A serious miscarriage of justice could be returned to the Court of Appeal as a result of the actions of undercover MI5 agent, Dennis McFadden.
Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton, both from Craigavon and known as the Craigavon Two, were convicted of involvement in a Continuity IRA attack in March 2009 in which a member of the PSNI was killed. Both men have always proclaimed their innocence of the charges.
Mr McConville is serving at least 25 years after being convicted in a non-jury Diplock court in 2012, while Mr Wootton was handed a minimum 14-year term, later increased to 18 years by the Court of Appeal.
After lawyers for Mr McConville threatened legal action over their failure to do so, a statutory body which examines potential miscarriages of justice has now decided to re-open the case. The London-based Criminal Case Review Commission had refused to allow an appeal over MI5’s infiltration of the ‘Justice for the Craigavon 2’ campaign.
Mr McConville’s wife and campaign leader Siobhán McConville described the development as “the most welcome and long awaited news”.
In 2020, Dennis McFadden was exposed as an MI5 spy after he was involved in a so-called ‘sting’ against political party Saoradh, which he had infiltrated. Nine republicans remain interned by remand at Maghaberry jail after they were arrested following a meeting organised by McFadden.
It emerged that over 20 years, McFadden has infiltrated several nationalist political and campaign groups, including Sinn Fein, on behalf of British forces.
Although submissions had been made about McFadden’s role in the Craigavon Two campaign in October last year, the CCRC rejected an application by McConville’s legal team to refer the case to the Court of Appeal.
Lawyers subsequently pointed out that decision was unlawful and signalled their intention to launch a judicial review. The body’s decision has now been quashed and the case will be reviewed again.
McFadden regularly attended group meetings of the Justice for the Craigavon Two campaign during which sensitive legal discussions were held with Mr McConville’s legal team. The campaign also involved Gerry Conlon, who was wrongfully convicted with others of two pub bombings in Guildford in October 1974.
McFadden spied on campaign meetings at the McConville family home, and also visited Mr McConville in Maghaberry prison. He has been accused of spying on and sabotaging the campaign’s social media.
He was also central to the establishment of ‘Justice Watch Ireland’, an apparent MI5 front, which claimed to examine miscarriages of justice. It is believed the double agent was directly involved in preparations ahead of a 2014 appeal launched by McConville and Wootton, which was unsuccessful.
Mr McConville’s lawyer Darragh Mackin, of Phoenix Law, said: “This is a situation whereby an MI5 agent placed himself within the confines of a close family and campaigning circle to ensure that he obtained information with regards to the defence preparations of a high profile murder case.”
The lawyer said that the CCRC “have now confirmed that their decision not to refer this case to the Court of Appeal has been quashed, and that a fresh consideration of the issues will now follow.
“We intend on engaging with the CCRC in the coming weeks to emphasise the importance on a rehearing of this case in light of the fundamental principles at stake.”
He added: “To not order the returning of this case to the Court of Appeal would be an affront to the rule of law and the basic principles of access to justice.”
During an interview last year with Channel 4 News, Brendan McConville said: “I believe he [McFadden] sabotaged my appeal.
“Dennis unlawfully obtained legally privileged information pertaining to the appeal strategy and proposed witnesses. This information was unlawfully used by MI5 to manipulate the outcome of the Appeal.
“Dennis abused the trust and confidence within the campaign and family home.”