Prominent republican Colin Duffy has today been found not guilty of the Real IRA attack on Massereene British Army base in 2009, although there was disbelief at the court when his co-accused, Brian Shivers from Magherafelt, was found guilty.
Following a significant campaign to avert what appeared to be a likely miscarriage of justice in the case, Justice Anthony Hart issued his long awaited judgement this morning at Antrim courthouse.
There were cheers as it was announced that Mr Duffy had avoided a guilty verdict -- which would have been the second miscarriage of justice of his life -- but the announcement of the verdict against Mr Shivers was greeted with shock.
Although the evidence against both men was paltry, the case against Mr Shivers -- who suffers from advanced cystic fibrosis and was clearly incapable of the attack -- had appeared considerably weaker.
Delivering his findings in the absence of a jury under special Diplock anti-republican legislation, the judge first addressed the case against Mr Duffy.
He surprised the court when he said he was satisfied that Duffy’s DNA was found in the car -- but that the prosecution had failed to link him to the IRA attack.
“I consider that there is insufficient evidence to satisfy me beyond reasonable doubt that, whatever Duffy may have done when he wore the latex glove or touched the seatbelt buckle, meant that he was preparing the car in some way for this murderous attack,” the judge said. “And I therefore find him not guilty.”
The Lurgan man has endured a lifetime of harassment and false charges against him by the RUC police and subsequently the PSNI, and saw his lawyer Rosemary Nelson assassinated by a loyalist/British death squad in 1999.
Mr Duffy spent over two and a half years at Maghaberry prison awaiting the start of the trial, a situation which justice campaigners described as a form of internment.
At Maghaberry, he joined other republican prisoners on a ‘dirty protest’ against the criminalisation of political prisoners. He was routinely subjected to violent strip searches when attending court hearings.
The evidence presented against them immediately aroused suspicions of another PSNI frame-up, and centred on highly unusual DNA evidence.
In the course of the investigation, a glove tip, alleged to contain molecules of Mr Duffy’s DNA, mysteriously appeared in a burnt-out car used in the attack. Another sample -- also infinitessimally small -- was said to have been found on a seatbelt buckle. Mr Shivers’ DNA was allegedly found on a mobile phone and matches said to be linked to the getaway car.
Although the various DNA samples were mixed with the DNA of other unidentified individuals, the PSNI case was backed by a scientist’s declaration of a ‘one in a trillion’ match to the DNA of the two men -- according to an entirely new method of statistical analysis, devised and presented to the court by a little-known US mathematician.
Finding Mr Shivers guilty, the judge claimed he had lied about not being involved, and that the DNA proved he was guilty.
“I am satisfied that the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that Shivers set fire to the Cavalier at Ranaghan Road [the alleged getaway car] and I therefore find him guilty on each count on the indictment.”
The bizarre judgement seems certain to be appealed, although there are now concerns for Mr Shivers’ welfare. During the course of the trial, he was granted bail on the basis of his medical condition. It is thought his incarceration at Maghaberry could prove fatal.
Both Mr Duffy and Mr Shivers currently remain at the courtroom amid general confusion and shock at the judgement.