Conviction overturned on faulty DNA evidence

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A west Belfast man has won his appeal against a conviction on arms charges over flawed forensic evidence. Judges directed that Ballymurphy man Kevin McLaughlin should be freed immediately.

Mr McLaughlin raised his hands to cheers from supporters in the public gallery after overturning the five-and-a-half year sentence imposed by a Diplock (non-jury) court in March.

Mr McLaughlin had no links to a house that was searched by the PSNI, but the prosecution had claimed his prints were present on some of the bags containing bomb and gun components linked to a breakaway IRA group. They claimed a a “mixed DNA profile” had been obtained and that Mr McLaughlin was “a contributor”.

But during the appeal defence lawyers shredded the DNA evidence. David Scoffield QC pointed to a forensic expert who was unable to rule out an innocent, secondary transfer of Mr McLaughlin’s DNA to some of the bags.

“We can’t say in what circumstances the DNA came to be there, or how long it had been there,” the barrister submitted. “She (the expert) agreed it could have been months or years.”

Following deliberations Justice Stephens confirmed the challenge had succeeded. He said: “We allow the appeal against conviction. Our reasons will follow.”

Outside court Mr McLaughlin’s lawyer, Darragh Mackin, said his client had been fully vindicated by the outcome.

He said: “From the inception there were clear concerns regarding the DNA evidence in this case. It’s always been our view that Kevin McLaughlin was wrongly convicted, and we welcome the Court of Appeal’s judgment which has proved his innocence on these charges.”

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