West Belfast man Patrick Livingstone, jailed by a non-jury court on the word of the RUC nearly 40 years ago, has had his life prison sentence overturned.
Senior judges overturned the murder conviction after hearing evidence of the brutality of RUC police involved in securing a statement implicating the west Belfast man.
Mr Livingstone, now 62, described the decision as a vindication of his fight to clear his name.
He spent 17 years behind bars for the IRA killing of a Belfast council worker in 1975.
The only evidence against Mr Livingstone at his trial came from a gang of RUC police who interviewed him at Dundalk Garda Station and claimed he confessed to the murder.
The RUC later told a non-jury, Diplock court that he taunted them about the shooting, boasting they could do nothing about it because he had no intention of crossing the border.
The trial judge ignored his defence that the RUC witnesses had presented a false account. He was subsequently convicted at Belfast City Commission in May 1977 and sentenced to life imprisonment.
His case was reopened and referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the body set up to examine potential miscarriages of justice.
The challenge centred on the RUC’s brutality towards another man who was beaten into signing a statement which claimed Mr Livingstone admitted the shooting to him.
The violence included: being put against a wall and hit across the stomach; having chest and head hairs pulled out; and being hooded, spun around and hit across the feet for up to 45 minutes.
Ruling on the case alongside two other judges, Justice Declan Morgan said the evidence of police mistreatment would have opened a line of inquiry “which might have affected the credibility of the police witnesses”.
He added: “Because of the non-disclosure the appellant lost the opportunity to pursue that line of argument.”
Evidence had also been raised of potential wrongdoing in testimony from at least some of the police interviewers, the judge held.
He confirmed: “For the reasons set out we have a significant sense of unease about the correctness of this verdict and accordingly allow the appeal.”
Mr Livingstone’s 14-year-old sister Julie was killed during the conflict after being struck by a plastic bullet fired by the British army on Belfast’s Stewartstown Road in 1981.
Mr Livingstone, who was in the Court of Appeal with his son Cormac and other friends yesterday, told how the outcome has been “a long time coming”.
Speaking after the verdict, he said: “I feel totally vindicated. But there’s a lot more people than me, on both sides of the divide, who went through those Diplock courts.
“I spent 17 and a half years in jail for something I didn’t do. I intend to seek compensation.”