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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 20:12 GMT
Bomb case officer denies 'leak'
Manchester bomb scene
The 1996 bomb left Manchester city centre in ruins
A senior Special Branch officer told a court he would have been "absolutely crazy" to leak information about the IRA bombing of Manchester to a journalist because he would risk losing his police pension.

Detective Chief Inspector Gordon Mutch, 51, told a jury at Manchester Crown Court he did not provide information to Manchester Evening News crime reporter Steve Panter while he was the senior investigating officer in the bombing inquiry.

Nearly 400 people were left injured in the lorry bomb in June 1996.

But Mr Mutch said he met a reporter to discuss a book on the Moors Murders and he did not mention the bombing.

The prosecution has alleged that father-of-two Mutch was disappointed that a top-level decision had been made not to arrest and interview a prime suspect in the bombing.

'Bitter frustration'

The jury has been told the Manchester Evening News published an article by Mr Panter on 21 April 1999 naming Declan McCann, 31, from Crossmaglen, South Armagh, as a suspect.

It was also reported senior police officers were satisfied Mr McCann was involved in the conspiracy to cause the explosion and felt "bitter frustration" he had not been arrested.

Mr Mutch, head of Greater Manchester Police's Special Branch Irish Desk, has denied misconduct in a public office.

The jury was told Mr Mutch had 30 years' service in the force and was entitled to retire with a lump sum of almost 100,000 and an annual pension of almost 40,000.

Charge 'inconceivable'

He said it was "inconceivable" that he would put his whole pension at risk, adding: "It's crazy, absolutely crazy."

The court was told that from 1984, Mr Mutch had been working on a review of the Moors Murders inquiry, which in 1987 resulted in the discovery of the remains of one of the victims, Pauline Reade.

He said: "I have seen every piece of paper in the inquiry and every exhibit."

The officer told the court he stayed at a hotel in Skipton, North Yorkshire, on 3 February1999, which had been paid for by Mr Panter.

The prosecution has alleged this meeting took place shortly after the Crown Prosecution Service's decision not to proceed with the arrest of Mr McCann.

"The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility of me being involved in an article for a book in relation to the Moors inquiry," said Mr Mutch.

'Catch 22 situation'

Mr Wright told the court that just months later his client was charged with misconduct in a public office.

Mr Mutch told the jury he had met Mr Panter twice in a cafe before arranging the trip to Skipton to talk about helping write a book about the Moors Murderers.

When he was informed two weeks after the visit to Skipton that Mr Panter had information about the IRA bombing of Manchester, Mr Mutch said he felt "very, very vulnerable".

"I was devastated," he told the jury. "I felt in a Catch-22 situation."

The police officer told the jury that when the story appeared in the newspaper he was "absolutely gutted" and it affected the prospect of ever arresting Mr McCann.

The trial continues.

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See also:

15 Jan 02 | England
'No arrest' plea over bomb suspect
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