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Classification: Homicide?
Characteristics: Aircraftsman - Attempted sexual assault
Number of victims: 1 ?
Date of murder: November 13, 1952
Date of birth: 1932
Victim profile: Patricia Curran, 19 (daughter of a prominent Ulster judge)
Method of murder: Stabbing 37 times with a fine-blade knife
Location: Whiteabbey, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Status: Found guilty but insane and was ordered to be detained 'during Her Majesty's Pleasure' on March 1953. Released, 1960. Cleared, 2000

Gordon, Iain Hay

On the morning of 12 November 1952, 19-year-old Patricia Curran left her parents' home in Whiteabbey, Belfast, to attend Queen's University. When she had still not returned home by the early hours of the 13th her father knew something was wrong. Mr Justice Curran, rang the police to report her disappearance.

Her brother, Desmond, left the house to look for her. As he was walking down the drive he saw something lying on the ground. When he got to her she was lying on her back covered in blood. She died shortly afterwards. Initially it was thought that she had been shot with a shotgun but a post-mortem revealed that she had in fact been stabbed, 37 times, with a fine-bladed knife.

Normally Patricia would telephone for a car to fetch her once she had got to the bus stop, but on this occasion she hadn't done so even though she had been found close to the house.

Police launched a massive manhunt questioning everyone they could. An 11-year-old girl told police that she had seen Patricia with a man.

Following receipt of this information police questioned every person, military and civilian, at the near-by Edenmore RAF Station. Leading Aircraftsman Iain Hay Gordon aroused suspicion with some of his answers to routine questions and, when it was found that he had asked other airmen to supply him with an alibi, he was given closer scrutiny. It was also discovered that Desmond Curran knew Gordon and that Gordon had contacted him and asked if he (Gordon) was mentioned in Patricia's diaries.

Put under pressure he eventually broke down and confessed to the killing. He said that he had met Patricia as she walked home from the bus stop and asked her for a kiss. After a few kisses he 'lost control' and started to stab her. There was evidence of attempted sexual assault.

Gordon was tried at Belfast Assizes in March 1953. He was found guilty but insane and was ordered to be detained 'during Her Majesty's Pleasure'.


Cleared of murder, after 48 years

By Rosie Cowan, Ireland correspondent

21 December 2000

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."


End of the nightmare

13 November 2000

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."


Gordon confession 'unreliable' - Crown

Murder conviction was 'unsafe'

BBC News

24/25 October 2000

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].


Iain Hay Gordon being taken for trial for the murder, 1953.


Patricia Curran: Stabbed to death.


Iain Hay Gordon: delighted with indications of appeal success, 2000.



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