Still it goes on

Paul Foot

  • Ambushed: My Story by Judith Ward
    Vermilion, 177 pp, £9.99, September 1993, ISBN 0 09 177820 4

When prisoners write to me, as they do all the time, protesting their innocence, I always start with the question: ‘Why were you arrested?’ The answer usually gives some sort of clue as to whether their claims can be justified. In Judith Ward’s case the answer gives no clue at all. She was taken off the streets of Liverpool at half-past six one dark wet February morning in 1974. For several weeks she had been living the life of a drifter, sleeping in railway wagons off Euston Station. She had hitched a lift to Cardiff with a friend to spend a single night between sheets. From Cardiff she’d hitched again to Liverpool, where a police car came across her shivering in a shop doorway. She was taken in for questioning for one reason only: her driving licence was issued in Northern Ireland. Ambushed doesn’t help us much about what happened next: Judith Ward doesn’t remember. She was suffering from a serious mental disorder. One result was that she told the police anything she thought they wanted to know.

They wanted to know about bombings: bombings which killed 12 people on a military bus on the M62, bombings at Euston, bombings at a place called Latimer. The interviews went on all day and most of the sleepless night after she was picked up. The next day she was whisked to Wakefield, where she was interviewed again, this time by West Yorkshire Police under Detective Superindendent George Oldfield (later to become famous for his failure to catch the Yorkshire Ripper). Judith Ward hadn’t had any sleep for 28 hours, but she was interviewed again, and again at enormous length.

On the following day, 16 February, there were more police up from Scotland Yard to see her: Detective Inspector Moffatt, for one, who took her to the Police Training College for an interview which lasted most of the day. She told Mr Moffatt that she was a member of the IRA, and used to carry guns from Dublin to Belfast. She said she had taken explosives up from London to Manchester for the M62 bombing. The climax to a day’s skilful interrogation came when she admitted placing the bomb in the fated coach. Just so that there was no doubt about it, she then wrote out in her own hand how she had got the bomb and exactly where she’d put it in the coach. At ten to ten in the evening, she was finally allowed to get some sleep.

The pressure resumed. On 20 February, she was interviewed by Thames Valley Police, who were investigating a bomb outside a public building at Latimer, Bucks. First she dashed the officers’ enthusiasm by saying she had no idea where Latimer was. When they persisted, however, she agreed that she’d probably gone straight from planting the bomb in Manchester to Latimer, where she’d driven around in a car similar to the suspicious red one which had been seen in the area before the bombing.

After that there was a bit of a hiccup in the investigation. Police inquiries among Ward’s friends proved that at the time she said she was putting the bomb in a coach at Manchester she had been many miles away in Chipping Norton. Lots of witnesses saw her there. Obviously her story had been wrong, but the budding Inspector Morses from Thames Valley were not put off. They went to Risley Remand Centre (‘grisly Risley’, as everyone there called it) to interview Ward again. She agreed at once that she hadn’t put the bomb on the bus after all, and apologised for the mistake. She said they could ‘put me down’ for the Latimer bombing.

On 26 February she told Mr Oldfield of West Yorks that she wanted to change her statement about the bomb in the bus – she hadn’t done that after all. Instead she gave a tasty story about gun-running between the South and North of Ireland. By the afternoon a commander (Huntly) and a chief superintendent (Nevill) were up from London again to ask her about a bomb at Euston Station in September 1973. Oh, she said, she hadn’t planted that, but she had delivered the bombs for it. Come to that, she’d delivered the bomb for the Manchester coach as well. The police were content. They had more than enough for five charges of causing explosions, including 12 separate charges of murdering the people on the M62 bus.

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