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Telling tales on Thompson trial supergrass

THE career of Dennis David Woodman, a major Crown witness in the Arthur Thompson Jr murder trial at the High Court in Glasgow, is exposed tonight in harsh detail in Granada TV's World In Action.

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It casts doubts yet again on his use by the Scottish authorities.

Woodman, known in England as Wilkinson or by other aliases, gave five days of colourful evidence, claiming Mr Paul Ferris, the accused, had confessed to him while they were in the segregation unit at Barlinnie Prison. However, his testimony was wrecked by incisive cross-examination from Mr Donald Findlay, QC.

Despite a considerable body of better quality evidence in what was Scotland's longest murder trial, the jury acquitted Mr Ferris on all charges.

The use of Woodman, one Crown source later said, meant ''the baby was thrown out with the bath water''.

Mr Steve Bolton, the programme's producer, said yesterday: ''When we first started hearing of Wilkinson/Woodman's use as a witness in the Ferris case, we were astonished because we already knew a lot about his background. It was very clear he had reached the end of his shelf life in the English courts after seven or eight cases.

''In the case of Kevin Wong at Chester Crown Court, the Judge said he would be unhappy if the jury convicted on the evidence of Woodman alone. Peter Brockelsby was cleared at Leeds Crown Court after other prisoners described Woodman reading court papers beforehand to brief himself.

''His career of lying, aside from the damage he did to individuals, is a black comedy.''

The programme examines why Woodman, now in the protection wing at Peterhead Prison, serving a lengthy sentence for the kidnapping of a Dumfries farmer, began his career as a police informer. It followed an earlier kidnapping accompanied by sadistic treatment of the victim.

Woodman feared a life sentence. However, a witness says on screen, if he could show the Judge he had helped the prosecution in other cases, he could then expect a substantial reduction.

He was held in Risley Remand Centre and, says World In Action, a string of men who had previously protested their innocence suddenly queued up to confess to Woodman. The police and a number of English Judges and juries then accepted his evidence.

World In Action have, however, unearthed another former Risley inmate who speaks of Woodman attempting to get him to go to the police and say he had overheard other criminals admitting crimes.

After Woodman assisted the police, a detective inspector spoke for him in court. For charges of theft, fraud, false imprisonment, indecent assault, and wounding with intent he received only six years.

The programme then describes how Woodman offered appeal lawyers deals to retract his evidence for the Crown if he was paid to do so. Also revealed is the help given to Woodman by the police after he left jail.

After his record as a supergrass was exposed in English newspapers, Woodman said he hoped for police protection and for rehousing. It was five years later that he re-emerged in Scotland.

Glasgow solicitor Peter Forbes says on screen that ''it just seemed inconceivable that anyone would shout details of such a major crime to any other party in the segregation unit and for Paul Ferris to have done it was totally and utterly inconceivable.''

World In Action journalist Andrew Bell said yesterday: ''Only a few weeks ago, John Major was talking about blowing away the cobwebs of secrecy yet whenever we asked anyone in an official position in Scotland to talk about the Ferris case they dived for cover.

''I asked the Crown Office, the procurator-fiscal's office in Glasgow, and Strathclyde Police but none would speak. Strathclyde Police told us that the case was still sub judice but both the Crown Office and the procurator-fiscal's office told us this was nonsense.

''We approached two prison governors to interview prisoners under the more relaxed guidelines which are now in force and both seemed more than happy to let us in. They were jumped on by the Scottish Office. They would give us no reason or tell us who had made the decision.''

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