Seven years on lockdown

FORMER Holywell Hospital patient Iain Hay Gordon died in 2012 an innocent man - but a gravely wronged one.

It is now widely acknowledged that powerful forces conspired to make him the scapegoat for murder - and together they robbed him of his youth, his reputation and ultimately his identity.

Like all good murder mysteries, this story begins with a body.

In the early hours of November 12 1952 judge’s daughter Patricia Curran was found just off the drive to her family home at The Glen in Whiteabbey.

The grim discovery was made by her brother Desmond and he maintained that when he chanced upon her she breathed - despite the fact that she had been stabbed 37 times.

She was brought by the family solicitor, who as luck would have it was on the scene, to the local GP who promptly pronounced her dead. Of that there was no doubt as rigor mortis had already set in.

There were other curious features too.

Though it had been raining that evening, her clothes were quite dry.

And despite the frenzied nature of the attack, there was little or no blood at the scene.

And it did not end there.

The judge did not permit the RUC to interview his family for four days. Indeed it was to be a week until the police were allowed access to the family home - and when they finally got in, they discovered that the 19-year-old victim’s bedroom had been freshly redecorated.

Despite this decidedly odd behaviour, the RUC seemed reluctant to look closer to home for their killer.

They took hundreds of witness statements but still the breakthrough eluded them.

In desperation they turned to Chief Superintendent John Capstick of Scotland Yard - and it was he who started building a case against Iain Hay Gordon, a naive and shy Scottish national serviceman.

Capstick’s memoirs later recalled his brutal interrogation of Gordon - though he claimed to have taken no pleasure in getting his ‘confession’.

“I had to make that boy tell me the truth about his private life and most secret thoughts,” he said.

“Only then could I begin to believe him. He began to tell the truth about Patricia Curran. I hated to use what might well seem to be ruthless measures .

“I was never sorrier for any criminal than for that unhappy, maladjusted youngster. But his mask had to be broken . ”

But how? It later emerged that they had played on Gordon’s fear that his mother might think him a homosexual.

Ideas were deftly implanted in his head. Effectively he was brainwashed.

Yes, he wrote a confession - but Capstick dictated it.

Armed with that damning document the case went to trial and Lord Chief Justice McDermott found him ‘guilty but insane’.

Gordon was sent to Holywell Hospital in Antrim to serve his time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

It is telling that during his seven-year stay in Antrim he received no treatment for his imaginary condition.

For the first two years he was locked up in a ward with dangerous 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,” he later recalled.

“You stand with your back to the wall so you can see everything coming towards you.”

Though he was well-treated by staff, the early days in Antrim were difficult for the young airman.

“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. It turned my life around.

“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 some seven and a half years until it became automatic.”

During that time it became abundantly clear that the man before them was perfectly sane, and over time he was given more responsibility working in the hospital grounds. Hew was even known to ride into Antrim on a bike to run errands.

Robert Wilson was a plumber at the hospital during Gordon’s stay, and he told the Antrim Guardian that the staff all knew he had been ‘framed’.

“I remember him very well. He was a nice chap, quiet - laid back even,” he said.

“Everyone knew why he was there, of course. There was a fair bit of talk about the case and that.

“But I don’t think many thought he did it. There were no doubts as far as I was concerned. Iain Hay Gordon was framed.”

Former Mayor Oran Keenan knew about the case from an early age through his father, who also worked at the hospital.

“My late father nursed Iain Hay Gordon,” he revealed..

“He was of the opinion that it was an in house murder but because of who the father was, Mr Gordon was convicted and sent to Holywell where he received no treatment.

“Dad said Iain was very trustworthy.”

Vera Rodgers also worked at Holywell for many years as a nurse, though she started shortly after the airman returned to Scotland.

She did eventually meet him, however, when he returned to Holywell to film a documentary about the case - and she was profoundly moved by his story.

“We all sat around and listened to what he had to say, and it was clear that there had been a great injustice,” she said.

“I suspect that the real killer was probably much closer to home.”

In 1960 the day Iain Hay Gordon had been patiently waiting for finally arrived when he was released on the orders of Brian Faulkner.

He was sent home to Scotland to be with his mother, under an assumed name.

But because of the conviction he struggled to find work.

A book publisher eventually employed him, with the strict proviso he did not talk about his case. It was a fresh start, but he was still living under the shadow of murder.

In 1993 Mr Gordon took his redundancy and decided to embark on the long journey to reclaim and restore his name.

The case finally came before the NI Court of Appeal in 2000 and Crown Counsel conceded that the case was less than flimsy.

“Without that confession would the verdict be guilty? The answer is no,” he said.

The three judges agreed and they ruled the confession was inadmissible, and the case against the by now elderly and frail Iain Hay Gordon collapsed.

But if he did not do it, who did?

There have long been rumours of a quarrel with her mother on the evening of Patricia’s death.

She had arrived home at 5.30pm. At around 7pm Judge Curran was urgently summoned from the Ulster Reform Club in Belfast city centre where he had been playing poker. Desmond arrived a short time later.

It has all the ingredients of an Agatha Christie novel, and the case created a sensation. Down the years it has continued to resonate, with several books and television productions speculating on the identity of the killer.

Irish author Kieran Fagan has recently completed a major new book on the murder - and he has a proven track record of cracking cold cases wide open.

Back in 2015 he published ‘The Framing of Harry Gleeson’, the story of a man who was hanged in 1941 for the murder of his neighbour Mary McCarthy in County Tipperary.

It painted a disturbing picture of a conspiracy of silence which allowed an innocent man to go to the gallows. Gleeson has since been posthumously pardoned.

“I was an eight-year-old schoolboy in Dublin when Iain Hay Gordon went on trial for the murder of Patricia Curran and I devoured the court reports in my father’s Irish Press.

“Although he had confessed, it was clear even then that he was vulnerable and had been put under severe pressure by a detective from Scotland Yard who was a disgrace to his uniform.

“Later when I worked as a journalist, I tried to interest various editors in the story but with little success.

“In 1953 Gordon was found guilty but insane and sent to Holywell. At first local people protested at having a young man in their midst convicted of stabbing a woman 37 times. He should be sent back to serve his time in Scotland where he came from, they said.

“But it appears that the Holywell medical director Dr Gilbert Smith and the chief nursing officer Donald Gilchrist soon realised that Gordon was neither a criminal nor a lunatic, and he appears to have become a kind of unofficial groundsman at Holywell.”

He added: “The question remains who killed Patricia. Her body was found in the grounds of her home in Whiteabbey.

“Had they but known it, the RUC didn’t have very far to look for the real culprit. The outcome was one person died, two other lives were blighted, and Gordon may be said to have been lucky inasmuch as he was not hanged.”

And despite the indignities heaped upon him down the years, the Scotsman agreed.

Speaking to the Antrim Guardian in 2000 at a press conference in the Glenavna Hotel - the Curran family’s former home - he remained confident that justice would eventually prevail.

“I’ve always maintained my innocence. I don’t know who killed Patricia Curran, I wasn’t there when it happened, but I made up my mind that however long it would take I would clear my name.

“Someone once told me that a winner never quits and a quitter never wins and I was determined that I wouldn’t quit until I had cleared my name.

“The funny thing about this case is that every time we face a set-back someone or something has turned up out of the blue.”

Iain eventually got that wish and got

the justice he craved.

Now, with

Kieran Fagan on the case, it may be

Patricia’s turn.

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