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Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 13:50 GMT
Officer 'not guilty' of bomb leak
Manchester bomb scene
The 1996 bomb left Manchester city centre in ruins
A special branch officer has been cleared of leaking confidential information about the IRA bombing of Manchester to the press.

The jury at Manchester Crown Court took just under five hours to acquit Detective Chief Inspector Gordon Mutch of misconduct in a public office.

The officer was accused of handing a file, identifying a chief suspec,t to a reporter for the Manchester Evening News in 1996 - three years after the Manchester bombing.

Mr Mutch leapt to his feet and shouted "yes" as the not guilty verdict was read out on Friday. The officer had denied leaking the information to journalist Steve Panter.

'Totally relieved'

Mr Panter wrote a front-page story on 21 April, 1999, identifying Declan McCann, 31, from Crossmaglen, South Armagh, as a suspect in the June 1996 bombing which injured more than 300 people.

The prosecution claimed the information had been supplied by Mr Mutch who was disappointed that a top-level decision had been made not to arrest and interview a prime suspect.

Outside the court, an ex-colleague of Mr Mutch who had worked with him for 30 years, spoke of the Special Branch officer's relief.

He said: "At the end of the day he is totally relieved that he has been vindicated.

"These are proceedings that for the past two and a half years should never have been brought.

"It just renews your faith in the justice system that they have taken such a short time to see through what the evidence was.

Colleagues 'distanced'

"He has always protested his innocence from day one."

Mr Mutch's wife and his youngest son, who both gave evidence and were present throughout much of the trial, were not in court to hear the verdict.

Mr Mutch's colleague continued: "He has had a lot of support from family and friends rather than ex-colleagues because the bulk of them, for understandable reasons, have distanced themselves throughout the trial - that is another fault of the system."

Mr Justice Leveson discharged the jury and deliberated for a further 40 minutes over the issue of costs before postponing his decision.

Mr Panter, who refused to reveal the source of the information in his article when he gave evidence, despite being compelled to by the judge, now faces a charge of contempt of court.

Click here to go to Manchester
See also:

21 Jan 02 | England
Bomb case officer denies 'leak'
15 Jan 02 | England
'No arrest' plea over bomb suspect
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