A WEST Belfast man – who was the last man sentenced to death in the North – has died.
 
Liam Holden, who was 68, died on Thursday.
 
At the age of 18 he was sentenced to hang for the 1972 murder of a British soldier. He had been arrested under the Special Powers Act and claimed that while in custody, he was coerced into confessing to the killing of Private Frank Bell

Liam Holden in 1972
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Liam Holden in 1972

 


 

He claimed that he was physically assaulted by members of the Parachute Regiment while in military custody, subjected to waterboarding, hooded, and then driven to the Glencairn area of Belfast where he claimed the army threatened to shoot him at gunpoint if he did not confess to the murder of the soldier some four weeks earlier. 

Private Frank Bell, 18, of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment was wounded by a single sniper shot on 17 September 1972 in Ballymurphy. He died three days later in the Royal Victoria Hospital. He was the first member of the Parachute Regiment killed in the North of Ireland. 

Mr Holden's death comes after he commenced a civil case earlier this year for compensation in respect of allegations of waterboarding by members of the Parachute Regiment during his interrogation. A judgement is due to be made on his case this month.
 
He was arrested on 16 October 1972 and and claimed he was waterboarded up to three or four times by members of the Parachute Regiment at Black Mountain Barracks, Belfast. There was no other evidence against him and he challenged the confession at trial where he gave evidence twice.

He was convicted by the jury on the 19 April 1973 and was sentenced to hang. He spent four weeks in the Condemned Man’s cell. The death penalty was later commuted to a life sentence on the 15 May 1973. 

Mr Holden spent 17 years in prison and was subject to life licence restrictions for 23 years until the capital murder conviction was quashed by the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal on the 21 June 2012. 

Liam Holden
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Liam Holden

Liam's solicitor Patricia Coyle from Harte Coyle, Collins Solicitors & Advocates said she is "deeply saddened" by Liam's death.

"It was our privilege to have accompanied him in his journey seeking justice over the past 22 years," she told the Andersonstown News.  

"Liam applied to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) in 2003 asking that body to investigate the wrongful convictions from April 1973. The CCRC referred his case to the NI Court of Appeal in 2009 after uncovering new evidence. On the 21st June 2012 the Court of Appeal quashed the wrongful convictions which were based solely on a short 13 line false confession statement.

"In 2017 our client received compensation from the Department of Justice miscarriage of justice scheme. In January of this year he pursued his civil claim against the Ministry of Defence and Chief Constable of PSNI before the High Court in Belfast in relation to allegations of waterboarding by the army in Blackmountain Barracks on the 16th October 1972.  

"The court has indicated that judgement will be delivered this month. Despite his experiences in the criminal justice system in the 1970s, including serving 18 years in custody and 23 years on life licence, our client maintained a genuine  belief in the fierce independence of our contemporary judiciary in NI. We will remember him for his quiet courage and stoic tenacity in his long journey for justice”