LONDON -- Judith Ward, tremulous and uncertain, walked free yesterday through the Gothic portal at the Royal Courts of Justice, the place where 18 years ago she was sentenced to more years in prison than she could ever expect to serve.
In 1974 she was accused of being an operative of the Irish Republican Army and convicted of killing nine soldiers, a woman and two children in a bus bombing near Leeds.
Evidence that might have caused her trial to turn out differently -- psychiatric evaluations showing her to be an extremely unstable personality, with suicidal inclinations, and that would have made her confession of no value -- was withheld by the prosecutor's office.
Lord Justice Glidewell, who heard the appeal yesterday, said: "We form the view no reliance can properly be based upon various admissions and confessions made by Judith Ward.
"It follows in our view we shall inevitably find that her convictions on all counts are unsafe and unsatisfactory."
After saying that her appeal would be accepted, the judge granted bail and she was free.
Waiting for her as she emerged were people who had gone through the same experience: four members of the Birmingham Six, freed in 1991 after serving over 16 years on a flawed conviction of killing 21 people in a pub bombing, and Anne Maguire, who along with five members of her family served eight years with Miss Ward after being wrongly convicted of making bombs for the IRA.
It was the discrediting of the forensic evidence offered by Dr. Frank Skuse in the case of the Birmingham Six that encouraged then-Home Secretary Kenneth Baker to allow an appeal by Miss Ward, for it was Dr. Skuse who said she had been handling explosives.
The Ward case is only the most recent in a series of miscarriages of justice involving people allegedly connected to the IRA. For that reason it has not had the same shocking impact the earlier cases had, but rather confirmed what everybody by now more or less knows: that the criminal justice system in Britain is not always reliable when it treats with people thought to have Irish republican connections.
The Birmingham Six, the Maguire Family, the Guildford Four, who served 14 years for pub bombings they did not carry out, were all convicted on evidence that was either faulty or contrived.
In nearly all these cases, the people were sent to prison during a period of tension and violence in Northern Ireland.
Miss Ward is 43 now and reportedly mentally stabilized. Throughout much of her life she was in the grip of destructive fantasy. She was born in Stockport, near Manchester, and into a home where violence was common.
She spent several years in Ireland, was once engaged to an Irishman, and for years imitated and affected Irish ways and openly expressed sympathy for the republican movement. She converted to Roman Catholicism.
When she was arrested she confessed not only to the bus bombing, but to two other bombings as well. She said she was the widow of an IRA man and advanced other similar improbable stories. During her trial witnesses said she could not have been at the places she said she had been.
But the bus bombing was the worst atrocity to grow out of the unrest in Northern Ireland back then. She was convicted and sentenced to 12 life sentences plus 30 years.