A number of people have suggested to us that it was a mistake to include the case of Seamus Doherty in the issues being highlighted by the march marking the anniversary of the October 5th 1968 launch of the civil rights campaign in Derry.
The commemorative march, called by the undersigned as three of the 1968 organisers, will take place on Saturday October 2nd along the original route, leaving Waterside station, Derry, at 2.30 pm and proceeding to Guildhall Square.
Derry City councillors are among those who have said that they’d support the march if Seamus Doherty’s case wasn’t included. They seem to fear that if they were seen to back the Seamus Doherty campaign, people might assume they are backing the actions of “dissident” Republicans.
But defending Seamus Doherty’s civil rights implies no such thing. It is possible to be totally opposed to bombings and shootings claimed by “dissident” Republicans (or anyone else) but also totally opposed to the way the State appears to have set about framing Seamus Doherty. We urge people to look objectively at the facts of the case and ask themselves whether it would not be an act of political cowardice to march in Derry for civil rights at the present time while ignoring Seamus Doherty.
Doherty is in Maghaberry awaiting trial for possession of explosives. The charge refers to an abortive Real IRA bomb attack near Newry in September 2002. Charges arising from the incident were originally also preferred against three other men---Kevin Byrne, Martin Brogan and Mark Carroll.
Byrne was arrested near the scene of the bomb find and accused of being the driver of the bomb car. Charges against him were dropped at an early stage.
The prosecution of the two others arrested near the scene collapsed following the discovery of documents suggesting that forensic evidence had been tampered with and attempts made to persuade forensic scientists to give perjured evidence.
The details are that Adrian Carlin, from defence solicitors Kevin Winters, was examining the case file, numbered 4981/02, at the Forensic Science Laboratory in Carrickfergus when he came across an envelope marked “do not open”. Inside, he found a typed letter signed by senior forensic scientist Dr. Gerry Murray describing a meeting with PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Derek Williamson “to discuss my statement in relation to case no. 4981/02.” Chief Inspector Williamson, the letter recorded, “requested that I prepare a modified statement, omitting a number of sections from the original statement. He provided me with a copy of my original statement with the relevant sections highlighted.”
The effect of the suggested omissions would have been to remove all reference to traces of explosives found on Kevin Byrne’s trousers, shirt, jacket, right hand and finger nails. Brogan and Carroll allege that Byrne was a PSNI Special Branch informer and agent provocateur.
Adrian Carlin also discovered a memo from senior forensic officer Gordon McMillan to all FSNI staff claiming that: “On 25 Nov. I sent a message to business managers informing them that an army search organisation had been involved in the examination of items in relation to case 4981/02, that had not yet been delivered to the laboratory. This examination involved them opening bags in the exhibits room of Newry Police Station and rubbing a gloved hand over the surfaces of the contents, in this case items of clothing.” The clothing belonged to Brogan and Carroll.
What this would appear to indicate is that a senior PSNI officer tried to persuade a forensic scientist to give false evidence in order to conceal the involvement of an alleged informer in a planned bomb attack, and that members of a British army “search organisation” tried to plant evidence so as to implicate two others in the same attack.
Seamus Doherty was arrested in Derry some time after the bomb find near Newry. The case against him is based on DNA traces allegedly detected on the bomb. Doherty had been arrested on an unrelated matter six weeks prior to the discovery of the bomb, and swabs taken from him. He denies ever having handled a bomb. His lawyers have claimed from the outset that the DNA on the bomb was planted. Against the background of the Byrne, Brogan and Carroll cases, many who have no time at all for bombings of any sort might agree that there is a cause for deep concern here.
The Doherty case seems to us sharply reminiscent of previous, more publicised cases now widely recognised as miscarriages of justice. It may be politically awkward to raise the Doherty case in the current political circumstances. But all such cases are awkward for somebody. For years after the imprisonment of the Birmingham Six, it was very difficult to persuade opponents of Provisional IRA violence to help highlight the six men’s plight. Some were anxious lest they give the impression of condoning the pub bombings in which 19 innocent people were crushed to pulp or blown to bits.
Many of the same people might agree now that it would have been better all round to have looked objectively at the facts of the Birmingham case at a much earlier stage.
We appeal to all who want to honour the legacy of October ‘68 and the early civil rights movement generally to join us at 2.30pm Waterside station on October 2nd.
The march will also be focusing attention on attacks on gays and members of ethnic minorities in the North and on the continued imprisonment in Britain without charge or trail of Muslims detained under the new “terror” laws.