Legal victories for republican accused

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North Belfast woman Christine Connor has won an appeal against a 16-year prison sentence in one of a clutch of legal setbacks for the British occupation in the north of Ireland.

Although freed, Ms Connor (pictured) is to face retrial on bizarre charges accusing her of posing online as a Swedish model to convince men into supporting IRA-style actions.

Her guilty verdict was quashed because her original plea, made under duress, was contradictory and should never have been accepted.

Connor’s lawyer, Aiden Carlin, had pointed to Ms Connor’s plea to the Crown Court, in which she said: ‘I am not guilty, but on advice I will plead guilty’.

According to the PSNI, Connor used online photographs to create a ‘catfish’ social media profile from which she launched ‘dissident plots’ with men she chatted to online.

Despite the ‘Walter Mitty’ quality of the allegations, and the PSNI accepting she was not aligned to any republican organisation, Ms Connor was jailed for an extraordinary 16 years.

As well as seeking to overturn her conviction, her legal team has argued that the prison term handed down was manifestly excessive.

Ms Connor has also lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman over the PSNI’s decision to release exhibits from the case to the media. The items fuelled absurd tabloid newspaper reports of Ms Connor’s alleged online activity, and were likely intended to lend weight to her conviction.

Giving evidence at the Court of Appeal, Ms Connor said she had come under immense pressure from her former lawyers. The issue of admitting the charges was only raised at a consultation on the day before she was due to plea, triggering anxiety disorders.

Ms Connor was instructed to plead guilty, leaving her suffering from a panic attack and feeling that she was “drowning or suffocating”.

Delivering judgment on the appeal, Justice Treacy pointed out that in response to the most serious charge of ‘attempted murder’, Connor had stated she was “most definitely not guilty” -- but was pleading guilty to attempted murder “on advice”.

“On any showing the pleas were highly qualified, ambiguous and equivocal,” the judge admitted.

CIARAN MAGEE

In a separate development, IRA charges against north Armagh republican Ciaran Magee have finally been dropped. Mr Magee has been interned by remand for over two years without any actual evidence being put before a court.

Mr Magee was one of three men held on IRA charges in relation to a case including Damien Duffy, a brother of prominent County Armagh republican Colin Duffy, and Shea Reynolds.

Lawyer Peter Corrigan of Phoenix Law welcomed the ruling.

“He has spent 18 months in custody”, he said. “It should not have been proceeded with in the first place. There was no evidence that any jury could convict on and that has been vindicated by judge Miller’s judgment.”

IVOR BELL

And in another significant ruling, criminal proceedings against veteran republican Ivor Bell in regard to the IRA execution of an informer in 1972 were halted for health reasons. Instead, a non-criminal mechanism, known as “a trial of the facts”, will take place.

The evidence upon which the charges was based are a set of anonymised interviews carried out by researchers as part of the academic Boston Tapes oral history archive.

The judge found Mr Bell, who is aged 82, unfit to be tried, but also refused an application to stay the proceedings for abuse of process.

The trial of the facts process, which involves a public hearing to determine whether an accused committed the alleged offences, has never been used for IRA charges. It has added a further complication to the vindictive British pursuit of a legendary republican figure which has been ongoing since 2011.

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