UK

Thomas Bourke jailed for MOT murders protests innocence

Thomas Bourke, who has spent almost 20 years in jail
Image caption Thomas Bourke has spent 17 years in jail for a crime he insists he did not commit

Thomas Bourke has spent the past 17 years in prison for a double murder he insists he did not commit. Is it possible the police got the wrong man?

On Friday, 2 December 1994 garage owner Thomas Bourke's murder trial was drawing to a close.

He was accused of shooting dead two Department of Transport inspectors, Alan Singleton and Simon Bruno, at a garage in Stockport, Greater Manchester, a year earlier.

His barrister, Richard Ferguson QC, was so confident of an acquittal he decided Bourke need not go in the witness box.

Bourke's sister, Jo Holt, recalls: "He said it was all going well and he could speak more eloquently than Tom."

Over the weekend an underworld informant tipped off the authorities about a gun in Manchester's Strangeways prison and claimed it had been smuggled in to help Bourke escape if he was found guilty.

By the time the jury returned on the Monday morning stories about the smuggled gun were all over the local news and Bourke's trial was suddenly surrounded by a ring of steel.

Armed police patrolled Manchester Crown Court, snipers lined the roof and a helicopter hovered overhead as he was brought to court.

'Weapon impact'

Bourke was convicted on a majority verdict, with two jurors dissenting.

Image caption Alan Singleton (left) and Simon Bruno were shot dead while carrying out a routine inquiry at a garage

Mrs Holt believes the scare about the weapon must have had an impact: "The publicity about the gun over the weekend and the fact that he suddenly had an armed escort that must have influenced the jury into thinking that he was a very dangerous person."

Bourke has maintained his innocence for the past 17 years but it was only recently that serious question marks began to be raised about his conviction.

In 2008 it emerged at the trial of Liverpool gangster John Haase that he had arranged for the gun to be smuggled into prison inside a sandwich toaster.

The trial heard he falsely claimed it had been smuggled in for Bourke.

The gun was one of many planted by Haase's associates as part of an elaborate and successful plot to hoodwink the authorities and gain a Royal Pardon from the then Home Secretary Michael Howard.

Image caption Bourke is a prisoner at HMP Frankland in County Durham

In November 2008 Haase was jailed for 22 years for perverting the course of justice.

Last week the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge rejected an appeal by Haase against the length of his sentence.

Peter Kilfoyle, a former Labour MP in Liverpool who investigated the Haase case, said Bourke's case was "very disturbing", adding: "I'm satisfied that there is a case that he was set up good style. It must have been opportune that it happened when his trial was under way.

"I have no doubt that Haase was involved in planting the gun and on that basis, if for no other, the Bourke case should be revisited."

It also emerged, in a written parliamentary answer to a question from Mr Kilfoyle, that at least one law enforcement official held the view that another individual was "believed to have committed the murder".

'Bogus motive'

Bourke recently wrote to the BBC from Frankland Prison in County Durham saying he was "very hopeful" of clearing his name.

The 49-year-old, who had no previous convictions, says he is innocent and the motive he was supposed to have had for killing the pair was bogus.

The story begins on Monday, 22 November 1993, when the inspectors, Mr Singleton and Mr Bruno, arrived at Chestergate Motors in Stockport for a routine appointment at 3.30pm.

They were shown into a small office to wait for the manager.

Seconds later a gunman burst into the office and shot the pair with a double-barrelled shotgun.

Image caption Some of the guns John Haase's associates planted while he was in jail

One witness claimed the gunman wore a Halloween mask, but another said he had long, scraggly, dark hair - very different from Bourke's short blond locks.

The witnesses also disagreed about the getaway car, described as a white van or a red Ford Sierra.

Bourke, writing from his cell, says: "I had no involvement whatsoever in the commissioning or carrying out of these dreadful offences."

He claims the police took on-board "false intelligence" coming into the incident room that he and his brother Walter could lose a number of MOT licences and bore a grudge against Mr Singleton.

Bourke drew attention to a bag containing balaclavas along with a shotgun which the police claimed was the murder weapon.

'No grudge'

He said saliva and hair found on the balaclavas did not match his and he added: "These items were not mine.

"Moreover it proves that there was forensic evidence available to the police that could have been used to uncover the real killer or killers of Mr Singleton and Mr Bruno."

Bourke said by the time the case returned to the Court of Appeal in 2007 the balaclavas had been destroyed.

Mark Hunter, Liberal Democrat MP for Cheadle, told the BBC: "The family have made a good case for the case to be reopened. They obviously believe it was a miscarriage of justice and, in view of what we know now, it seems to warrant reopening inquiries."

Image caption Thomas Bourke's barrister, Richard Ferguson QC, died in 2009

Bourke denied having a "grudge" against Mr Singleton and said he had never even met Mr Bruno.

He had this message for the families of the men: "I am deeply sorry for their terrible loss.

"I had no involvement whatsoever in the commissioning or carrying out of these dreadful offences and I will work tirelessly to bring the perpetrators to justice."

At an appeal hearing in 2007Lord Justice Moses accepted the jury members could have been aware of the increased security around the trial, but he said that without proof the jury were affected, he could not accept the gun and the increased security had any effect on their deliberations.

Ian McMeekin, a barrister who represented Bourke at that appeal, said: "It's a case that has always troubled me."

'Lot of nonsense'

Mr McMeekin said on the face of it there was a strong prosecution case but it was riddled with "anomalies".

Mr McMeekin said Mr Ferguson had said at the time of the trial he was not prepared for the trial and had suggested Bourke sack him.

Mr Ferguson died in 2009, but the family of his former client, who was given a tariff of 25 years, continues to protest his innocence.

Walter Bourke said a "lot of nonsense" had been written about his brother at the time of the killing: "Thomas was 32 and had never been in any trouble with the police, but they were making out we were controlling gangs all over the place."

He said Mr Singleton and Mr Bruno had come to discuss a "minor discrepancy" in some paperwork and he said it made no sense at all for his brother to murder them to protect his MOT business, as was claimed by the prosecution.

But unless one of the jurors comes forward to shed light on whether the heightened security at his trial affected their verdict, Bourke will remain in jail.

His solicitors are working on a fresh application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission and Mrs Holt says: "We have spent years investigating this and there are people out there who know who did it and why."

A Greater Manchester Police spokesman said they did not wish to comment on the case.

Chris.Summers-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk

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