A packed lecture room at St Mary’s College in Belfast this week heard John Finucane, the son of murdered Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane, again raise serious questions about the evidence presented by the prosecution in the case of the Craigavon Two.
Supporters of the two men have vowed to continue the campaign to clear their names after their appeal against conviction for killing a member of the PSNI was rejected in May this year.
Brendan McConville is serving a 25-year minimum sentence and John Paul Wootton, is serving a minimum of 14 years. The pair deny any involvement in the Continuity IRA attack that claimed the life of PSNI man Stephen Carroll in Craigavon in 2009.
During a panel discussion, Mr Finucane, who is Mr Wootton’s solicitor, said that future options include taking the case to the Supreme Court and the Criminal Case Review Commission.
“As someone who has had experience with campaigns, I think it’s very important. I think that never be put off by what political agenda or political muck may be thrown at this campaign,” he said.
Later he added: “A campaign will strengthen any legal avenue and I have seen that personally in relation to my father’s case.”
He outlined the defence case and spoke of his grave concerns over how the then 17-year-old’s car had been targeted by British Army surveillance in the days before the attack.
He said: “A lot of information around that tag or bug remains secretive to this day.
“John Paul’s car due to the evidence of the tracker we know was in the area two hours and 35 minutes prior to the murder and remained in the area 10 minutes after the murder.
“I don’t think you need to be a lawyer - there’s not many getaway drivers or not many people involved in the murder of a police officer that would sit at the scene two and a half hours prior to an attack and certainly not wait about 10 minutes after an attack.
“A very strong and robust wall was put up when it came to asking any questions about the tracker. We weren’t allowed to access the tracker, we weren’t allowed to have our expert examine it, we weren’t allowed to know its full capabilities in the interests of national security. Where we were coming from was whether there was any potential whatsoever that there could have been any contamination.
“Anyone who works with the British Army, I imagine, would have interaction with weapons and if they go into a car belonging to my client there is a very real live risk they could have contaminated that piece of evidence.
“We weren’t allowed to pursue that.”
He said it was certainly “suspicious” that material was wiped from that tracker in the hours after it became known that a PSNI man was killed. The lawyer also labelled the forensic testing on the murder weapon as “shambolic”.
He added: “The main prosecution expert at the trial accepted that all of his results could be discounted because of the way he had tested the weapon.”
Independent Lisburn councillor Angela Nelson, who chaired the event, declared: “This is our Guildford Four, Birmingham Six, Maguire families miscarriage of justice which we all know of no matter what age you are.”
She added: “They aren’t your sons but what if there were? What if they were?”
Dublin based TD Clare Daly, who attended part of the men’s appeal hearing last year, also spoke at the event.
“I was going to say I am very happy to be here but obviously happy is the completely wrong word,” she said.
“I am actually boiling angry to be here having attended the appeal and listened to the evidence that was presented,” she said.
“I am glad to lend my support to the campaign and certainly to do what I can to secure justice for the Craigavon Two.”
During the event, a video of Gerry Conlon talking about the case was played to the audience.
Mr Conlon, who spent 15 years in jail for an IRA attack he didn’t commit, died earlier this year. The Belfast man passed away in June after a short battle with cancer. In the video, he spoke of his deep concerns over the evidence used to convict McConville and Wootton.
He said: “In this case I’m absolutely certain there’s been a terrible miscarriage of justice.” It was “appalling” that two men could be sentenced to life imprisonment “on so little evidence, so little fact”.
He went on to warn: “We could all fall victim to the same kind of injustice that these two guys have fallen under.”
In a fitting tribute to the campaigner, the group of which he was part honoured their former chairman by vowing to continue his fight.