RUC officers jailed
BY LAURA FRIEL
``The assault was persistent and quite deliberate. It was
perpetuated against a man who was arrested in the middle of the
night, who was vulnerable and in an environment which was a
hostile one for him. It was accompanied by deeply repulsive
sectarian behaviour which is more often associated with hooligans
and can have no place in a civilised society.
with the threats to drop him off in the Shankill Road and to have
him shot by the LVF, it constituted a gross abuse of human
rights. Others were present within the limited confines of a
police Land Rover when [the assault] occurred and yet did nothing
to stop it. They engaged in a systematic cover up to avoid the
consequences of the criminal attack.''
These are the words of Judge McLaughlin, delivering his
judgment against three RUC officers and a British soldier
sentenced on Wednesday, 10 May, in relation to a brutal sectarian
attack carried out against a young Belfast nationalist in 1998.
The four defendants had been convicted last year of a number
of charges, including attempting to pervert the course of
justice, threatening to kill, assault and causing actual bodily
harm. The attack took place in the back of an RUC Land Rover
while their victim was under arrest and all four defendants were
RUC constable Michael Magowan, full time members of the RUC
reserve Andrew Lea and Darren Neill, and British Army Lance
Corporal Matthew Butcher all appeared for sentencing at Belfast's
The case arose following an incident two years ago in which
nationalist teenager Bernard Griffin was arrested and put in the
back of an RUC Land Rover in the early hours of 9 February 1998.
On the journey to the local RUC barracks, Bernard was
subjected to persistent sectarian abuse, repeatedly punched in
the face and hit with a baton across the back of his head and
upper back by an RUC officer. He was threatened, forced to sit
with his head between his knees, beaten with a baton across his
back and right leg and struck in the mouth. After his release, he
required hospital treatment for his injuries.
The RUC officers and British soldier involved in the assault
almost evaded charges. However a week after the attack, Bernard
was walking with a friend when they were stopped by two RUC
officers who were travelling in a Land Rover. One RUC officer
made an admission which enabled Bernard to identify him as one of
Bernard noted down the RUC officer's identification number and
made a formal complaint to the Independent Police Complaints
At first the patrol involved in the attack attempted to cover
up their guilt. In a scenario reminiscent of case against British
paratroopers involved in the killing of Karen Reilly, RUC officer
Lea allowed RUC officer Magowan to inflict injuries upon him to
support a false claim that the patrol had been assaulted by the
prisoner. Their concocted story collapsed after Lea admitted the
The case went to trial with three of the defendants pleading
not guilty. At trial, Butcher changed his plea, forcing the other
two to admit their guilt. Judge McLaughlin sentenced Neill to two
years imprisonment and Magowan was jailed for one year.
McLaughlin imposed a fine of £1,000 each on Lea and Butcher.