Judith Ward

Page last modified Sunday 26th May 2013 at 0930hrs

The M62 coach bombing happened shortly after midnight 4th February 1974, on the M62 Transpennine motorway close to Hartshead Moor Service Area near Brighouse, West Yorkshire. A highly charged IRA explosive device was detonated in a coach carrying off-duty Armed Forces personnel and their family members.

Twelve people (nine soldiers and three civilians) were killed and fifty others injured by the bomb, which consisted of 11 kg of high explosive hidden in a luggage locker on the coach.  Judith Ward (pictured above), from Stockport in Cheshire, was convicted of the crime later in 1974 but, 18 years later, the conviction was judged wrongful and she was released from prison. She had been given a life term for each of those who died, by Mr Justice Waller, and the sentences were to run concurrently with three other sentences of up to 20 years for causing explosions. She was also convicted of the bombings at Euston station and National Defence College in Latimer, Bucks. No one was seriously injured or killed in either of those explosions.

Following the atrocity, the British public and politicians from all three major political parties had called for swift justice. The ensuing West Yorkshire Police investigation led by Detective Chief Superintendent George Oldfield (pictured top right and later to bungle the Yorkshire Ripper investigation) was rushed, careless and ultimately included forged documents in its evidence package. This resulted in the hurried arrest of the mentally-ill  Miss Ward, who claimed to have conducted a string of bombings in Britain in 1973 and 1974 and to have married and had a baby with two separate IRA members. All later proved to have been the product of a delusionary mentality.

Judith Ward was 25 years old at the time she was arrested in Liverpool, waiting for the ferry back to Ireland. She had already been noted by the security services as an attender of Sinn Fein marches on the UK mainland – and had been carrying a notebook with IRA slogans in it at the time of her detention.

Despite the retraction of her ‘confession’ at the trial at Wakefield Crown Court, the lack of any corroborating evidence against her, and serious gaps in her testimony which was frequently rambling, incoherent and “improbable”, she was wrongfully convicted in November 1974 in spite of the valiant efforts of her defence counsel, Andrew Rankin QC.

The case against her was almost completely based on inaccurate scientific evidence using the discredited Griess Test and deliberate manipulation by some members of the West Yorkshire Police investigating team. It was also later found that Ward had changed her “confession” several times, and police and the prosecution had to select parts of her statements to construct a plausible version.The case was similar to those of the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and the Maguire Seven which occurred at the same time and involved similar forced and/or forged confessions and inaccurate scientific analysis. Prosecuting counsel was Peter Taylor QC, later to become Lord Chief Justice.

The prosecution concealed other important facts from the defence. The original trial had not been informed of Ward’s history of mental illness before her arrest and her possible unfitness to plead. Neither the court nor her family were told of a suicide attempt while Ward was in custody. Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) scientists Walter Elliott and Douglas Higgs had suppressed evidence that weighed against the prosecution case.

Judith Ward was finally released in 1992, when three Appeal Court judges held unanimously that her conviction was “a grave miscarriage of justice”, and that it had been “secured by ambush”.  After her release Judith Ward wrote an autobiography, Ambushed, published in 1992. She subsequently started a course in criminology and became a campaigner for prisoners’ rights.

For West Yorkshire Police it was yet another desperate chapter in their history and confirms their place at the head of the police service roll of shame for miscarriages of justice over the past forty years. Colin NorrisStefan Kiszko, Anthony Steel, Gary Ford & Daniel Mansell, Danny Major, Michael Bunting, and here with Judith Ward, is a list that is much too lengthy and plainly unjustifiable on any level.

Incredibly, the man who largely botched and fiddled the Judith Ward ‘investigation’, George Oldfield, was promoted soon afterwards by Chief Constable Ronald Gregory and ended up leading the co-ordinated hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper. Unsurprisingly, that enquiry was also an unmitigated disaster.