A guilty verdict against a prominent Lurgan republican has been thrown out after admissions that RUC police lied to prosecutors and tried to manipulate the case.
Secret recordings of events in a County Armagh farm shed in 1982 where Martin McCauley was shot and a teenage friend was killed were later found to have been destroyed.
Lawyers for Mr McCauley argued that the tapes could have confirmed that the RUC issued no warnings before opening fire more than 30 years ago.
They based their case on the findings of an investigation into allegations that the RUC operated a shoot-to-kill policy. Karen Quinlivan QC, for Mr McCauley, said: “The entire conspiracy was designed to ensure police were immune from prosecution.”
Mr McCauley may now sue for malicious prosecution.
In 2001, he gained international media attention when he was arrested alongside two other republicans in Colombia in 2001 and accused of training rebel FARC forces in that country’s civil war. The ‘Colombia 3’ secretly left the country three years later before returning to Ireland.
Even though Mr McCauley still faces extradition to Colombia if he returns to the Six Counties, the Court of Appeal in Belfast examined his wrongful conviction for possession of three rifles.
He was charged after being shot and badly wounded by an RUC team at a farm shed near Lurgan where the antique-style guns were discovered in 1982. The RUC falsely claimed that he was armed and that three warnings were ignored before they opened fire.
His 17-year-old friend Michael Tighe was killed in the operation. That death was one of six cases which became the centre of the Stalker-Sampson investigations into the RUC’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy of targeted killings.
The case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Case Review Commission, set up to examine miscarriages of justice.
Central to the challenge are the contents of the Stalker and Sampson reports, which have never been made public.
Last week it was confirmed that prosecutors were no longer opposing the appeal because material was withheld from it, the court and the defence at McCauley’s trial.
In court defence counsel set out a litany of abuses by the Crown forces as it argued for the conviction to be quashed, namely that:
:: An RUC team removed spent cartridges from the scene and allowed intelligence agents to get rid of the listening device
:: Special Branch officers were given full access to the scene for 90 minutes without documenting what they did there
:: Senior RUC tried to pervert the course of justice by publishing an untrue ‘cover story’ around the incident
:: Senior RUC lied to the then director of public prosecutions and concealed the fact of a listening device
:: Debriefings were used to concoct a lying account of the incident
:: A recording of the incident was destroyed by a senior RUC figure
:: British military and RUC personnel colluded to falsify records about this destruction
:: Information was kept from the trial judge and the defence.
Following these submissions, the conviction was immediately declared unsafe by the panel of three judges and was quashed. Full reasons for the verdict will be given at a later date.
* In a separate development, a court in Dublin has said that alleged ‘Real IRA’ leader Michael McKevitt cannot appeal his 2003 conviction for ‘directing terrorism’ despite a Supreme Court ruling that a warrant used to search his home was wrongly issued under an unconstitutional law.
The Court of Criminal Appeal said on Tuesday that an argument by McKevitt’s lawyers that the Supreme Court ruling in 2012 was grounds for appeal was “entirely misconceived”.