The Court of Appeal is to consider its judgement in the apparent miscarriage of justice for John Paul Wootton and Brendan McConville.
PSNI policeman Stephen Carroll died in a Continuity IRA ambush in Craigavon in March 2009. Wootton and McConville were arrested amid a British ‘security’ backlash over his death and convicted by a special juryless court on the thinnest of grounds.
McConville is serving at least a 25-year-sentence for the attack, while Wootton received a minimum 14-year term, but their cause has since been taken up by both Irish and international justice campaigners.
Over the past two weeks, a devastating case has been presented to the Court of Appeal by the lawyers for Wootton and McConville calling for their convictions to be thrown out.
A court heard on Thursday that the PSNI had deliberately subverted and manipulated earlier appeal proceedings and had been openly biased against the two men.
Mr McConville’s barrister also argued that the weak case against him had been destroyed by an affidavit that a key prosecution witness, ‘Witness M’, was a compulsive liar.
ABUSE OF PROCESS
As the eight-day hearing drew to a close, the PSNI came under attack for arresting Witness M’s father after he supplied the affidavit, accusing his son of dishonesty.
He was detained following a covert surveillance operation at his home before being released without charge.
The PSNI suggested, without supporting their statement, that he had been coerced into testifying against his own son to favour the men’s appeal.
Barry Macdonald QC, for McConville, said those claims had strengthened their concerns of an abuse of process.
“Specifically his arrest, detention and interrogation represented a subversion of the appeal process,” he said.
Dismissing the claim that the man had been abducted by gunmen, Mr Macdonald said the PSNI had blankly refused to consider the possibility that he supplied his affidavit voluntarily.
“It’s not open to police to pre-empt appeals, no matter how important the case may be, by arresting a witness and then subjecting him to interrogation in police custody under threat that he’s liable to be charged with a serious criminal offence if he doesn’t withdraw his affidavit,” he said.
“Their conduct clearly had a chilling effect both on (Witness M’s father) and on anyone else who might dare to come forward to give evidence which would not support the prosecution case.”
According to Mr Macdonald, the father’s testimony “effectively destroys the evidence on which this entire prosecution hinged, the evidence of Witness M.”
He said no attempt had been made to challenge core claims by the new witness that his son was “a dishonest fantasist who believed his own lies and was in many ways a pathetic character to be pitied rather than blamed”.
Scathing criticism was also directed at the PSNI for their failure to investigate the possibility that a note found in McConville’s remand cell in 2009 -- with the car registration details of the Maghaberry Prison governor -- had been planted by jail staff.
When former prisoner ombudsman Pauline McCabe reached that conclusion, the PSNI blamed her for “clouding the waters” on the chances of successfully prosecuting McConville for the discovery, Mr Macdonald told the court.
He said it reflected the PSNI’s attitude on the evidence in the murder inquiry.
Urging the judges to quash the conviction, he concluded: “The net effect was that the police did manipulate this appeal in more ways than one.”
The hearings were clearly upsetting and difficult for the families. The widow of the victim, Kate Carroll, was seen to comfort Brendan McConville’s mother after she became distressed during a hotly contested session on Wednesday evening.
Following closing submissions Chief Justice Morgan said all material put before the court had to be considered before a verdict is reached. He said: “We will reserve our judgment but we will give it as soon as we can.”