A decision to halt the prosecution of a former RUC man and two other on charges linked to the loyalist mob killing of Catholic man Robert Hamill is to be quashed, High Court judges has ruled.
They ordered a new hearing to determine if the trio should face trial for an alleged attempt to obstruct the course of justice.
The verdict came in a legal bid by the murder victim’s mother, Jessica Hamill, to have charges reinstated.
Her 25-year-old son was attacked in Portadown, County Armagh in 1997. He never regained consciousness and died in hospital.
Members of the PSNI (then RUC) in the area at the time watched while the murderous assault on Mr Hamill took place, but did not intervene.
As evidence of collusion mounted, RUC man Robert Atkinson and his wife were charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by tipping off loyalists involved in the murder.
In September 2014 a judge at Craigavon Magistrates’ Court refused to return the trio for trial, ruling that a key prosecution witness was “unreliable” and “unconvincing”.
It had been alleged that a phone call was made from Atkinson’s house to the home of a suspect in the killing, with advice given to destroy his clothing.
Mr Atkinson denied making the call and claimed his phone was used by another man. That man’s ex-wife, Andrea Jones, later gave evidence to contradict this. She said she had been asked by her former partner to make a false statement about the incident.
Jones subsequently pleaded guilty to carrying out an act tending to pervert the course of justice.
But the prosecution against the Atkinsons and a third suspect was stopped for a second time on the basis of insufficient evidence against them. That decision was based solely on a district judge’s assessment of the credibility of Jones’ evidence.
Mrs Hamill’s legal team challenged his determination, arguing that it was irrational.
They claimed the District Judge failed to consider all of the evidence against the defendants and neglected to take into account issues supporting Jones’ claims of a conspiracy involving the three defendants.
The conviction of Jones should have been treated as corroborating evidence, it was contended.
Ruling on the challenge, Justice Stephens held that there was not insufficient evidence, and quashed the 2014 decision.
McCANN CASE REACHES COURT
Meanwhile, two former British soldiers charged with murdering an Official IRA man in Belfast 45 years ago are mounting a legal bid to have the case thrown out before it reaches trial.
The former paratroopers are also seeking anonymity.
The defendants, known only as Soldier A and Soldier C, are facing prosecution for the cold-blooded killing in April 1972 of of Joe McCann. Neither were present as proceedings got underway at Belfast Magistrates’ Court.
In a statement Joe McCann’s widow, Anne, said: “There are three incontrovertible facts about this incident; Joe was unarmed, he as running away, and he was shot in the back.”