Craigavon anger over jailings
There were serious disturbances in Craigavon, County Armagh last weekend following the convictions of two local men over a Continuity IRA attack in 2009.
Two ‘dissidents’, former Sinn Fein councillor Brendan McConville and 19-year-old JP Wootton, were each given life sentences last Friday.
A van and two cars were hijacked and set alight in the Meadowbrook area of Craigavon after the verdict was announced, and a number of roads in the area were closed off.
The sentencing marked the end of a controversial trial at Belfast Crown court over a CIRA gun attack on a PSNI patrol in March 2009, in which PSNI member Stephen Carroll died.
The special juryless ‘Diplock’ court found both men guilty of murder, despite neither man being found to have fired the fatal shot.
Crown prosecutors and police had been under intense pressure to achieve a conviction in the case, despite serious flaws in the evidence presented.
Extraordinary emphasis was placed by the Diplock judge on the two men’s silence -- their refusal to answer police interrogations or questioning by Crown prosecutors, a traditional response by Irish republicans to British forces.
One human rights group said the evidence presented against the two men “appeared deeply suspect”.
Brendan McConville was found guilty on the evidence of an anonymous main witness who came forward eleven months after the incident and appeared confused about numerous aspects of his testimony -- testimony which was not corroborated by two others near the scene on the night of the attack.
JP Wootton, aged only seventeen at the time of the attack, was found guilty on the basis of evidence from a vehicle tracking device that Britain’s secretive Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) itself admitted had been tampered with.
Among the evidential issues which the Irish Law and Democracy Committee expressed concern about were “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.
It also said there were a number of other “very substantive” concerns raised during the trial, including the apparent involvement of a double agent.
“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 provocateur may have been active in this instance... the entire proceedings in this case appear entirely prejudiced against the defendants.”
Added to the controversial conviction of another dissident, Brian Shivers, in another judgement recently, they said there was now a question over whether republican opponents of the political process “can get a fair trial” in the north of Ireland.