Colin Duffy has spoken out after he was dramatically cleared last week of involvement in the 2009 Real IRA attack on the Massareene British Army base.
On Friday, there was delight at Antrim Crown court on Friday when it emerged that Mr Duffy, a lifelong republican activist who has been subjected to decades of severe police harassment, was finally being acquitted of the latest charges presented against him.
However, there was dismay when terminally ill republican Brian Shivers was inexplicably ordered to spend his final yearsin prison. Although the judge accepted that Mr Shivers had no involvement in the actual gun attack in which two British soldiers died, the cystic fibrosis sufferer was given a life sentence anyway, on the basis of prosecution claims that his DNA profile was found on a match found inside the burned-out getaway car.
‘I AM A REPUBLICAN’
Mr Duffy, who has spent three years at Maghaberry prison while the PSNI attempted to build a case against him, responded to the police and media demonisation of him with defiance and stoicism.
Hetold journalists at Belfast’s Conway Mill: “Let me state quite categorically here that I had no involvement with what happened at Massereene -- no involvement whatsoever.”
The meeting, organised by the Friends Of Colin Duffy group, was chaired by former IRA prisoner Alex McCrory. In the audience were a number of prominent republicans from east Tyrone, County Armagh and north and west Belfast.
Mr Duffy said DNA evidence which had been presented against him had been falsified.
“My position from the word go is that my DNA, was in my opinion planted there. I’ve maintained that position throughout. I was never in that car.”
Addressing the media and a crowd of around 100 supporters, he said while hewas concerned for the safety of both himself and his family as a result of his involvement in the high-profile court case, he would continue republican activism.
Still heavily bearded from his years on a ‘no wash’ protest inside the prison, Mr Duffy said he would be discussing possible legal action in relation to his detention with his solicitor.
“I don’t think anyone would expect me to be grateful for having spent three years in jail,” he said, but noted that he “wouldn’t have any faith” in any civil action arising out of his ordeal.
Asked if he considered himself a ‘dissident’, Mr Duffy said if that meant he didn’t supportthe Stormont government he was “quite happy to class myself in that light”.
“I am a republican and a political activist and I don’t intend to change,” he said, his answer prompting applause from his supporters.
Earlier in the day the Friends of Colin Duffy group organised a white-line picket along the Falls Road in west Belfast on behalf of the republican prisoners at Maghaberry.
There was an intimidatory presence of PSNI with around ten armoured vehicles parked along the route. Police used a loud speaker to warn that the protest was “illegal” and threatening to arrest those involved -- including Mr Duffy.
The 32 County Sovereignty Committee described the verdict as “an indictment of British courts in Ireland”.
“This trial from the outset was a show trial attempting to secure a guilty conviction against Republicans. The failure of the PSNI to apprehend those who were involved in the attack led them to try and frame these two men.
“We welcome the fact that Colin Duffy was acquitted as it was the only realistic verdict to reach given the total lack of credible evidence.
“However Brian Shivers, a man with a terminal illness has now been made a scapegoat for the failure of the PSNI. The sentence imposed upon Brian is in effect a death sentence and a gross violation of the due process of justice.
“Both these men were denied the right to trial by a jury and instead had to face the prospect of a British judge being the sole authority.
“These courts are now being used as a tool of repression against all those who take a stand against the status quo.
“The internment of Marian Price on trumped up charges continues and the prisoners continue to be beaten and harassed by prison officers before their appearances in these diplock courts.
“We urge all Republicans and human rights advocates to stand behind Brian and his family, and those who remain interned in Maghaberry. To remain silent in the face of such violation of human rights is to acquiesce to it.”
Among those who greeted Mr Duffy outside Antrim Crown Court on Friday was his brother Paul, who led the campaign to secure his release, and his other family members. Outside the court, a hate-filled loyalist mob had been allowed to gather to intimidate the republicans’ families.
One of Mr Duffy’s family members later described the course of events.
“Words cannot describe the many emotions we went through today. When the judge said that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Colie was guilty of all charges we all gasped (not cheered or shouted which was reported by some of the media) and instantly the judge ordered us out of the court and the RUC rushed in and put us out.
“We were in total shock if I am honest but after many hugs and some tears of joy our thoughts quickly turned to Brian and we waited anxiously on his verdict. We tried to get back in to the court to give Brian our support but they refused us entry so we waited patiently outside for what seemed like hours.
“Then came the devastating news that Brian was not coming home and instantly our joy disappeared. We went from a high to complete devastation.
“We then expected Colie, who was with his barrister waiting on Brian’s verdict, to appear but there was no sign of him.
“Meanwhile the car-park out side was filling up with loyalists who were shouting and jeering. It seemed like forever before one of Colie’s legal team came out and told us that they were refusing to release Colie who we now learned was locked in a holding cell with his barrister. The reason they gave was that Maghaberry Prison refused to accept he was acquitted and wanted confirmation from the judge!
“Eventually Colie appeared and we left the court to what I can only describe as the most frightening few yards I have ever walked...The loyalists were screaming at us spitting at us, up in our faces threatening us and it was chaotic. We were all separated by the mob of loyalists and the mob of press and lets not forget the mob of RUC who had allowed them to get right up into our faces. When we eventually got into our cars they surrounded us spitting all over the windows, thumping the car, standing in front of the car and refusing to move and trying to open the car doors. We eventually got out of the car park and began our journey home.
“At home in Lurgan Colie was reunited with his wife and children and it would have broke your heart to see the joy on all their faces.
“We of course were absolutely over the moon but truth be told none of us were in the mood for a big celebration as Brian and his family were constantly in our thoughts but we are delighted that Colie is home where he belongs with his wife and family and you can be sure he will be striving just as hard on the outside as he did on the inside to get the August agreement implemented.”
Speaking in the London parliament this week, DUP South Antrim MP William McCrea prolonged the controversy over the verdict when he described Mr Duffy as a “brutal terrorist”. In a clear abuse of Westminster’s legal privileges, he said Mr Duffy was a person “who always seems to find the get out card”.
Responding to Mr McCrea at Westminster was British Direct Ruler Owen Paterson, who seemed to encourage the smear.
“I entirely sympathise with the honourable member and his constituents’ concerns,” he said. “We do believe in the separation of powers and this was a decision made by due process.”
Responding to the comments, Mr Duffy issued a statement through his solicitors.
It said he had instructed his lawyers to “object to the comments in the most strenuous terms” and that he would be making a complaint to the Westminster Committee on Standards and Privileges.
“We are of the professional opinion that the comments represent an insult to the integrity of judicial process in this jurisdiction and serve to undermine the considered judgment of the court,” it said.
“Mr Duffy has instructed us to initiate proceedings against the PSNI and PPS in respect of his malicious prosecution and unlawful detention.”