A prominent republican is to sue for compensation after a senior judge admitted that he had been the victim of a perversion of the course of justice.
Chief Justice Declan Morgan found that spying evidence had been destroyed by the RUC police, who subsequently lied about its existence to the court and the defence.
Setting out the reasons behind a decision to quash Martin McCauley’s conviction for possession of three rifles more than 30 years ago, the judge said the Lurgan man had suffered prejudice and been denied a fair trial.
Mr McCauley was seriously wounded when the RUC opened fire on a hay shed where the weapons were found in Co Armagh in 1982. His 17-year-old friend Michael Tighe was killed in the operation.
His lawyers argued that recordings from inside the shed could have backed his claim that the RUC issued no warnings before opening fire.
The bugging operation was discovered by Manchester police chief John Stalker, during his investigation into the allegations that the RUC was operating a shoot-to-kill policy. However, his findings were suppressed by the British state.
In 2001, Mr McCauley was pursued by the PSNI in regard to allegations that he and two others were involved in training rebels in Colombia’s civil war. The so-called ‘Colombia 3’ escaped the jurisdiction in 2004 and returned to Ireland the following year.
Previously undisclosed details of the 1982 case were laid out after it was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC), set up to examine miscarriages of justice.
At the time of the trial, the Crown Prosecutor was told of the existence of the listening device, but this was not revealed to the trial judge or the defence.
The tapes revealed that no warnings were shouted by the RUC Special Branch unit before they opened fire. The CCRC also found a memo from an RUC man who said that he had learnt that the unit had exceeded their orders and shot the men without giving them a chance to surrender.
The deputy head of RUC Special Branch had the tapes and logs destroyed because of the embarrassment they might cause, the court heard.
Other wrongdoing by the Crown forces included the facts that:
* The RUC removed spent cartridges from the scene and allowed MI5 to get rid of the listening device
* Senior RUC attempted to pervert the course of justice by publishing an untrue ‘cover story’ around the incident
* Senior RUC lied to the then Director of Crown Prosecutions and concealed the existence of a record of the incident
* Debriefings were used to concoct a lying account of the incident
* Military and RUC personnel colluded to falsify records.
Having previously declared the guilty verdict unsafe, the judge yesterday set out his reasoning.
Judge Morgan who sat with Justices Girvan and Coghlin, said: “This is a case in which the police officers involved in the shooting lied to the investigating officers when providing their original statements at the direction of senior officers.”
He said: “The tape, which was relevant evidence, was deliberately destroyed.”
The failure by the Crown forces to disclose the existence of another copy of the tape was “reprehensible”, he said. “The deliberate destruction of the first tape and the withholding of the copy tape by the Security Service in our view rendered the appellant’s trial unfair. On that ground alone, the conviction is unsafe.”
McCauley’s lawyer later confirmed he now intends to sue for compensation.