Story of victim's last hours never added up


On a cold, rainy night, November 12th, 1952, 19-year-old Patricia Curran was found stabbed 37 times in the grounds of her family's imposing house, The Glen, in Whiteabbey, Co Antrim.

A few months later, a young RAF man, Iain Hay Gordon, who was doing his National Service in Northern Ireland, was convicted of her murder. But the account of Patricia's last hours never quite added up.

The small amount of blood found at the scene, despite the fact Patricia was stabbed so many times, was a mystery. As was the fact her clothes, folded neatly about 10 yards from her body, were dry, even though it had been raining. There were other discrepancies.

Patricia's father, Northern Ireland's then youngest appointed Attorney General, Mr Justice Lancelot Curran, told the police at 1.45 a.m. on November 13th that his daughter's boyfriend had told him he had last seen Patricia at 5 p.m. the previous day. But Patricia's boyfriend insisted he had not spoken to the judge until after 2 a.m. Adding to the strange nature of the case was the fact the police, possibly out of deference to the family, agreed not to search the family home until a week after the murder.

Patricia's murder shocked Northern Ireland and, some believe, prompted the RUC into making rash judgments in the light of criticism about poor conviction rates. But Mr Gordon insists that while he could have been accused of being "naive", he was not a murderer.

Originally from Glasgow, he was stationed at Edenmore RAF base about a mile from Patricia's home. He met Patricia, who was studying at Queen's University, on two occasions after making friends with her brother, Desmond.

Mr Gordon and Desmond had met at Whiteabbey Presbyterian Church and Desmond invited him to dinner at The Glen. "It was a judge's house so I thought there was no harm, I had no reservations," Mr Gordon told The Irish Times recently. "I was not a very street-wise character. But the family made it clear that I was not welcome. You see, Desmond had a habit of taking in waifs and strays.

"Patricia tried to get me into conversation, but you could almost cut the atmosphere with a knife. It was almost as if they were in fear or in awe of the judge. Mrs Curran was a sheer bundle of nerves."

Two months after the murder, in January 1953, Mr Gordon was arrested and interrogated about his account that he had been studying for an exam when Patricia was killed. He was questioned without legal representation and signed a confession under duress.

"I was in a small room, about 12 ft by 12 ft," said Mr Gordon. "There was a table and I was at one side and three or four officers were shouting at me. They said I was lying and that if I didn't confess then my past sexual life would come out. They said `talk of any homosexual liaisons you've had; the shock of it will kill your mother'. I wasn't prepared for any of that.

"I had nothing to eat on the third and fourth day. I think I would have signed anything. I was sitting near an open window and I would have flung myself out if I hadn't signed the statement."

He was sent for trial and found guilty but insane. He spent more than seven years in Holywell Mental Hospital but was released in 1960 and returned to live in Glasgow under an assumed name. Desmond became a barrister and later a Catholic priest in Africa.

A recent change in the law allowed Mr Gordon to appeal against the verdict, which was technically an acquittal. Last month three judges at the appeal court in Belfast agreed the evidence against him was "unreliable". He was disappointed the judges could not have told him at the time he was innocent.