This article first appeared at Irish Law and Democracy Committee and the original can be viewed here.
Shortly after Girvan LJ convicted Brendan McConville and John Paul Wotton of the murder of PSNI Officer Stephen Carroll, ACC Drew Harris, head of Criminal Investigations and Special Branch in the PSNI, made a point of walking over to the Chief Prosecution Lawyer Ciaran Murphy QC and shook his hand and congratulated him. Furthermore, such cries of Justice which emanated from the PSNI in the aftermath of the judgement appear to be a premature exultation of righteousness that hide a somewhat Kafkaesque style justice.
The basis of such an assertion lies in the evidence adduced in the course of the trial, which appears deeply suspect and worrying from a human rights standpoint, and that does not appear to meet the required standard of proof necessary for a criminal conviction. Various aspects of the witness testimony, the forensic analysis and the fact that substantive weight was given to the inferences from the defendants failure to testify on their own behalf, whilst the remaining elements were made up of somewhat dubious circumstantial evidence.
While it is not even clear that either McConville or Wootton fired the fatal shot from the AK 47 assault rifle on the night of March 9th, 2009, that killed 48-year-old Constable Carroll Lord Justice Girvan, stated that while the evidence against the two men was circumstantial, the case was nonetheless “compelling” and they “were both intimately involved” in the murder.
This is contracdicted in much of the facts. Witness ‘M’ the main witness identifying one of the defendants only came forward 11 months after the incident. Thereafter he was seen to be evasive and confused about numerous aspects of his testimony. One issue the identification of one of the defendants raised numerous issues, he claimed his eyesight was perfect, however a defence lawyer asserted he was “as blind as a bat” and was on expert evidence seen to be defective. Moreover he staed he was only 50% sure under cross examination if this person he claims he saw in the time before the incident was one of the defendants, a point which varied from a substantially higher ratio. However, most notably his partner did not corroborate his evidence nor did a local man near the scene on the night, whilst CCTV evidence clearly contradicted some of his assertions. Furthermore it was asserted that witness M was alleged to have been prone to heavy drinking and was aleged to have rung the police drunk on a number of occassions whilst it was suggestedthat he was benefiting financially from the witness protection scheme.
This is outside of two substantial aspects that deserve further investigation in relation to this case. Firstly, the British army surveillance equipment that was removed from a vehicle, alleged to have been used on the night in question, by the SSR (Special Recconnassaince Regiment) and tampered with, removing vital data. Secondly, the naming of an Agent involved by a defence lawyer during the trial, as Officer Commanding the Continuity IRA, raises a number of very substantive issues, and begs the question to which agency was he alleged to have been working for and reporting to.
This case, like many in the 1980s and 90s points to security force involvement in the course of events and raises the possibility that an agent provecateur may have been at active in this instance, which raises worring substantive legal issues. Moreover, the entire proceedings in this case appear entirely prejudiced against the defendants so much so that considering the recent conviction of Brian Shivers in relation to the deaths at Masserene Barracks and this recent decision calls into serious question whether dissident republican suspects can get a fair trial in the North.