FORMER Master of the Rolls Lord Denning last night criticised the

Appeal Court ruling which freed the Winchester Three.

''The Court of Appeal were wrong, and the Judge and jury at Winchester

were right,'' he said.

Mrs Thatcher and Defence Secretary Tom King will face calls this week

for explanations over the freeing of the three, although the Prime

Minister has made it clear Mr King has her strongest support despite

calls for his resignation.

Ms Martina Shanahan, Mr John McCann, and Mr Finbar Cullen were each

sentenced to 25 years jail in 1988 for plotting to murder Mr King, but

had their convictions quashed by the Appeal Court on Friday.

Three Judges ruled their trial had been prejudiced when Mr King,

Northern Ireland Secretary at the time, disclosed plans to curb the

right of silence for defendants in the province.

They said the direction given to the jury by the trial Judge was not

sufficient to dispel the prejudice caused by the broadcasts.

Ms Shanahan, who declared after the appeal hearing ''British justice

stinks'', Mr McCann, and Mr Cullen had all used their right to silence

during their trial at Winchester Crown Court.

The appeal Judges also pointed to comments by Lord Denning on the same

subject at the time. Lord Justice Beldam said: ''For some lawyers and

most laymen his pronouncements represent the law.''

However, Lord Denning said: ''The Court of Appeal were wrong because

they said that what we said was really a contempt of court which

seriously prejudiced the trial.

''However, we had a complete defence to that: section five of the

Contempt of Court Act 1981 gives us the right to comment on matters of

general public interest if the risk of prejudicing particular legal

proceedings is merely incidental to the discussion.''

He added: ''Tom King and I were condemned unheard.''

As to Ms Shanahan's comment on arrival in Dublin that ''British

justice stinks . . . the Birmingham Six should be home as well'', Lord

Denning said: ''Well, well, well, so instead of being thankful to the

Court of Appeal, she has said that.''

He concluded: ''British justice has been betrayed by the Court of

Appeal, in my opinion. Justice was done at Winchester Crown Court.''

Labour called on both Mrs Thatcher and Mr King to provide explanations

for this ''grave constitutional matter''.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Kevin McNamara said: ''Not only the

Prime Minister and Mr King have to explain their actions, but the role

of the law officers has to be examined.''

Senior Whitehall sources insisted, however, that Mr King enjoyed ''the

strongest support'' from Mrs Thatcher.

And a senior Government source in Dublin, where the Prime Minister was

attending an EC summit, said: ''He (Mr King) is a member of the

Government, and will continue to be so.''

The declarations of support were seen to remove any prospect that the

Defence Secretary might resign.

Meanwhile, at the three's first public appearance together since their

release, Mr Cullen said that ''while we are now free, it is three years

too late for us. For others it has been 15 years too late and for many

more the nightmare still goes on.''