviction Thursday of a man sentenced to hang in 1973 for killing a British soldier.

Liam Holden, now 58, was the last person given a death sentence in Britain. He spent 17 years in prison after the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Holden asked the Criminal Cases Review Commission to look into his case a decade ago, The Guardian reported. The court of appeals quashed the conviction based on findings that the British Army rounded up suspects unlawfully and that Holden's confession to shooting Pvt. Frank Bell while he was on patrol in Belfast had been obtained by torture, including the treatment now infamous as waterboarding.

"Mr. Holden and his family are grateful that they are dealing with a quashed conviction and not a posthumous pardon," his solicitor, Patricia Coyle, told reporters.

Bell, a young man from Liverpool whose family said he enlisted because he could not find a job, was the 100th soldier shot in Northern Ireland in 1972 at the height of the Troubles. Four weeks later, Holden, who lived with his parents two blocks away from the spot where Bell was shot in the heavily Catholic Ballymurphy neighborhood, was arrested based on a tip from an informant.

During his trial, Holden testified he admitted the killing because he was told he would otherwise be subjected to more torture. He admitted having belonged to the IRA but said he had quit and was working six days a week as a hotel chef.

The jury took only 90 minutes to convict him. Willie Whitelaw, Northern Ireland secretary at the time, commuted the sentence, saying an execution "would only succeed in promoting the mayhem and killings."

By 1973, the rest of Britain had effectively abolished the death penalty. Northern Ireland took the step soon after.

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